In his June 15 column, Larry Hicks was right on the money when he stated, "the last thing we need in this country is for elected officials to come off sounding as if they're contemplating armed action against our own government."
Hicks was referring to recent remarks by state Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, who explained that his "Stand Your Ground" bill -- which liberalizes state law concerning the use of lethal force with a firearm in public -- was designed to allow Pennsylvanians to "protect [them]selves from an overbearing government that does not do the will of the people. "
Perry claimed that he is "a loyal American, a proud American and a proud Pennsylvanian" in a June 17 editorial in the York Daily Record ("YDR Editorial on Castle Doctrine Unfair"). A quick look at the Merriam Webster online dictionary, however, defines a "patriot" as "one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests." As Hicks noted, you can't respect our government's authority while simultaneously spouting off like a reincarnation of Timothy McVeigh.
Unfortunately, it is currently popular in some gun rights circles to misconstrue the work of our Founders in order to justify the movement's "insurrectionist idea." This dangerous ideology holds that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to take violent action against our government when they deem it has become "tyrannical."
While this type of rabid, anti-government rhetoric might claim its origin in the fervor of the Revolutionary era, it is important to note that it was sober, statesmanlike contemplation that led to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, the Constitution dramatically strengthened the federal government and unequivocally repudiated the idea that America was destined for perpetual revolution.
After succeeding in obtaining their independence from the English monarchy -- which had denied them legislative representation -- our Founders were left with difficult decisions about how to construct their own new government and Constitution. Their first attempt, the Articles of Confederation, was ratified in 1781 but proved unsuccessful. The Confederation, with its weak central government, struggled to deal with (among other things) the civil unrest and political violence that was engulfing the states at the time. This culminated in Shays' Rebellion, which saw farmers in Massachusetts take up arms against local governments in order to avoid the payment of debts.
Second Amendment author James Madison described Shays' Rebellion as a "warning" to our young nation and it became a major impetus behind the drafting of the Constitution in 1787. Benjamin Franklin perhaps put it best when he noted, "We have been guarding against an evil that old States are most liable to, excess of power in the rulers; but our present danger seems to be defect of obedience in the subjects."
The Constitution defined treason as a crime punishable by death. And Article 1, Section 8, declared that the federal Congress has the power "to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions" (emphasis added).
Madison inserted the Second Amendment into the Bill of Rights to show that the control of the militia was balanced between the federal and state governments. The possibility of future federal tyranny was a concern (although not a serious one -- Madison said, "I must own that I see no tendency in our Governments to danger on that side"), but at no point did Madison suggest that such tyranny should be addressed by individuals untethered from the authority of state governments.
To Madison, government was "an institution to make people do their duty." At the Virginia ratifying convention, he stated, "A Government leaving it to a man to do his duty, or not, as he pleases, would be a new species of Government, or rather no Government at all." The man who led our troops to victory in the Revolutionary War, George Washington, echoed these sentiments years later in his Farewell Address, saying, "The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government."
That might not sit well with state Rep. Perry and well-armed gun rights activists like Kim Stolfer, but it is not for them to decide when our government has lapsed into "tyranny." Nor does our Constitution require that they stockpile firearms in order to protect it. In the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson:
"Happy for us, that when we find our constitutions defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophers and set it to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or to restore their constitutions."
-- Josh Horwitz is the exe cutive director of the Washing ton, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.