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Sunday, December 15, 2002
Copyright c Las Vegas Review-Journal
national holiday -- or at least it should be
Why is the government so resistant to a formal celebration
of our founding freedoms?
Americans make a big hubbub over the Fourth of July.
True, the victory of 1781 was an amazing triumph, and the
vision of those gathered in Philadelphia five years
before -- that men may rightfully form or disband governments
at will, for the higher purpose of protecting our God-given
individual rights -- is still worth celebrating.
But that confederation of free men ended on June 21, 1788,
when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the new
U.S. Constitution, making it the law of the land. At that
point, the organization of free peoples created by the
Declaration of Independence -- the one we still celebrate
each July -- passed away.
Our government school teachers tell us this was necessary
because the Articles of Confederation "weren't working out."
But they are woefully light on specifics. Push them, and
most will mutter uncertainly some trivia about seaboard
states charging tariffs on goods transshipped to landlocked
states. Point out that the first landlocked states -- Vermont
and Kentucky -- weren't admitted until 1791 and 1792, and
they will usually fall into a puzzled, grumbling silence.
Anyway, there it is: The people fell for the siren song of
"federalism," accepting solemn promises that the powers of
the new central government would be sharply limited to those
expressly spelled out -- funding a Navy, granting patents
and copyrights, coining metal money. Not much more.
Fast forward 210 years. As a recipe for limited government,
this Constitution now matches the creature it's supposed to
describe about as well as a Chihuahua's carry-on "Pet Kennel"
would fit a loping Irish wolfhound.
The prima facie proof of this failure now stares at us from
every acre of the former marshland north of the Potomac, a
granite necropolis and memorial park to our deceased freedoms
at least a hundred times larger in manpower and frenzied
ambition to control our lives than Mr. Jefferson could ever
have imagined (though one suspects Mr. Hamilton would have smiled).
In the face of this unchained monster, our thin remaining hope
against outright tyranny lies in the fact that Rhode Island and
North Carolina (bless them) outright refused to ratify that
Constitution until a Bill of Rights was added -- while
Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire,
Virginia and New York all ratified only on the condition that
some such set of amendments be quickly appended, as was solemnly
And so, on the day we should probably celebrate as our second
great national holiday, Dec. 15, 1791, Virginia became the 11th
state to ratify the first 10 proposed amendments -- Mr. Madison's
"Bill of Rights" -- though a better name might be the "Bill of
Prohibitions" on government conduct.
Today, as usual, that anniversary will pass with the kind of
afterthought mention on the daily news and propaganda broadcasts
usually reserved for, "On this day 70 years ago, Commander Perry
reached the North Pole." Two days later, about as much attention
will be paid to the 224th anniversary of the great event of
Dec. 17, 1773. "The most magnificent movement of all. There is a
dignity, a majesty, a sublimity in this last effort of the patriots
that I greatly admire," said future president John Adams of the
tax-resisting militiamen who that day dumped 342 chests of tea
into Boston harbor.
To their credit, Aaron Zelman and J.E. Simkin of the little
Milwaukee-based Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership
battled for months, back in 1999, to get city councils around the
country to adopt proclamations honoring Dec. 15 as Bill of Rights
Day -- succeeding with a small, proud band including Randolph County,
N.C.; Cobb County, Ga.; the city of Asheboro; the town of Rainier,
Wash.; and spunky little Valley City, N.D.
JPFO has also now brought out the latest in its line of "Gran'pa
Jack" comic books, "It's Common Sense to Use Our Bill of Rights
... Or Lose Them!" suitable to explain the Bill of Rights to any
kid, aged 6 to 60 ... of which more later.
But against Mr. Zelman's admirable efforts, the question remains:
Why do the folks now in charge of our national offices -- including
the government schools -- so pass over and ignore the historic
ratification of those 462 little words which have made us for two
centuries the envy of men and women seeking freedom the world
around -- this Bill of Rights?
Because they fear folks might actually read them?
They're in plain English, you know. It was never intended we should
need an attorney to tell us what they mean -- let alone that we
should tolerate courts telling us they don't mean what we can
plainly read there for ourselves.
It couldn't be because they're afraid we'd actually go read the
First Amendment, could it, which begins, "Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment of religion ..."?
What does it mean for a government to "establish" a religion? Why,
clearly, to establish one religion as that enforced by the government,
against all others ... like the Church of England.
Let us suppose, for instance, that an extremist cult were to arise,
which holds it is a mortal sin to plow under any weed, or to destroy
any bug or small verminous rodent which we may find on our own property,
providing the priests of this extremist cult should decide (based on
divine revelation) to list that weed or bug in their own scriptures as
"threatened" or "endangered."
That would be no problem, so long as the priests of this weird sect
had no legal authority to do anything but preach against us from their
own, private pulpits.
But let us now suppose the government were to erect a headquarters for
this sect in Washington at taxpayer expense, and issue them guns and
badges, empowering them to enter onto our private property, arresting
and jailing us and seizing our land and homes -- or simply prohibiting
us from making otherwise legal, profitable use of our own property,
such as building vacation homes -- if they should find us killing our
own weeds and bugs, to which no one else can demonstrate any legal title?
That would be "an establishment of religion," wouldn't it, and thus
banned under the First Amendment? Why, such extralegal usurpations might
even tempt government agents to eventually storm, burn and massacre
harmless citizens in their own churches of a Sunday afternoon, for
practicing some religion not approved by Washington, mightn't it?
Thank goodness we have a First Amendment to prevent that kind of thing.
So that couldn't be the one they don't want us to read.
It couldn't be because they're afraid we'd actually go read the
Second Amendment, could it? The one that says, "A well regulated
Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right
of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"?
What's that word "free" doing in there?
Mr. Madison knew full well that no citizen-militia was necessary
to protect the security of the kingdoms of France or Russia.
Mercenary, professional, standing armies did just fine to protect
their borders -- at the price of their own disarmed populaces being
subject to tyranny under the same muskets.
Only a "free" country requires that the bulk of the potential armed
forces consist of free, private citizens better armed than the men
commanded by the central government, just as the unofficial "Fairfax
County Militia" of Mr. Washington and Mr. Mason had been better
armed than the special militia or "National Guard" available to
obey the orders of the crown's "governor of Virginia" in 1776 ...
else the Revolution still fresh in Mr. Madison's mind could never
even have been launched, let alone won.
What the Second Amendment clearly means is that -- as a guarantee
against the threat of internal government tyranny -- any law-abiding
American adult not obviously insane or profoundly retarded has a
right to own and carry with him a belt-fed .30-caliber Browning
machine gun or a shoulder-launched heat-seeking missile. (You're
not going to argue we could stand up to the FBI, the ATF or the
101st Airborne with a Ruger 10-22 and a few old muzzle-loaders,
I hope?)
For when the Second Amendment says that right shall not be "infringed,"
I would submit that means neither the weapon, nor its ammunition,
nor the buying or transport of either, may be taxed, regulated or
subjected to any "permitting" process. The government can't even
require that the store clerk who sells me my machine gun "check my
ID," or write down my name.
No; that's all clear enough. So the Second Amendment can't be the
one they don't want us to read.
Could it be they're afraid we might read the Sixth Amendment, which
begins, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the
right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury ..."
The high court, of course, now holds this doesn't mean what it
appears to mean to us non-lawyers, at all. Rather than see the
courts grow too crowded, her eminence Sandra Day O'Connor now
informs us no trial is required if the state agrees to jail us for
fewer than 180 days ... or even for fewer than 180 days on each charge.
And by the way, what's that word "impartial" doing in there?
The British common-law jury system with which the Founders were
familiar made no provision for the judge to ask potential jurors
in advance whether they favored the enforcement of the law in
question ... which is why the misguided government could never get
any convictions in the North in the 1850s on charges of violating
the hated Fugitive Slave Act, any more than a government saddled
with the same jury system could convict William Penn in London,
some years before, on charges of preaching a Quaker sermon.
Importantly, it is only the defendant who is guaranteed an impartial
jury -- we find here no guarantee that "the state shall enjoy ... "
When the judge asks the jury pool whether anyone would have a
problem sending someone to jail for smoking pot, or for owning
an ancient collectable World War I machine gun without having
previously submitted his fingerprints to the ATF, or for
declining to pay a federal income tax on wages -- and when
that judge promptly sends home anyone who raises his or her
hand -- he is not empaneling an "impartial" jury; he is
pre-screening a jury guaranteed to be predisposed to the
government's case. He is violating the Sixth Amendment.
The original term for a jury trial was a trial "en pays," or
"on the country." The jury is supposed to represent a
cross-section of our fellow citizens. Unless a law has broad
public support -- 94.5 percent, actually -- the chances are
that a randomly-selected group of 12 citizens will include
one member who finds the law a hateful abomination, and who
will refuse to convict. Hung jury: Defendant walks.
That is the meaning, and the intent, of the Sixth Amendment
prohibition on government taking away our life, liberty or
property without "a speedy trial ... by an impartial jury."
Do you suppose that's the one they don't want us to read?
And what about the 10th Amendment, which specifies, "The
powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution,
nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States
respectively, or to the people."
This means 90 percent of the laws, agencies, orders and regulators
now pouring forth from Washington like a torrent from a broken dam
are null and void -- deformed, fatherless creatures, apt to melt
away like Goblins if ever tested in the harsh daylight of the
Bill of Rights.
A few fans of totalitarianism, having been coached by the slyest
of lawyers and union schoolmarms, will point out that the preamble
to the Constitution advises us the purpose of the document is to
"promote the general welfare," whereupon they will contend this
plainly means the Congress is allowed to enact any law and do
anything which a temporary majority of the two houses shall
determine tends to "promote the general welfare."
But if that were the case, surely the whole document need take up
only 28 words: "The Congress may enact any law which the majority
of both houses shall determine to their own satisfaction tends to
'promote the general welfare'; have a nice day."
What's all the rest of this plodding exposition of limited powers
doing in here?
Anyway, the best and most authoritative answer to this sneering,
cynical justification for unlimited, Bonapartist tyranny was
provided in the final year of his life by no less a figure than
Thomas Jefferson, in the "Declaration and Protest of Virginia,"
"We ... disavow and declare to be most false and unfounded, the
doctrine that the compact, in authorizing its federal branch to
lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises to pay the
debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare
of the United States, has given them thereby a power to do
whatever they may think or pretend would promote the general
welfare, which construction would make that, of itself, a
complete government, without limitation of powers; but that
the plain sense and obvious meaning were, that they might
levy the taxes necessary to provide for the general welfare
by the various acts of power therein specified and delegated
to them, and by no others."
Jefferson, for heaven's sake. This is not merely some commentator
on what the founding fathers may have meant. This is a virtual
deathbed declaration of The Founding Father!
Ah, so many restrictions on government power, in this modest
little Bill of Rights. So concise and clearly written. How
strange, that all of them would now turn out to be moot, or
out-of-date, or of no practical bearing, or not to mean what
they would appear to mean to a mere layman, who foolishly
assumes they were written in plain English which we should all
be able to understand without an advanced degree in Canonical
Go buy a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill
of Rights and read them to a child.
It's our next-to-last best hope.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal
and author of the books "Send in the Waco Killers" and "The Ballad of
Carl Drega" ( )

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