Brian Darling

Happy birthday, Constitution!

Today marks the 225th anniversary of the signing of this unique and prescient document. Every American should take a moment to reflect on what a treasure we have in America.

Our constitutional republic has survived for over two centuries. The Framers of the Constitution believed in a separation of powers, so that no government—and certainly no particular branch of government—would become so mighty, so imperial, as to threaten the God-given freedom of the People.

And so they created a House of Representatives to represent the people in proportion to the population of a state. They created a Senate to represent the interests of the states. They vested executive power in the President. And they created an independent judicial branch.

Power was very much on the minds of the framers, as was the matter of rights. The Constitution confers a lot of positive rights on the people, such as the right to a jury trial for suits at common law where the value in controversy exceed $20. Yet, at its core, the Constitution is even more concerned with affirming “natural rights”—God-given rights to which all human beings are entitled simple and precisely because they are human beings. One of those God-given rights is the right to self-defense, embodied in the Second Amendment as the right to “keep and bear Arms.”

That right has faced some severe challenges in recent years.. In 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that the Second Amendment is, indeed, an individual right. Two years later, the Court held in McDonald v. Chicago that the Second Amendment applies to the individual states. Both cases were decided on a 5-4 vote. Put another way, Americans are just one Supreme Court justice away from losing those rights.

The Supreme Court line-up has changed since the 2010 ruling, but the 5-4 balance remains. One of the dissenter, John Paul Stevens, has retired. But President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to take his place, and Kagan has a long history of anti-gun activism. Indeed, she was one of the most prominent anti-Second Amendment activists in the Clinton Administration.


Brian Darling

Brian Darling is a Senior Fellow in Government Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling