A useful illustration of how American freedom could fade away can be seen in a contrast between the city government of Newton, Mass., in 1775, and the city government of Washington, D.C, in 2007.
On Jan. 2, 1775, as historian David Hackett Fischer recounts in Paul Revere's Ride, the good people of Newton held a town meeting. The issues they discussed were similar in a certain sort of way to the issues that might be discussed today by the D.C. council. They included a proposed gun law and entitlement program.
In Newton, the gun law and entitlement program were one and the same.
The Newtonians thought it so important for every man in town to own a gun that they were ready to give him one if he could not afford it.
"Voted," say the town records, "that the Selectmen use their best discretion in providing fire-arms for the poor of the town who are unable to provide for themselves."
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty does not see guns the way our Founders did. In his view, they are not tools for defending individual liberty, they are instruments of criminality.
This week, Fenty announced that the District would appeal to the Supreme Court a March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that ruled that a District gun law was unconstitutional. The law in question flatly bans possession of a handgun -- even in one's own home -- unless the gun was registered before 1976. "Wherever I go, the response from the residents is, 'Mayor Fenty, you've got to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court,'" said Fenty.
In fact, however, the D.C. handgun suit pits individual law-abiding D.C. residents against a Constitution-flouting D.C. government. These individuals claim the government is violating their Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms." The appeals court agreed.
The District argues there is no such thing as an individual right to keep and bear arms, and that the Framers did not intend to protect one. Pointing to the prefatory clause of the Second Amendment ("A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State"), it argued in court that the substantive clause ("the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed") was not really intended to protect a "right of the people," but a right of state governments to maintain militias.