“There is certainly no small danger that indifference may lead to disgust, and disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our national bill of rights.”28 —Joseph Story
The Second Amendment in some ways may be on safer footing today than it has been for several decades. Recent Supreme Court rulings have affirmed core aspects of the right’s nature and fundamental place in American society, and the majority of states are increasingly moving toward less restrictive policies on carrying firearms in public for self-defense. At the same time, however, the right to keep and bear arms is under constant attack by gun control advocates, with calls for its wholesale repeal becoming part of the mainstream national conversation on gun policy.
But calls for repeal of the Second Amendment and for more restrictive gun control legislation are not the only ways in which the Second Amendment is under attack today. Even as the Supreme Court appears more willing to take on Second Amendment cases and strike down patently unconstitutional restrictions on gun control, many lower state and federal courts have proven equally willing to undermine these rulings.
Equally concerning are more indirect methods of gun control, such as legislation that greatly hinders the practical ability of Americans to exercise their rights without directly restricting gun ownership. For example, excessive regulations can make it so difficult and expensive for gun manufacturers and sellers to operate that many are simply forced out of business. Similarly, so-called “sin taxes” seek to artificially raise the prices of guns and ammunition in the hopes of “pricing out” ordinary Americans who would no longer be able to afford them.
While political attacks and a judiciary unwilling to treat the Second Amendment with respect are significant threats, perhaps the biggest threat comes from a lack of will amongst the people to understand and defend their own rights. As Joseph Story warned almost two centuries ago, “The friends of a free government cannot be too watchful, to overcome the dangerous tendency of the public mind to sacrifice, for the sake of mere private convenience, this powerful check upon the designs of ambitious men.”29
Every new generation of Americans must decide for themselves that the right to keep and bear arms is a right worth preserving, both in theory and in practice. But when the people themselves undermine this right—whether by voluntarily surrendering their arms or by merely neglecting to widely train themselves in arms in the first place—they are, in effect, choosing to sacrifice the surest safeguard of their inalienable rights, leaving them vulnerable to attack.
28. Joseph Story, Commentaries On The Constitution Of The United States 747 (Fred B. Rothman & Co. 1991).
29. Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition Of The Constitution Of The United States 264 (1842).