Jonathan David Morris
Read JDM | JDM vs the World | 07.01.03
Constitutionally Speaking, Vigilance is as Easy as 1-2-3
I got a letter in the mail a few weeks back with the words "Final Notice" written in red on the envelope. I soon noticed it was from the NRA. They were looking to sell me a magazine subscription, innocently enough, but I cannot tell a lie: Seeing the name of the National Rifle Association written next to the words "Final Notice" sent a shiver -- if not a full-fledged chill -- down my spine.
I'm not a gun person, let me say so upfront. I've never owned a gun and never shot one that didn't have something like a foam ball or a steady stream of tap water coming out the other end. Mind you, I'm not opposed to the idea of owning -- nor, for that matter, shooting -- a gun, but I don't believe I'll need to any time soon. What I mean is, I buy my meat at the store and get along well with most of the folks I know.
Plus, for what it's worth, I'm a little bit lazy -- something gun ownership would seem to contradict.
Of course, laziness is one of freedom's stranger luxuries, and just the kind of luxury our forebears didn't have.
Indeed, our freedom wasn't free. Its price was high and paid in blood. And it wasn't won on the strength of guns, either, but rather the strength of the men who held them. Such men dug trenches, rode tanks, and flew fighter jets, too, as part of an on-going effort that continues to this day. The soldier's finger is quick on the trigger for courage. His weapon is, was, and always will be personal sacrifice.
That said, this Fourth of July -- the second since September 11th -- seems as good an occasion as any to discuss the Second Amendment and what it means for us here in the War on Terror era. Now, I'm not going to get into whether guns are good or bad, or whether laws to control them have gone too far or not far enough, because that's not what's on my mind. What's on my mind is how the First Amendment has been so popular amongst those with unpopular opinions lately, and how odd it is that some folks stop short of supporting the Second Amendment as well.
And the Second, of course, states: "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."
I mentioned September 11th a moment ago. Surely you remember it. But let's think about what it meant to us, what was at stake even as we survived -- from varying lengths -- its violent wrath. Maybe there's a loved one at home you wouldn't've hugged again, a 500-piece puzzle you wouldn't've finished, or a promise you wouldn't've kept. If I'm alive to write this and you're alive to read it, September 11th missed us by an inch. The terrorists were undiscerning. They didn't care who they killed, as long as they killed and as long as American dreams were left incomplete.
What was it, then, that John Ashcroft asked of us in the days that followed? In a word: Vigilance.
Ashcroft asked that we be vigilant -- that we, the people, keep our ears open to heed that rare hero's call. It was farfetched at first, of course, since we're so often told whites need rich daddies and blacks need Big Brother just to make it in this world. But the truth is, Ashcroft wasn't asking for much. He was asking for the bare minimum.
Think about the Third Amendment for a moment, which says: "No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
We need not turn our homes into mess halls. We need not let armies invade our yards. Yet, in the contexts of now, our soldiers aren't always in uniform. Our soldiers are also often ourselves.
We face an enemy that targets women and children now, an enemy for which collateral damage isn't a necessary evil but rather something good. We face an enemy who, on September 11th, took out not soldiers of war but of fire and crime. Flight attendants, pilots, and businessmen. Moms and dads. Daughters and sons. The terrorists hit the free people of a free nation in the name of a hateful philosophy that demands they take control of the things we do.
And whether you're Jewish, Christian, Muslim, something else, or nothing at all, no one benefits when control is lost to men like these.
Times of war and peace mean nothing now. Peacetime didn't end on September 11th. Terrorists were at war with us for years. What those attacks signaled was that their gripe wasn't with our government alone but our way of life as well. Because our way of life is a big reason behind our place in the world.
With this as our premise, Ashcroft's call for vigilance is as important to our survival as our ability to breathe.
Think about Todd Beamer on Flight 93. Think about the men who wrestled Richard Reid to the ground. Think about the ordinary, everyday guy who blocked an exit with his truck to catch two Beltway Snipers last fall. These are examples of vigilance.
Call me crazy, but I like to think that, after September 11th, I violated the Third Amendment by making a home for the soldier in my heart. Maybe the terrorists -- by targeting civilians -- have forced us all to do the same. Maybe it's a stretch. All I know is, I can't think of a more American thing to do.
And it's for this reason that I argue the Second Amendment is, in fact, a pure extension of the First, which says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The freedom of expression -- to make good on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- was chief among that which our Founding Fathers wanted. This speaks to the core of who we are as human beings, treating us as whole worlds unto ourselves. To hold your destiny in your own hands, to be who you are or whoever you wish you to be -- that is the vision born on these shores eleven score and seven years ago.
Freedom isn't at the heart of our Constitution. It is the heart.
And as a warning for those who'd dare threaten what the First Amendment gives us, the Second essentially says: No matter the weapon -- a gun, a wallet, a word, or whatever -- we have a duty, as they say in the ring, to protect ourselves at all times, and rest assured we'll do just that.
Times change. The things we feared at our nation's founding aren't necessarily the things we fear in the post-September 11th era. Details aside, however, the song remains the same. Mankind will always deserve Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and mankind will always be challenged to defend these things.
There will always be those who seek to impose their own shortcomings as absolute standards on others. We saw this on September 11th, and in the regimes of Iraq and Afghanistan. We've seen it all over the world and throughout the course of history. In less than two years, we have answered the most heinous act committed on our soil by planting the seeds of freedom in two distant lands. The pen is mightier than the sword, but sometimes it's the sword that gets the job done. So it goes.
America is an imperfect place full of imperfect people. We've got our work cut out for us, make no mistake. Yet America remains the greatest nation on Earth. That someone such as the mother of Elian Gonzalez would die trying to come here would not have surprised our Founding Fathers, for they, too, were willing to die to live free. We've seen similar such bravery from our armed forces, from Kabul and Baghdad to Gettysburg and Bunker Hill. Now more than ever, the battle comes home.
There's nothing jingoistic about it. Patriotism, for us, is not blind. It's instinctual. It's in our blood.
And so is self-defense.
Jonathan David Morris