Published January 15, 2013
All of us grieved last December when a deranged madman shot and killed his mother, stole her weapons and then killed dozens of innocent children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary. Such evil is incomprehensible and unacceptable to a society that values life and especially the innocence of childhood.
However, as tragic and horrific as it was, people should think twice before allowing politicians to use a lunatic's rage to once again erode one of the fundamental rights granted to all Americans: the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense.
Latinos in particular should care about the Second Amendment. Many of us come from countries where only the police, the military, and the criminal element have access to firearms. In most of Latin America it is difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to legally obtain a firearm for self-protection or sporting use. As a result, most people are defenseless against violent criminals and gangs who are well-armed with stolen or smuggled weapons, including machine guns and grenades in places like Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia. In addition, those countries (and many others) have a checkered history of their own government and military often turning against their people and killing or "disappearing" individuals who are perceived to threaten the power of the state and its ruling class.
One reason why Cuba remains a totalitarian regime after 50 years is that early on, Fidel Castro ordered the confiscation of all firearms in private hands. Shortly after his triumphal arrival in Havana in January 1959, Fidel bragged about a new dawn of freedom and an honest and open government that would now respect the rights of the people. He asked the question: ¿Armas para qué?, ¿para luchar contra quién?, ¿contra el Gobierno Revolucionario, que tiene el apoyo de todo el pueblo? The English translation is "Why do we need arms? To fight against who? To fight against a revolutionary government that has the support of all of its people?" A complete copy of this speech, one of his many cynical discourses, can be easily found on the Cuban government's website.
Shortly after the speech, Fidel's soldiers began rounding up all the private weapons in Cuba. It was an easy task since a government compiled database already existed of every citizen who owned guns. Thus began the subjugation of the Cuban population, a condition that has now existed for more than five decades. Similar subjugation has taken place in other Latin American countries, under right wing totalitarians and even under supposed democracies. It is easy to control a population when the government controls all the weapons.
America's founding fathers knew about government tyranny. They had fought a revolution to escape it. In crafting the document that would guide their new country, a document called the Constitution, they established clear limits on what rights would be guaranteed to the people and not to the state. They did so to ensure that its citizens could speak and assemble freely, could practice whatever religion they chose, and that they would be free in their own homes and persons. Those rights limiting the scope and power of government became known as the Bill of Rights. They are the first ten amendments to the Constitution and they specifically delineate where government can't intrude on protected rights and activities.
The Second Amendment guarantees individuals a right to keep and bear arms. This right was reaffirmed recently in the Supreme Court's 2010 District of Columbia vs. Heller decision. The ruling settled, once and for all, that individuals do indeed have the right to use commonly available weapons for self defense. Like all of our individual liberties, it is not absolute and government can regulate the right to ensure the proper use of firearms by sane and responsible individuals. Government cannot however, unnecessarily burden or preclude individuals from access to firearms suitable for defense of themselves and their families.
Many of us, as well as our parents and grandparents, came from countries where a Second Amendment didn't exist. We came to America (or were brought here) in order to find not only economic opportunities but more importantly personal liberty and freedom from government harassment and persecution. We sought to control our destiny and not have others control it for us.
As you listen to the emotional debate on gun control currently taking place, take a moment to reflect on the history and necessity of the Second Amendment. It is the ultimate defense against an overreaching and abusive government. It provides the weak and defenseless with a means to protect themselves and their families. I would argue that the Second Amendment is neither outdated nor unnecessary. In fact, given the troubled times we live in, it is perhaps more essential than ever.
Finally, keep in mind the observation of the great American patriot, James Madison, the man principally responsible for the adoption of the Bill of Rights:
"Americans have the right and advantage of being armed, unlike the people of other countries, whose leaders are afraid to trust them with arms."