I oppose this bill. I am forwarding you my speech on freedom and
Freedom and Firearms
Senator Tom McClintock
Date: June 9, 2001
Publication Type: Speech or Statement GO BACK
A Speech by Senator Tom McClintock
Western Conservative Conference, Los Angeles, June 9, 2001
There are two modern views of government that begin from entirely
There is the 18th Century American view propounded by our nation's
They believed, and formed a government based upon that belief, that
us is endowed by our creator with certain rights that cannot be
and that governments are instituted to protect those rights. This
proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and reflected in the
Bill of Rights.
The second view is 19th Century German in origin and expressed in
philosophies of Marx and Hegel and Nietzsche. It is a restatement of
philosophies of absolutism that have plagued mankind for millennia.
view, rights come not from God, but from the state. What rights you
there because government has given them to you, all for the greater
defined, of course, by government.
In the 20 years I have been actively engaged in public policy, I
the growing influence of this 19th Century German view. It disdains
of the American Founders. It rejects the notion of inalienable
endowed equally to every human being by the "laws of nature and of
God." In this view, it is the state, and not the individual, where
I mention this, because of a debate that occurred last week on the
the State Senate. It was a debate that occurred under the portrait
Washington and the gold-emblazoned motto, "Senatoris Est Civitatis
Libertatum Tueri" - "The Senators protect the Liberty of the
At issue was a measure, SB 52, which will require a state-issued
own a firearm for self-defense. To receive a license, you would have
a series of tests, costs and standards set by the state.
We have seen many bills considered and adopted that would infringe
right of a free people to bear arms. But this was the most brazen
this legislature to claim that the very right of self-defense is not
inalienable natural right at all, but is rather a right that is
from government; a right that no longer belongs to you, but to your
who will license you to exercise that right at their discretion.
During the debate on this measure, which passed the Senate 25 to 15,
raised these issues. And I would like to quote to you the response
Senator Sheila Kuehl, to the approving nods of the Senators whose
duty is to
protect the liberty of the citizens.
She said, "There is only one constitutional right in the United
is absolute and that is your right to believe anything you want."
I want to focus on that statement. "The only constitutional right
absolute is your right to believe anything you want."
Now, compare that to the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these
to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are
their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are
liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights,
governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers
consent of the governed."
What rights have a slave? There is only one: a slave can think
wants: as long as he doesn't utter it or act on it - he may think
wants. He has no right to the fruit of his labor; no right to
no right to raise his children, no right to contract with others for
betterment, no right to worship - except as his master allows. He
the right to his own thoughts. All other rights are at the
sufferance of his
master - whether that master is a state or an owner.
Now, let us continue to look at this new constitutional principle
by Senator Kuehl, under the portrait of George Washington to the
her colleagues whose duty, according to the proud words above them,
"Protect the Liberty of the Citizens."
She continued, "Other than that, (the right to your own thoughts)
has the ability to say on behalf of all the people - I will put it
colloquial way as my grandmother used to - your right to swing your
ends where my nose begins. It's a balance of your rights and my
because we all have constitutional rights. And the question for
is how do we balance those rights?"
Indeed, the right to swing your fist does end where my nose begins.
excellent analogy. Shall we therefore amputate your fist so that you
never strike my nose? And would you deny me the use of my own fist
protect my nose?
Senator Kuehl and her colleagues believe government has the
authority to do so. It is simply the question of balancing.
It is very important that we understand precisely what Senator Kuehl
Left are saying.
A thief balances your right to your wallet against his right to eat.
murderer balances your right to life against his right to freedom. A
balances your right to "work and toil and make bread," against his
eat it. These are matters of balance.
The American view is quite different. In the view of the American
the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God endow each of us with rights
inalienable, and we are each equal in those rights. It is not a
act. These rights are absolute. They cannot be alienated.
But in a state of nature, there are predators who would deny us
rights. And thus we come together to preserve our freedom. In the
view, the only legitimate exercise of force by one person over
by one government over its people, is "to secure these rights."
Senator Kuehl continues, "My right to defend myself in the home does
extend to my owning a tank, though that would make sense to me,
that no one would attack my home if I had a tank sitting in the
Let us put aside, for a moment, the obvious fact that a tank is only
instrument of self-defense against a power that employs a tank. But
turn to the more reasonable side of her argument: that rights can be
constrained by government; that there is, after all, "no right to
'fire' in a crowded theater. How can a right be absolute and yet
To Senator Kuehl and the Left, the answer is simply, "it's easy --
we say so." Or, in her words, "government has the ability to say
behalf of all the people."
The American Founders had a different view, also, not surprisingly,
diametrically opposed to Senator Kuehl's way of thinking.
The right is absolute. In a free nation, government has no authority
forbid me from speaking because I might shout "fire" in a crowded
Government has no authority to forbid me from using my fist to
because I might also use it to strike your nose. And government has
authority to forbid me from owning a firearm because I might shoot
Government is there to assure that the full force of the law can be
against me if I discharge that right in a manner that threatens the
of others. It does not have the authority to deny me those very
fear I might misuse them.
Senator Kuehl continues, "In my opinion, this bill is one of those
It does not say you cannot have a gun. It does not say you cannot
yourself. It says if you are going to be owning and handling and
dangerous item you need to know how to use it, and you need to prove
you know how to use it by becoming licensed."
How reasonable. How reassuring. How despotic.
We must understand what they are arguing, because it is chilling.
arguing that any of our most precious rights enshrined in the Bill
- any at least they decide are conceivably dangerous -- may only be
through the license of the government.
If that is the case, they are not rights. With that one despotic
you have just dissolved the foundation of the entire Bill of Rights.
have created a society where your only right is to your own
Inalienable rights are now alienated to government, and government
extend or refuse them upon its whim - or more precisely, upon a
act to be decided by government. Let us follow - in our minds at
least - a
little farther down this path.
Hate groups publish newsletters to disseminate their hatred and
individuals in our society act upon this hatred. The Oklahoma City
killed a score of innocent children. Shouldn't we license printing
and Internet sites to prevent the pathology of hate from spreading?
act doesn't say you cannot have a press. It does not say you cannot
yourself. It says if you are going to be owning and handling a
press, you should know what not to say and prove that you can
yourself by becoming licensed.
And what are we to do about rogue religions like those that produced
Heaven's Gate and Jonestown. How many people around the world are
acts of religious fanaticism every year? Should we not license the
legitimate churches? Such an act doesn't say you cannot have a
does not say you cannot worship. It says if you are going to be
conducting a church, that you must know how to worship and prove
know how by becoming licensed.
The only right you have is the right to believe anything you want.
right of a slave. The rest is negotiable - or to use the new word,
In 1838, a 29 year old Abraham Lincoln posed the question for which
ultimately give his life. Years later, he would debate Stephen
argued that freedom and slavery were a matter of political balance.
this speech, he spoke to the larger question that we must now
"Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step over the
and crush us at a blow? Never! -- All the armies of Europe, Asia and
combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in
military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by
a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial
Thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be
expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst
cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must
ourselves be its
author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through
or die by suicide."
The American Founders worried about the same thing. Late in life,
wrote to Adams, "Yes we did create a near perfect union; but will
it, or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of
Material abundance is the surest path to destruction."
And as I listened to Senator Kuehl proclaim that "the only
right in the United States which is absolute ... is your right to
anything you want," and as I gazed at the portrait of George
as I thought about the solemn words, "the Senators Protect the
the Citizens," I couldn't help but think of an aide to George
the name of James McHenry, who accompanied the General as they
Independence Hall the day the Constitution was born. He recorded
encounter between Benjamin Franklin and a Mrs. Powell. She asked,
Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Answered Dr.
"A republic, madam, if you can keep it."
For this generation, that is no longer a hypothetical question.
warns us that to one generation in five falls the duty - the highest
and the most difficult duty of this Republic - to preserve the
the citizens. It is the most difficult, because as Lincoln warned,
it is a
threat that springs up not on a foreign shore where we can see it -
springs up amongst us. It cannot be defeated by force of arms. It
defeated by reason.
Have you noticed yet, that ours is that generation? And how ironic
be that the freedoms won with the blood of Washington's troops, and
by so many who followed, should be voluntarily thrown away piece by
a generation that had become so dull and careless and pampered and
that it lost the memory of freedom.
The Athenian Democracy had a word for "citizen" that survives in our
language today. "Politikos." Politician. The Athenians believed that
people who declare themselves citizens assume a duty to declare
politicians at the same time. It is time we took that responsibility
In 1780, the tide had turned in the American Revolution, and the
began to sense the freedom that was within sight. John Adams wrote
words to his wife that spring. He said, "The science of government
it is my
duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation
administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed
in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our
may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought
study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and
architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give
children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture,
tapestry and porcelain."
Ladies and gentlemen, the debate is not about guns. It is about
the wheel has come full circle. Our generation must study politics
may restore the liberty that our parents and grandparents expect us
on to our children and grandchildren.
If we fail, what history will demand of our children and
grandchildren, in a
society where their only right is to their own thoughts, is simply
unthinkable. And be assured, history will find it unforgivable. A
that is handed the most precious gift in all the universe -
freedom - and
throws it away -- deserves to be reviled by every generation that
and will be, even though the only right left to them is their own
But if we succeed in this struggle, we will know the greatest joy of
the joy of watching our grandchildren secure with the blessings of
studying arts and literature in a free nation and under God's grace,
Ladies and Gentlemen, isn't that worth devoting the rest of our