Firearms And Freedom by Tom McClintock

I oppose this bill. I am forwarding you my speech on freedom and


Take care,


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

each of

us is endowed by our creator with certain rights that cannot be


and that governments are instituted to protect those rights. This

view is

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.

In this

view, rights come not from God, but from the state. What rights you

have are

there because government has given them to you, all for the greater

good -

defined, of course, by government.

In the 20 years I have been actively engaged in public policy, I

have seen

the growing influence of this 19th Century German view. It disdains

the view

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


are vested.

I mention this, because of a debate that occurred last week on the

floor of

the State Senate. It was a debate that occurred under the portrait

of George

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

license to

own a firearm for self-defense. To receive a license, you would have

to meet

a series of tests, costs and standards set by the state.

We have seen many bills considered and adopted that would infringe

upon the

right of a free people to bear arms. But this was the most brazen

attempt in

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

States which

is absolute and that is your right to believe anything you want."

I want to focus on that statement. "The only constitutional right

which is

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

endowed by

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

from the

consent of the governed."

What rights have a slave? There is only one: a slave can think

anything he

wants: as long as he doesn't utter it or act on it - he may think

what he

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

has only

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

delight of

her colleagues whose duty, according to the proud words above them,

is to

"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

in the

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

and the

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

right to

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

that are

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

another, or

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

let us

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


by government?

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

(so) on

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

defend myself

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


innocent victim.

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

rights for

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

using a

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.

They are

arguing that any of our most precious rights enshrined in the Bill

of Rights

- 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

racism. Sick

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?

Such an

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

killed by

acts of religious fanaticism every year? Should we not license the
legitimate churches? Such an act doesn't say you cannot have a

church. It

does not say you cannot worship. It says if you are going to be

running and

conducting a church, that you must know how to worship and prove

that you

know how by becoming licensed.

The only right you have is the right to believe anything you want.

The only

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

he would

ultimately give his life. Years later, he would debate Stephen

Douglas, who

argued that freedom and slavery were a matter of political balance.

But in

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

force, take

a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial

of a

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

us. It

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

all time,

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

they keep

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

Washington, and

as I thought about the solemn words, "the Senators Protect the

Liberty of

the Citizens," I couldn't help but think of an aide to George

Washington by

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

liberty of

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

must be

defeated by reason.

Have you noticed yet, that ours is that generation? And how ironic

it would

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

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

a free

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

freedom. And

the wheel has come full circle. Our generation must study politics

that we

may restore the liberty that our parents and grandparents expect us

to pass

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

follows -

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

all -

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

lives to