This will be appearing in a couple of newspapers in my red congressional district (VA-06), under the heading, Guns and the Defense of the Constitution Here in Virginia. (In one case, the NOTE will be included, in the other — for reasons of word length — the NOTE will be omitted.)
A few things that should be pointed out, regarding the movement among some Virginians – including many in our area – to resist “unconstitutional” laws concerning guns that they expect will be passed in the General Assembly this year, now that Democrats are in power there.
First, it would seem more appropriate to see what gets passed before manning the ramparts to fight against “unconstitutional infringements” of people’s “rights to bear arms.” (I’m not aware of any proposed measures that are unconstitutional.) And it is simply mistaken to assume that any law regulating guns violates the Constitution. Even that Supreme Court decision that significantly expanded the scope of the Second Amendment – District of Columbia v Heller —left the door open to regulations that relate to an important public interest.
Second, citizens do not have the right or the power to determine on their own say-so whether or not a law is unconstitutional. We have the right to challenge a law’s constitutionality, bringing the issue before the courts. But it is up to the courts to make that determination. Until the courts strike down such a law, or put a stay on it, citizens are legally obligated to obey it.*
Third, if citizens want to disobey a law that remains in effect – as a protest to what they believe to be an unconstitutional (or merely an unjust) law – they can do so as a form of “civil disobedience.” That is an American tradition. But such disobedience entails a willingness to pay the price: the man who gave us that phrase – Henry David Thoreau, who protested the U.S. war against Mexico in the 1840s – willingly accepted his being jailed as a consequence of his disobeying the law.
Those who believe in the rule of law, and respecting our Constitution, are obligated to honor those three points. But a movement that shows such respect would look different from what we see happening now among gun rights advocates in Virginia.
What an irony that a movement formed presumably to defend the Constitution, shows so little understanding of what the Constitution requires of Americans.
NOTE: This second point proves that those states that chose to secede from the Union, leading to the Civil War, were acting lawlessly. The question of whether the states had the right to secede was in dispute. The newly elected President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was among those who maintained that there was no such right. (And his arguments were powerfully formulated.) Whether Lincoln’s case against secession was correct or not, no mere citizens of the United States had the right to determine on their own – and even go to war on the basis of their opinion – such a constitutional issue. In the constitutional system, that is for the Court to decide. And when the states that formed the Confederacy seceded, no such determination had been made. Thus their secession violated the constitutional order.