Before President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act in 2001, he said, "Today, we take an essential step in defeating terrorism, while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans." At the time, the Left cried out that their constitutional rights were being stripped away, but in the emotional post-9/11 environment, they were powerless to do much about it. And Bush knew it.
Last week, before President Barack Obama issued his executive orders on gun control, he said, "I believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale." Afterward, the Right cried out that their Second Amendment rights are being stripped away, but in this emotional post-Sandy Hook tragedy environment, many feel powerless to do much about it.
And Obama knows it.
I too fear that Obama is attacking the Second Amendment in unprecedented and dangerous ways. I also know that most liberals think conservatives are overreacting and that the Right is simply being too extreme on this issue. The Left may be right, but that doesn't mean that conservatives are absolutely right to "overreact." They are right to be "extreme."
It is during times of national tragedy that we must guard our liberties most, precisely because public fear has always been the perfect cover for politicians looking to advance their own agendas through increased government power. I know very few liberals who didn't believe that Bush — or more accurately Vice President Dick Cheney and his neoconservative friends — didn't already have an authoritarian predilection for war and the national-security state well before 9/11. I know very few conservatives who doubt that Obama and his liberal friends don't have the same enthusiasm for grabbing guns every chance they can get.
Perhaps the more moderate view is that we should believe government is more honest or benevolent than this —that Bush and Obama both simply responded responsibly to national tragedies. I side with the extremists on this. I believe Bush and friends eventually used 9/11 as an excuse to shred the Fourth Amendment and start an irrational war in Iraq that neoconservatives had been itching for since the Clinton administration. And I believe Obama is using Sandy Hook as an excuse to trample the Second Amendment and pass stricter gun laws that liberals have been anxious to enact since forever.
In 2001, liberals were absolutely correct to be indignant over the Patriot Act. The flippant attitude that conservatives expressed toward civil liberties at that time — that the tragic events of 9/11 made these new government measures necessary — is the same line that Obama and the Left are now employ in attacking the Second Amendment.
There is nothing wrong with government taking practical measures to defend and protect its citizens. That is part of government's function. But any such actions must happen within the confines of the Constitution. Limiting the inherent danger of creeping government is that document's function. There will always be excuses for circumventing the Constitution, many of them even convincing. They must always be rejected wholesale.
The Fourth Amendment prevents federal agents from spying on citizens without a warrant. Period. This is not negotiable. The Second Amendment says our right to bear arms "shall not be infringed." Period. Obama is now infringing.
There is nothing that will stop crazy or evil people from doing crazy or evil things. Ultimately, the Patriot Act cannot stop terrorists determined to do harm. In fact, it is now being used to spy on citizens in all sorts of ways that have absolutely nothing to do with terrorists. Such is the inherently overreaching nature of government.
Obama's executive gun orders will not stop future tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary. Big guns with lots of bullets aren't going away any more than prohibition has eliminated drugs. Murderers of all types do not care about such rules and will not abide. But citizens who own guns legally will now be saddled with new regulations that give criminals an advantage and government more power at the Second Amendment's expense. You don't have to be a firearms enthusiast to know that this isn't a final triumph for gun control advocates; it's only the latest chapter.
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice precisely because there will always be excuses to surrender our freedoms and those excuse will always be born out of fear. Conservatives were convinced Bush "kept us safe." Liberals now insist Obama is "keeping us safe." But we already have a set of laws that keep us safe: The U.S. Constitution. And it was designed to keep us safe from our own government.