from the Congress Action newsletter
by: Kim Weissman
July 1, 2001
What is it about some people that causes them to think they are entitled to be treated as experts in whatever issue they care to comment upon? Politicians are the most obvious example — they think the simple fact that they have been elected to public office automatically makes them experts in everything. Medical doctors are only slightly behind politicians in the overblown ego department.
Contrary to their own apparent belief, however, the fact of having graduated from medical school does not automatically make doctors experts in social science, statistical analysis, Constitutional law, or history. Given the accidental death toll that, according to the National Institute of Medicine, the medical profession is responsible for, one has to wonder how many doctors are even experts in medicine. According to that 1999 report, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System", the medical profession accidentally kills more than three times as many people every year ("may be as high as 98,000" annually) as are killed by firearms from all causes — including accidents, suicides, intentional homicides, and justifiable shootings. And when the death toll caused by medical accidents is compared to the deaths caused by firearms accidents alone (under 900), it turns out that the medical "profession" (can we still use that word?) is more than 100 times deadlier than firearms.
Yet the new president of the American Medical Association is demanding more money for the Centers for Disease Control to establish a "National Violent Death and Injury Reporting System" to "fight this epidemic of violence". Just to keep things straight, the AMA president was referring to "gun violence", not medical violence.
Medical "experts" think themselves qualified to dictate public policy regarding firearms for one reason: they are in a position to see the end result of shootings. But that hardly qualifies them to make intelligent recommendations about public policy in the area of firearms ownership. How many of them have studied Constitutional law? How many have studied the historical background of the development of the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights? How many have read the extensive commentary by the Founders of this nation regarding the individual right to keep and bear arms? How many have actually read the long line of court cases upholding that individual Constitutional right? How many have examined the statistical data produced by eminent social scientists, and even by the U.S. Justice Department under the rabidly anti-firearms former Attorney General Reno, finding that the benefits of privately owned firearms, in crimes deterred, far outweighs the deaths resulting from the misuse or criminal use of guns?
The answer to all of these questions is probably a big fat zero. But that doesn't prevent these pontificating doctors from making fools of themselves (while thinking that they appear brilliantly compassionate — "divine" was the word the AMA president used) complaining about "a serious public health crisis" of the "uncontrolled ownership and use of firearms" (uncontrolled? Has this guy been living in a cave during the last 40 years of proliferating and increasingly draconian gun control laws?). In reality, the "serious public health crisis" we face isn't guns — it's arrogant medical "professionals".
In his inaugural speech, the new President of the AMA quoted past Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger as the one (and only) Supreme Court Justice justifying his association's renewed assault on the Second Amendment: "…the Second Amendment has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. . . . The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon. Surely the Second Amendment does not remotely guarantee every person the constitutional right to have a Saturday night special or a machine gun."
Other Supreme Courts Justices have, of course, said quite the opposite over the years:
Joseph Story: (Supreme Court Justice, 1812 — 1845): "The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered a palladium of the liberties of a Republic; since it offers a strong moral check against usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable people to resist and triumph over them." "The [Second] amendment is, 'A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.' One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offence to keep arms, and by substituting a regular army in the stead of a resort to the militia. The friends of a free government cannot be too watchful, to overcome the dangerous tendency of the public mind to sacrifice, for the sake of mere private convenience, this powerful check upon the designs of ambitious men."
Morrison R. Waite: (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 1874 — 1888) (majority opinion in United States v. Cruikshank (1876): "The right there specified is that of 'bearing arms for a lawful purpose.' This is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed; but this, as has been seen, means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress. This is one of the amendments that has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government, leaving the people to look for their protection against any violation by their fellow-citizens of the rights it recognizes, to what is called…the 'powers which relate to merely municipal legislation, or what was, perhaps, more properly called internal police,' 'not surrendered or restrained' by the Constitution of the United States."
William B. Woods: (Supreme Court Justice, 1880 — 1887) (majority opinion in Presser v. Illinois (1886): Quoted the Cruikshank holding that "…the right of the people to keep and bear arms 'is not a right granted by the constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence."
William Rehnquist: (Supreme Court Justice, 1972 — 1986; Chief Justice, 1986 — ) (majority opinion in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990): "The Fourth Amendment phrase 'the people' seems to be a term of art used in select parts of the Constitution and contrasts with the words 'person' and 'accused' used in Articles of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments regulating criminal procedures. This suggests that 'the people' refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community." "While this textual exegesis is by no means conclusive, it suggests that 'the people' protected by the Fourth Amendment, and by the First and Second Amendments, and to whom rights and powers are reserved in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community."
Antonin Scalia: (Supreme Court Justice, 1986 — ) ("A Matter of Interpretation", 1994): "…few tears [would be] shed if and when the Second Amendment is held to guarantee nothing more than the state National Guard, this would simply show that the Founders were right when they feared that some future generation might wish to abandon liberties that they considered essential, and so sought to protect those liberties in a Bill of Rights. We may tolerate the abridgement of property rights and the elimination of a right to bear arms; but we should not pretend that these are not reductions of rights. … Dispassionate scholarship suggests quite strongly that the right of the people to keep and bear arms meant just that."
Clarence Thomas: (Supreme Court Justice, 1991 — ) (majority opinion in Staples v. United States (1994): "...the fact remains that there is a long tradition of widespread lawful gun ownership by private individuals in this country."; "Here, the Government essentially suggests that we should interpret the section under the altogether different assumption that one would hardly be surprised to learn that owning a gun is not an innocent act. That proposition is simply not supported by common experience. Guns in general are not deleterious devices or products or obnoxious waste materials, that put their owners on notice that they stand in responsible relation to a public danger."; "...despite their potential for harm, guns generally can be owned in perfect innocence."
But what various judges have said about what the Constitution or the Second Amendment means hardly gets to the root of the current crisis of Constitutional adjudication in our courts. When the question is what the Founders meant by a particular Constitutional clause or provision, what some judge or legal commentator 200 years after the fact thinks that the Founders might have meant is hardly authoritative. This is because there is a far more authoritative source for what the Constitution actually means, a source that is usually ignored by those (such as the AMA) with an over-inflated opinion of their own misinformed intellect and driven by a radical political agenda. The most authoritative source is what the men who actually wrote the Constitution told us they meant. Such as:
James Madison: "[T]he advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." — Federalist # 46
Alexander Hamilton: "Little more can reasonably be aimed at with respect to the people at large than to have them properly armed and equipped...". — Federalist # 29
So if your doctor starts lecturing you about the danger of guns in your home (an increasingly common practice during routine medical exams, especially by pediatricians), ask how many of the 98,000 people killed by the medical "profession" every year she and her colleagues are responsible for. Physician, first heal thyself.
FOR MORE INFORMATION…
National Institute of Medicine report ("To Err is
Human: Building a Safer Health System"):
The Federalist Papers online and searchable
1 jul 2001