Jeb Bush recently made an appearance on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert when the subject of whether there is a national right to gun ownership came up. Bush’s answer may be concerning to many, but let’s reserve judgment until we look at the entire story. However, whether his answer was his true opinion or a gaff, is concerning.
During the interview, Colbert asked a written-in question regarding the Constitution and whether it implied a national right to gun ownership. Jeb Bush, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, veered a bit off course when his answer drifted to the Tenth Amendment and a state’s right to legislate gun ownership.
The question was a bit of a gotcha and certainly anti-Second Amendment in its nature. Jeb handled it well talking about how Florida was a pro-Second Amendment state under his leadership and to keep the guns out of hands of criminals or the mentally ill, they had background checks. He went on to say the common root of mass shootings was almost always proven to be mental illness. However, it was in the follow-up question that Jeb might have taken a left turn.
Stephen Colbert: Well, the right to have an individual firearm to protect yourself is a national document, in the Constitution, so shouldn’t the way that is also be applied be national?
Jeb Bush: No. Not necessarily… There’s a Tenth Amendment to our country, the Bill of Rights has a Tenth Amendment that powers are given to the states to create policy, and the federal government is not the end all and be all. That’s an important value for this country, and it’s an important federalist system that works quite well.
On the face, that is pretty damning to the argument of whether the Second Amendment is a right or privilege. Jeb’s campaign quickly got out in front of the issue with a clarification. The clarification reiterated that Jeb is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. Jeb’s argument was that states should be able to use the Tenth Amendment to pass laws that expand gun rights—but that is double-edged sword.
Governor Bush is a strong Second Amendment advocate and reiterated his view that the federal government should not be passing new gun control laws. He believes in states rights and as Governor of Florida, he used the Tenth Amendment to expand gun rights with a “Six Pack of Freedom” bill and received an A+ rating from the NRA.
A Double-Edged Sword…
While I like the federal government not being able to limit my rights, I do not favor a state being able to limit my rights. One of my degrees is in political science and I have taken more than a couple of classes on the Constitution and Constitutional law. That being said, I am far from a Constitutional scholar.
However, I believe I understand a bit of where Jeb was trying to get to. The states are supposed to have as much power as the federal government—this is the heart of the federal system. According to the Tenth Amendment, the federal government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the United States Constitution. All remaining powers are reserved for the states or the people.
So, how can using the Tenth Amendment to give states’ rights allow those same states to regulate the Second Amendment? Isn’t that the purpose of the Bill of Rights? Doesn’t the Bill of Rights grant you and me specific rights that shall not be infringed? Do states have the power to expand or limit freedom of speech or unlawful search or seizure? Both the federal government and the state must respect the Bill of Rights.
In hindsight, like I have already stated, I can see where he was trying to go with his argument. The court has allowed the states some latitude to pass and enforce certain laws regulating firearms. At that point, the common belief that the Second Amendment is an absolute right is moot. Perhaps the best way to expand our Second Amendment rights is through the states. It is not perfect, but there is less risk of an all out gun ban that way.
You’ll have to decide for yourself what Jeb really meant. In the end, we all wish Jeb had said the Second Amendment is a Constitutional right and neither a federal nor a state government has the power to limit that right. Whether or not he could have backed that up in front of the Supreme Court, is the attitude most, if not all, of us would like him to have taken.
I am sure most of you have already picked out your preferred candidate. I am not trying to sway your opinion toward or against any particular candidate or party. However, on the subject of the Second Amendment and gun rights, where does the state under the Tenth Amendment or the federal government’s authority end? Where should it end?