By Robert Maynard
“How can they defy our state and federal constitutions? And why?” – This is the question that was posted on TNR’s facebook page by one of our readers in response to a recent article about how gun control is on the move here in Vermont. The fact that gun control is being pushed by certain political figures here in Vermont comes as a surprise to some as this is one of the few issues where most Vermont politicians have decided to leave Vermonters alone. Seven Days did a recent story about the NRA’s support for Governor Shumlin and reproduced the NRA questionnaire that Shumlin filled out. In noting Shumlin’s refusal to join the gun control chorus here in Vermont, one poster commented that: “Shumlin enacting a ban on any type of gun in this state would be political suicide. There aren’t many people outside Chittenden County that do not hold gun rights sacred and Pete is smart enough to know how to keep himself in office.” Also noted by another poster was the balancing act that he is performing so as not to anger either his progressive base, or gun rights supporters:
[Shumlin] said, “If it applied to all 50 states and was sensible, I’d obviously consider it. But since I don’t vote on federal bills — I’m not a member of Congress, I’m not the President of the United States — it’s not something I spend a lot of time worrying about.”
Very interesting…it seems to me that when Dubie used this argument in reference to the abortion issue Shummy was all for not letting slide and wanting him to answer the questions directly… now that it is a convient excuse to dodge political fallout Shumlins a big fan…and hypocrit.
“I’d obviously consider it.” In other words, he is not against gun control in principle, he just does not want to risk the political wrath of the gun rights supporters by leading the charge. When push comes to shove, can gun rights supporters trust him not to join the gun control band wagon if it gains political momentum? Despite his support from the NRA, I would not bank on that.
Back to the question of “How can they defy our state and federal constitutions? And why?” They can do this because the supporters of gun rights have only been fighting the battle at the tactical level, while their opponents fight at the vision and strategic level. That is true as well of supporters of property rights, the right to life, etc. Each of these constitutionally protected rights has a constituency that can be counted on to spring into action around their issue if these rights are directly threatened. The problem is that the biggest threat to all of our rights does not come from an issue by issue assault on specific rights and cannot be fought strictly on an issue by issue basis. We are losing the battle over such rights because all too often we are conceding the premise upon which these rights are based and will not swing into action until they are directly threatened. By then most of the damage has already been done.
The central premise behind our state and federal constitutions is the need to limit the role of government to that of securing these rights. Without an agreement that the role of government should be limited, the individual rights enumerated in state and federal constitutions are not secure because they are based on just such an agreement. A quote attributed to George Washington sums up the basis for such an agreement. The following phrase was first attributed to “The First President of the United States” in Liberty and Government by W. M., in The Christian Science Journal, Vol. XX, No. 8 (November 1902): “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
“Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” One way to understand this is not to let government assume an expanded role in society beyond the strict limits defined for it. Another is to only allow government to exercise powers based on the “consent of the governed.” Our founders viewed the powers of government to be “just”, not only when it was limited to the purpose for which it was conceived, but when it was derived from the consent of the governed. With the exception of the township level where consent was expressed directly in New England style “Town Meetings”, consent in our form of government is expressed by the election of “representatives”.
The problem arises when the functions and power of government is transferred from elected officials to unelected bureaucrats. The more the role of government expands the faster the functions of government are transferred to a wide variety of government bureaucracies. Since election is the mechanism by which a people confer their consent on a government, unelected government bureaucrats exercise political power without the consent of the governed. Instead of deriving its powers by the consent of the governed, we increasingly have a situation by which government power is exercised by bureaucratic decree. The expansion of the role of government also makes it next to impossible for citizens to keep track of everything the government is doing. How can government power and decision making be based on the consent of the governed when we have very little idea all the things that the government is involved in?
If we truly wish to secure our rights, we have to realize that the real battle is over the proper role of government in a free society. When government expands its role beyond it narrowly prescribed constitutional limits, it assumes power that makes it a threat to all of our rights whether that is the initial intention or not. We simply cannot win this fight on a mere issue by issue basis. Whether it be gun rights, property rights, the right to life, etc., the constituencies of these causes need to band together in a broad based coalition to fight the expansion of the role of government and not wait until their particular concern is threatened. Such groups should also be a little more careful about endorsing candidates who agree with them on a specific issue, but support the expansion of the role of government on just about every other issue.