Friday is Independence Day, a day to celebrate the establishment of a broad spectrum of personal freedoms found in these United States and nowhere else. It’s a day to celebrate the inspiration, the intellect and enlightened vision of our nation’s founding fathers — a day to recognize and give thanks to those who spilled their blood and gave their all to see those freedoms established.
James Madison sought to protect what he viewed as our most important freedoms when he authored the Bill of Rights, comprised of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Among them, he specifically identified the right to keep and bear arms, which, according to the Second Amendment, “shall not be infringed.” In recent decades, however, this fundamental liberty has been under relentless attack from within the halls of our own government, as well as from without.
For hunters, the loss of the right to keep and bear arms has obvious implications. If you take away the right to own firearms, you take away the ability to go hunting.
While sitting in a typical Las Vegas traffic jam a couple of weeks ago, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “The 2nd Amendment isn’t about duck hunting.”
My guess is the thought behind that sentiment is rooted in the politics of the day and the attempt by tiptoeing politicians to placate hunters with promises that their hunting firearms will not be among those restricted should gun control legislation pass. That the target of their gun control efforts are only those dastardly “assault weapons,” such as autoloading shotguns and .22 caliber rifles dressed up to resemble military style arms.
Never mind that many of us hunt a variety of fowl with the very autoloading or pump-action shotguns gun control advocates include on their list of so called assault weapons. Or that most of us grew up shooting targets and small game with .22 caliber rifles. Never mind that replacing the traditional stock on a Ruger 10/22 with a black, composite stock and flash suppressor does nothing more than change the firearm’s appearance.
Ironically, as I sat there pondering the meaning of that bumper sticker, members of the U.S. Supreme Court were pondering the meaning of the Second Amendment as they worked out their decision in District of Columbia et al., v Heller. Their decision was released June 26, and by a 5-4 vote, the court held “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service to the militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
Obviously, legal hunting activity and recreational shooting are among those traditionally lawful purposes. So I suppose one could argue that the Second Amendment is about duck hunting and deer hunting and target shooting — just as it is about self-defense.
In a statement issued by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, that organization’s president, Steve Sanetti, said:
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a major victory for all Americans. The Heller decision reaffirms the wisdom of our founding fathers in creating the Bill of Rights to protect and preserve individual rights, the cornerstone of our democracy. Furthermore, this decision solidifies a historical fact, the common-sense understanding that governments have powers, not rights — rights are reserved exclusively for individuals.”
In its decision, delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court reiterated: “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner and for whatever purpose.”
The court noted that some limitations, such as those affecting concealed carrying, have been upheld under the amendment, as have laws forbidding the carry of firearms in sensitive places such as schools.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, vowed the organization’s “fight to enact sensible gun laws will be undiminished by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Heller case.”
In the meantime, I will wake up Friday and revel in the court’s decision by taking my family out for a day of recreational shooting, and in so doing will exercise one of those fundamental, individual liberties specifically identified in the Bill of Rights.
Doug Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer and a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column is published Thursday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org