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By Robert B. Young, MD

On Sunday we all should have been jubilantly celebrating the 226th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the original 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. Remarkably, it slipped by relatively unremarked. Yet our Bill of Rights may actually be the most significant of our republic’s founding documents.

The Declaration of Independence announced our nationhood. The Constitution defined our government. The Bill of Rights confirms our liberty as free people who are not subservient to our government.

There is a lot wrong today that the authors of the Bill of Rights anticipated and meant to preclude. But the Framers knew that natural and civil rights, including these broad and individual ones that were defined so early on, are actually not worth the parchment they’re inked on. They’re only worth what each generation holds they mean regardless of original intent.

That’s how they’ve often become too loosely interpreted.

There was strong agreement among the Founders about the importance of these principles to a civil, democratic society and in their belief that they were codifying rights that were mostly pre-existent and inherent to the dignity of human beings.

The conflict between Federalists and Anti-Federalists over whether to formalize these was about the impact of leaving unstated other rights “retained by the people” or “reserved to the states”. There was no disagreement about the importance of any of the rights for which the colonists had fought and died for.

Federalists worried that documenting any rights implied disregard for those not enumerated. Anti-Federalists feared that not including these in the Constitution would eventually make it easier to ignore them.

Over 200 years later, it appears the Anti-Federalists showed the greater foresight on this question.

The Second Amendment (in James Madison’s original draft, beginning with “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”) is our particular concern here at Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership. Not just to protect the right to keep and bear arms, but also because this individual right is so basic to all the other rights of Americans.

It is, in St. George Tucker’s words, our “palladium of liberty”. Just having this enumerated right for individuals to own and use weapons makes us unique among nations.

One reason Americans have always seen ourselves as exceptional is because of the individual obligation for self-responsibility that is required by minimizing dependence on government. We’ve been realists since the first boots trod the Atlantic coast, taught by the frontier experience that we have to take care of ourselves.

We discovered that people have the right “to the pursuit of Happiness”, not to be made happy. We learned that we have the right, and therefore the duty, to protect ourselves because there is no right to be free from harm. If we do not comprehend these core truths, we become dependent on government for happiness and protection— according to others’ standards, not our own.

As Americans moved westward, they outpaced the advance of existing government, an unusual pattern throughout the hemisphere. Sometimes alone, often in scattered clusters of neighboring settlers, they had to meet their own needs. They were guided in establishing their own local authorities by the same traditions we look to today to understand our relationship to government that now envelops us.

That historical ethic of self-reliance without a safety net is a recent enough phenomenon to continue influencing our psyches. That’s good because this world, and too often our own part of it, is an unpredictable and dangerous place.

Accepting the responsibility to care for oneself, one’s families and fellow citizens must be at the heart of any successful society. A hard-nosed, far-sighted understanding of that reality is central to American history, coupled with our optimism and generosity.

This is why DRGO speaks out on behalf of our fellow citizens. We oppose professional and cultural group-think that would have us ask more what our country can do for us, than what we can do for ourselves and our country.

DRGO vouches for the capacity of people to do the right things for themselves and each other, even with powerful tools like firearms. If we don’t, we’ll lose our history, our liberty, and each other.


DRGO Editor Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

This post originally appeared at and is reprinted here with permission. 

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  1. The Bill of Rights confirms our liberty as free people who are not subservient to our government.

    Ohhhhh, so that is why Democrats hate the Bill of Rights so much. They want US to be subservient to government. (And they expect to be the government — hence they expect the masses to be subservient to them.)

    … the Founders … were codifying rights that were mostly pre-existent and inherent to the dignity of human beings.

    And that is why Democrats dismiss the Bill of Rights — because they do not recognize any inherent dignity of human beings. In Democrat’s minds you only have human dignity if they deem you worthy of it.

    • Correct. Submission is good for the Leftist mind. If you’re in charge, you make the rules. If you’re not, you get freebies from the ones who make the rules.

      …until they change the rules.

        • The Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution protecting the rights of U.S. citizens—were ratified on December 15, 1791.

          Cool TTAG this story isn’t four days late to the anniversary party…at…all.

  2. I remember covering the Bill of Rights in middle school government class and then studying their implementation in Civics/Goverment in the 10th or 11th grade.

    I guess they dont bother teaching that in public school anymore.

    It is rare to run across a new college graduate that can speak to the constitution or bill of rights…..except to say “I got rights”.

    We will all reap the bounty of a “progressive education”.

    • So did I, and they don’t teach it any more. Nor do they teach anything now about the history of threats to freedom, such as Hitler or Marx or the Fabian Society, or why we had to go to war in the past. Kids don’t know what a communist is. They’re seriously as dumb as a box of rocks when they graduate, and that was precisely the goal of Obama’s Common Core.

      • They not “dumb” or “stupid”. Those are intrinsic qualities assigned to someone who lacks intelligence (or in the former case can’t talk).

        They’re ignorant and they’re ignorant by design. Wanna fix that? Try mentoring.

        • Leftists control public education, full stop.

          Leftists are the ones deciding what gets taught in public schools. We have nearly zero representation what gets taught.

          I have harped on this before, but the only way our voice gets heard when drafting those lesson plans is to have a seat at that table.

          We *must* get more conservative voices in teaching, or we will have lost by default simply by not bothering to show up…

        • I spend a lot of money on private school for my child to ensure I have a say in what happens and what is taught. It’s nice being treated like a customer instead of a taxpayer. I also don’t worry about my daughter spending all day with miscreants from failed homes who are only there because they have to be there. Instead of a day care center with minimal supervision and low standards it’s an academy where learning is in the air and discipline problems are rare.
          When it costs thousands of dollars a year parents make sure their kids take it seriously.

        • Geoff PR,

          We *must* get more conservative voices in teaching …

          Sadly, I foresee that being an impossibility.

          For one thing, I foresee many school districts investigating an applicant for a teaching position and refusing to hire conservative applicants.

          Second, even if a conservative teacher manages to slip in, I foresee the school district, or at least staff at his/her particular school where he/she teaches, making professional life a living Hell for that conservative teacher.

          Finally, it may be impossible for a conservative teacher to actually teach. Why? What should a conservative teacher do when the school district forces that teacher to teach subject matter (or worse indoctrination values) which he/she knows are incorrect or violates deeply held personal values? That puts that conservative teacher in a no-win situation. Who wants to spend a career working in that environment?

      • Yes, Civics and History have both fallen by the wayside in lieu of Social Studies, that “course” that believes kids need to know about primitive tribalism in todays world. Then we wonder why kids today have no clue as to the why America is the way we are. Those things that shaped us aren’t politically correct anymore.

  3. Good article Doc. Now tie Nancy, and the rest of them to a chair and instruct them until their ears bleed.

  4. The Anti Federalists called that on by a long shot. Could you imagine US history without the bill of rights? It would be a pure nightmare.

  5. In her Majesty’s colony of New South Wales, the state premier, the equivalent of one of your state governors, declared “Firearm owners have NO rights”. With people like that making such statements, things are at best going to difficult if not downright unpleasant.

  6. And yet most people in power blissfully ignore any restrictions on their actions. Maybe the people shouldn’t have put them in charge to begin with.

  7. We would have much less misunderstanding about guns today if the Bill of Rights had been written differently. The 2nd Amendment should really been the 1st Amendment.
    Also, the 2nd Amendment should have been written as follows. ” The right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed so that the people can protect themselves from a tyrannical government and law breakers. This Amendment shall be the foundation upon which this whole constitution shall stand.”

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