You would think that a president who taught constitutional law would understand one of the most basic constitutional concepts. But a look at the Obama Administration’s version of the White House website whitehouse.gov reveals that this may not be the case.

In the section of the site under Our Government —> The Constitution, there is a brief discussion of the Bill of Rights, and then each of the first ten amendments is listed, but not in the original language of the constitution itself. Instead, an interpretation of what each amendment means in the view of the Obama administration is presented.

Take at look at how Team Obama describes the second amendment on the White House website:

“The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.”

What is wrong with this picture?

The second amendment reads:

“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.”

Though there have been heated discussion over the meaning of the “well regulated militia” clause, the rest of the sentence should be clear in its meaning: The Second Amendment protects citizens’ right to bear arms. Government doesn’t “give” citizens their rights.

The Bill of Rights is not a list of government-given rights. These rights belonged to the people before there was a federal government. A clue to where those rights come from is given in the Declaration of Independence. We get the rights from “Nature and Nature’s God.”

Though Jefferson wrote the Declaration and Madison put the Constitution into words, the two had a close friendship enduring over fifty years. Jefferson was in Paris during the constitutional convention, and he relied on Franklin and others who were frequent visitors to France to bring him copies of Madison’s latest updates as work on the documet continued. These couriers also carried letters back and forth for the two. Jefferson would send Madison his thoughts and suggestions on the Constitution as it went through its various stages of development, and Madison would offer amendments to the convention after he and Jefferson had hashed out each point of discussion. Though Madison may have been the author of the Constitution, he was in close collaboration with Jefferson all through the process. Others, of course, including James Mason, also made significant contributions.

Though the two friends had many disagreements, their collaboration was in a sense a low-tech, long distance brainstorming, where a synergy was created as each worked off of the ideas and critiques of the other. In her book Jefferson And Madison The Great Collaboration, author Adrienne Koch writes:

The correspondence between Madison and Jefferson on the Constitution illuminates the theoretical political beliefs of the two friends. Both men were probing the root meaning of what they called “Republican theory.” Both were seeking to implement the principle that ultimate power, decision, and control should belong to the aggregate of the people. Private rights, the so-called “natural” and civil rights, including property, they both agreed should be protected to the fullest possible extent.

The Bill of Rights. as written by Madison, then, is very Jeffersonian. It is a list of protections of our rights which government shall not infringe. How can a “constitutional law professor” not understand this most basic fact about our Constitution?

Insight into President Obama’s thinking about the second amendment can be found in an article Lott wrote for Fox News in April of last year. He describes an encounter between the two:

In fact, I knew Obama during the mid-1990s, and his answers to IVI’s question on guns fit well with the Obama that I knew. Indeed, the first time I introduced myself to him he said “Oh, you are the gun guy.”

I responded “Yes, I guess so.” He simply responded that “I don’t believe that people should be able to own guns.”

When I said it might be fun to talk about the question sometime and about his support of the city of Chicago’s lawsuit against the gun makers, he simply grimaced and turned away, ending the conversation.

IVI is the Independent Voters of Illinois, and Lott’s piece discusses Obama’s answers to a questionnaire the group had sent him. When Obama ran for the Illinois state senate, IVI asked him if he supported a “ban [on] the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns,” and he responded “yes.”

Obama’s interpretation of the Constitution in general and the second amendment in particular seems to be based not on an understanding of what Madison, Jefferson and their colleagues labored to codify, but rather in the ingrained liberal notion that guns are just bad – period. Firearms are a symbol of personal responsibility, and that may be why the left loathes them so.

Every time I hear Obama make an attempt to calm fears about gun control measures his administration might support over the next four years, my mind always goes back to that brief meeting he had with Lott. Instead of his protestations to the contrary, I hear him saying, “I don’t believe that people should be able to own guns.” Firearms owners and all who love liberty should watch this administration like a hawk.

– JP