By Alan Gottlieb

Remarkable as it might seem, Dec. 15 frequently comes and goes unnoticed by most Americans, yet it is a date commemorating the document that has made this nation the benchmark against which all others are measured.

On that day in 1791 the Bill of Rights – the first ten Amendments to the Constitution – was ratified. To put that in perspective, it took this nation several years to adopt a Constitution, and more than a decade to produce the Bill of Rights. Today, we should not expect emerging democracies to accomplish the same thing overnight.

The Bill of Rights delineates certain individual rights guaranteed to all of the people. Among those rights are freedom of assembly, religion, speech and press; the right to legal counsel, due process, and privacy.

Perhaps the cornerstone to all of these is the right to keep and bear arms. A careful reading of the Amendment and the history behind it establishes beyond doubt that the Second Amendment was this nation’s original “homeland security” measure. The Amendment does not “grant” anything, but instead affirms the right of arms to the people, and has been even more specifically defined in some state constitutions as “the right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.”

The Second Amendment was a guarantee of self-defense on the frontier, and of the common defense against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. It is, as some historians have observed, an “insurance policy” against the establishment of a tyrannical government.

As the nation expanded and matured, the Second Amendment has hardly become archaic. It is as fundamental today as it was two centuries ago, although along the way, self-appointed “progressives,” social engineers, and even some lower courts have tried to obfuscate its meaning by inventing, through some tortured logic, a “collective right” theory that clearly does not stand up under scrutiny. “The people” referred to in the Second Amendment are the same individual citizens alluded to in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

Fortunately at this time of great peril, the right protected by the Second Amendment is gaining back “lost ground” that had been eroded by zealous and misguided legislation over the years. Forty-six states have laws that guarantee citizens the right to carry a gun for their personal safety. Thirty-eight of those states have “right-to-carry” laws that mandate concealed carry licenses will be issued to all law-abiding citizens who want them.

Several states have passed recognition statutes that honor all concealed carry licenses issued by other states, or have adopted “reciprocity” laws by which states agree to recognize licenses issued by cooperating states. Not perfect, of course, but a good “first step” toward restoration of the right of citizens to be safe not only in their own communities, but when they travel.

The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the right of the Legislature to pass a right-to-carry law. The Illinois Legislature overrode a governor’s veto recently to affirm the self-defense right of a citizen in his own home, despite passage of local ordinances that would preclude such a right by prohibiting the ownership of handguns.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to override the Washington, D.C. gun ban. With the election of a more pro-gun rights Senate, that legislation may pass in 2005 and be signed into law.

In September, history was made when a fundamentally flawed and statistically unsuccessful federal gun control law – the ban on so-called “assault weapons” – was allowed to expire. No law that makes it acceptable to ban certain firearms is good, because it sets a precedent by which, under the wrong circumstances and wrong leadership, it would be acceptable to ban other firearms.

According to a recent Gallup survey, the public “has become more hesitant in recent years to say gun laws should be made more strict.”

Gun owners are a recognized voting bloc and a political force to be reckoned with. Not surprisingly, those devoted to gun rights support all civil rights. Many gun owners, and not just in the Red states, will celebrate Dec. 15 by purchasing a new gun. Others who can’t afford a new gun will buy a box of ammunition to show their support.

How will you celebrate this important anniversary?