We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
-The U.S. Declaration of Independence
Like the other founding documents of our Republic, the Declaration of Independence was written in late 18th Century English. It follows forms and usages of the period that may or may not have survived to our early 21st Century English. It uses words that are familiar to us, but not necessarily in common use. “Unalienable” is one of those words. As an example of how the language has changed since 1776, we have since substituted the alternate spelling “inalienable”. But both words have the same meaning and this meaning may be lost on modern readers.
1. Adj. Not to be separated, given away, or taken away; inalienable
When a right is unalienable, this means not only that you cannot be deprived of it, but that you cannot push it away from yourself even if you tried. To do so would violate the laws of nature. It would be like swearing off breathing! While there are indeed ways to stop yourself from breathing, they all end with your death. The 17th Century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes defined a law of nature as:
A LAW OF NATURE, (Lex Naturalis,) is a Precept, or generall Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved.
Leviathan, Chapter XIV
Like the laws of gravity or motion, the laws of nature and the rights that flow from them cannot be undone by wishing them away. Force is equal to mass multiplied by acceleration whether you like it or not. The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness exist whether you like it or not.
The right to keep and bear arms flows from the right to life. If you have the right to life, you have the right to “the means of preserving the same”. If you renounce the right to arms, you renounce the right to life. But the latter is that “which a man is forbidden to do, … which is destructive of his life”. But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Most of Europe has renounced the right to arms. They’ve gone further and renounced the very right to self-defense. Indeed, there are parts of Europe where you can find yourself facing charges for doing that which nature demands.
So why do I bring this up? As you will recall, Massachusetts State Representative Paul Heroux posed several questions for gun owners as part of his “thought experiment.” One of these was asked regarding a “Constitutional” law that banned firearms: Would you follow the new law of the land that was legitimately established, just as laws allowing the possession of a firearm have been legitimately established? (Remember that by Constitutional he meant a law that was either allowed to stand by the Supreme Court or one that followed a repeal of the 2nd Amendment.) First, there’s one flaw to the question that should be obvious by now. Laws do not allow you to do that which you already have a right to do. Your right to self preservation predates the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment. It does not rely on laws for its existence. Nor does your right to “the means of preserving the same”. Those rights have always existed and they always will.
Ignoring the question’s flaw, the answer is “no.” This is not because I’m being stubborn or contrary. There may be some reason why I might genuinely wish to obey such a law. The answer is no because I cannot obey such a law; anymore than I could agree to stop breathing. Obeying such a law would ultimately put my life in danger; either from a criminal who isn’t obeying the new law or from the government that wanted me disarmed in the first place. At that point, I would either lose my life attempting to defy the laws of nature or instinct would take over and I would “reclaim” a right I was incapable of surrendering all along; a right that is, in fact, unalienable.
As mentioned before, comments on Heroux’s thought experiment from those who value the right to keep and bear arms predict civil war would result if the 2nd Amendment were either repealed or rendered inoperative. Hobbes posited as his 1st Law of Nature:
And consequently it is a precept, or generall rule of Reason, “That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre.” The first branch, of which Rule, containeth the first, and Fundamentall Law of Nature; which is, “To seek Peace, and follow it.” The Second, the summe of the Right of Nature; which is, “By all means we can, to defend our selves.”
Leviathan, Chapter XIV
I find it inconceivable that a government that wants me disarmed has my best interests at heart. (Yes, I did use that word. And yes, I do know what it means!) It either actively seeks to harm me or it does not care if I am harmed by a criminal. In either case, the end is the same: I am being denied peace. As such, I “may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre.” This would start with ignoring a “Constitutional” law that violates my natural rights. It’s not so much that I won’t obey such a law; it’s that I can’t.