Why I Will Not Obey California's Gun Registration
by Brian Puckett
Date: Friday, November 12, 1999 5:51 PM
(Sent directly to the California Governor)
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION
The Democrat-controlled government of California has recently issued two edicts,
one that bans ownership of SKS rifles with detachable magazines and requires
their surrender to the state, and one that bans buying, selling, or lending
of so-called "assault weapons" and that requires present owners of such arms
to register them. The edicts take effect January 1, 2000. For all those who
have in the past stated that, "When the state starts confiscating guns, then
I'll know it's time to fight back," that time in California will be January
Many people oppose registration because it precedes confiscation. Indeed it
does, as those who were foolish enough to register their SKS's are now discovering.
However, that is a practical reason to oppose registration, not a legal reason.
And while avoiding confiscation is tangentially a moral reason to oppose registration,
neither is it a legal reason. Refusing to obey a law because of what might happen
or what has happened in other cases will not stand up in court. But there is
a reason not to register or turn in any firearm that is practical, moral, and
TWO QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
As regards the Second Amendment, determining the constitutionality of the
California edicts mentioned above forces the examination of two basic questions.
One, which arms are protected by the Second Amendment? And two, is registration
an "infringement" of the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms? Fortunately,
answering these questions is not a difficult or mysterious task. But they should
be answered thoroughly.
WHAT IS THE BILL OF RIGHTS?
The Bill of Rights is not separate from the Constitution but is an integral
part of it, as are all the other amendments. However, the Bill of Rights is
special in that-like sections of the Declaration of Independence-it contains
many of the core philosophical underpinnings of our government (especially Amendments
1, 2, 9, and 10). Therefore, it is easily the most important part of the U.S.
Constitution. The rest of the Constitution, along with most of the remaining
Amendments, deals primarily with the mechanics of putting this philosophy into
effect in the form of a republic.
In the original document that we call the Bill of Rights, the Bill's ten enumerated
items are listed as "articles". Those familiar with the history of the Constitution
are aware that these articles were not afterthoughts, but were crucial elements
whose written inclusion in the Constitution was insisted upon before certain
states would agree to ratification of the preceding text. Because of this, a
powerful case can be made that none of these first ten articles may be modified
or revoked, because that would alter the fundamental philosophy underlying the
Constitution and would violate the original agreement among the states.
THE PURPOSE AND MEANING OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT
The laws of the pre-U.S. colonies and the writings of the Foundersclearly
reveal that they, like all civilized humans, embraced the personal, common-law
right of self defense and property defense. The Founders' writings, such as
the Federalist Papers, also clearly reveal their belief that self- defense includes
defending oneself against a government gone bad. In fact the evidence shows
that this latter item is a primary reason they included the Second Amendment
in the Bill of Rights, and the reason for the Second Amendment's reference to
the militia-the "army of citizens" (as opposed to the regular army).
The Second Amendment specifies the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
If the people are to keep and bear them this must include, at the very minimum,
personal arms-that is, arms that a single individual may carry and employ. For
hundreds of years prior to the writing of the Constitution, the Western world's
most advanced and cherished personal arm had been the firearm. Furthermore,
the firearm is the sole arm continually singled out in the Founders' writings.
Owning firearms was a right exercised in North America long before the existence
of the United States.
TO MEAN ANYTHING, RIGHTS MUST INCLUDE ASSOCIATED NECESSITIES.
For any given right, it is meaningless to affirm that right if the tools or
necessities of effecting that right are prohibited. Consider our Bill of Rights:
It is meaningless to affirm the First Amendment's right to free exercise of
religion if people are prohibited to own Bibles, Korans, or Torahs.
It is meaningless to affirm the First Amendment's "freedom of the press" if
people are prohibited to own printing presses (or today's electronic methods
of mass communication).
It is meaningless to affirm the Third Amendment's right to refuse to lodge
a soldier in one's home, or the Fourth Amendment's right to be secure in one's
home, if people are prohibited from owning their own home.
It is meaningless to affirm the Sixth Amendment's right to defense counsel
if people are prohibited to use their own or public money to pay for an attorney's
And it is beyond meaningless-it is absolutely absurd-to affirm the Second Amendment's
right to keep and bear arms if people are prohibited from owning arms. Applying
the above-mentioned general principle of rights to the Second Amendment, it
would be correct to state that it is meaningless to affirm the right to self-defense
if people are prohibited from owning the tools or necessities of self defense.
For example, consider elderly people, women, the physically handicapped, small-statured
men, or anyone who is not a master of unarmed combat being faced with a large,
or muscular, or armed assailant, or multiple assailants. It happens every day
in this country. It is absurd, illogical, illegal, and inhumane to uphold their
right to self-defense while prohibiting them from owning the most portable,
easy to use, proven, and inexpensive of instantly effective self- defense tools-guns.
WHICH ARMS ARE PROTECTED BY THE SECOND AMENDMENT?
Along with "the people", the Second Amendment specifically mentions the militia,
consisting of armed citizens not enlisted in any regular military corps-the
"citizen army". The militia's purpose is, as its name implies, a military one.
The militia was-and still may be pitted against other military forces. That
was true in pre U.S. North America, it was true during the Revolutionary War,
and it is true today.
If the militia may be pitted against regular soldiers, whether of a foreign
invader or of a tyrannical domestic government, then it follows automatically
that at a minimum the citizens comprising the militia must possess personal
arms (as opposed to large or crew-served arms like cannon) equal to those of
the opposing soldiers. Equal personal arms means, of course, those that include
all design features, capabilities, and ergonomics that make a military firearm
suitable for modern battle. If this is not the case then there is no point in
having a militia, as it will not pose an effective fighting force. For example,
the extreme inadequacy of bolt action rifles in combat against semiautomatic
arms is well known. But the Founders' firm insistence upon having an effective
militia is absolutely clear from their numerous writings on the subject and
from the existence of the Second Amendment itself.
That being so, military-pattern firearms are obviously protected by the Second
Amendment. Therefore any restrictive legislation on military-pattern firearms,
or on military design elements of other firearms, is completely contrary to
the word and spirit of the Second Amendment and is therefore flatly unconstitutional.
[U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939)completely supports this.]
REGISTRATION IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH RIGHTS
Consider the situation if a state declared that it was perfectly legal to
own a Bible-or a copy of the Koran or the Talmud- but that you had to register
it in order to keep and use it. Now, what if you did not register it would you
lose the right to own and read it? Of course not. The very idea is absurd. Under
the laws of this nation you have the right to worship as you please. As we have
seen, that right automatically includes articles necessary or associated with
the right, such as books, crucifixes, stars of David, yarmulkes, and so forth.
In exactly the same way, if the state suddenly required registration of printing
presses, would the owner of a press lose his right to own or use it by not filling
out a registration form? Of course not. The right would still exist. No piece
of paper affects it.
In exactly the same way, one does not have to register one's vocal cords,
bullhorn, typewriter, pens, pencils, computers, movie cameras, etc, to exercise
the right of free speech (or stated in modern terms, the right of uncensored
communication). Under the Constitution, if a state issued an edict demanding
registration of such things that rule would be invalid as law. Your right to
use them would still exist, completely unaffected.
In exactly the same way, prior registration of one's body, home, address,
papers, possessions, etc, is not necessary in order to enjoy the Constitutional
right to protection from unreasonable searches and seizures of one's person,
house, papers, and effects. These various physical things are automatically
included, automatically protected by the right. In exactly the same way, one
does not have to register anything or fill out any forms in order to have the
Constitutional right to a speedy public trial. It is automatic.
Now consider the situation if you do not register a gun. Is the Second Amendment
somehow instantly suspended? Did it vanish? Do you somehow lose the right to
keep and bear arms? Certainly not.
If you can lose a "right" by not filling out a piece of paper, then it is
not a right. It is a privilege granted by the government, which is a different
thing altogether. In the area of government, a privilege is a special permission
or immunity granted by a government, it is generally related to the use of some
public facility (such as driving on the streets, or using the public library)
and it may be suspended or revoked even for minor infractions or misdemeanors.
In sum: Rights do not require government registration, certification, or approval,
and are not subject to any form of taxation-otherwise they are not rights, they
are privileges granted at the discretion of the government, controlled by the
government, and revocable by the government.
REGISTRATION IS MORE THAN AN INFRINGEMENT
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." The question may be asked, "Is registration of a particular
gun truly such a burden that it can be called an infringement of the right to
keep and bear arms?"
To begin with, if we were speaking of registering religious items or communications
devices, none but socialists would dare ask such a question. Yet the Second
Amendment directly follows the amendment concerned with the free exercise of
religion and freedom of the press. The Second Amendment holds a place of priority
in the Bill of Rights, which is primarily a list of inalienable personal rights.
But to answer the above question-Yes. Registration is absolutely an infringement,
on at least three grounds. In fact, we will see that the rights versus privileges
issue makes registration far more than a mere infringement.
Information. Registration of a firearm gives the government information
that can be used (and has been used, and is being used right now) to confiscate
that firearm or to pinpoint its owner for weapon seizure, fining, incarceration,
or execution. Having the government in possession of this information is directly
contrary to the Second Amendment's intent to ensure that citizens always possess
the means to overthrow the government should it become corrupt or tyrannical.
Government control. Allowing the government to seize a citizen's firearm,
or to suspend, revoke, or diminish a citizen's ability to defend life, family,
property, and country for paperwork omissions or errors, for regulatory violations,
for minor infractions of the law, for misdemeanors, or arguably for anything
less than conviction for a major crime of violence is also directly contrary
to the intent of the Second Amendment. This is because virtually all citizens
have committed, or will commit, one or more of the listed non-violent errors
listed above, whereas the entire point of the Second Amendment is to place this
same citizenry's right to keep and bear arms (and therefore the right of self-defense)
out of the government's grasp.
RIGHT VERSUS PRIVILEGE
Critically relevant to all our rights, is that any edict that attempts to
convert a right into a state-granted privilege by imposing prior requirements-such
as registration-before it may be exercised goes far beyond mere "infringement"
of that right; it becomes an attempt at outright abrogation of the right.
Therefore the state's demand to comply with the requirements of such an edict-no
matter how physically easy compliance is-imposes not some mere inconvenience
on the individual. It imposes the enormous moral, ethical, intellectual, and
spiritual burden of denying the existence of the right.
It does not matter if the state demands that one simply tap one's nose five
times in succession in order to be able to keep and bear a particular gun. This
would still be a state mandated prior requirement. Compliance would indicate
tacit denial of the validity of the Second Amendment, and denial of the right
it protects. Compliance would encompass an implicit acceptance of the right
as a mere privilege, which is directly contrary to both the letter and spirit
of the Second Amendment.
APPLYING THESE CONCEPTS TO CALIFORNIA'S EDICT
The argument against registration of, and restrictions on, military-style
firearms may be approached by two logical paths that reach the same conclusions:
1. If the supreme law of the nation protects a personal right to keep and bear
arms (which it does) then the failure to comply with a state mandate to fill
out some registration form cannot revoke this, or any other, right. If the right
to keep and bear arms cannot be revoked (and it can not be), then the right
to keep and bear militia arms, which are the very arms implicitly referred to
in the Founders' writings and in the Second Amendment itself, cannot be revoked.
If the right to keep and bear militia arms cannot be revoked (and it can not
be) then we may own and use any military-pattern individually portable firearm,
all of which are practical militia arms. If that is the case (and it is), then
any restrictive legislation based on militarily useful design elements of such
firearms is flatly unconstitutional.
2. If the supreme law of the nation protects the personal right to keep and
bear arms (which it does), then the right to keep and bear militia arms, which
are the very arms implicitly referred to in the Founders' writings and in the
Second Amendment itself, certainly exists. If that is the case (and it is),
then we may own and use any military pattern individually portable firearm,
because all are practical militia arms. If that is the case (and it is), any
restrictive legislation based on the militarily useful design elements of such
firearms is flatly unconstitutional. If that is the case (and it is), then the
failure to comply with a state mandate to fill out some registration form cannot
revoke this right.
Again, the same situation prevails with all the personal rights in the Bill
of Rights. That is, no state mandate requiring registration-either of oneself
or of things directly associated with a right-can be a prerequisite or condition
of exercising a right, nor can it affect that right in any way. If it does,
then the right has been unconstitutionally declared a state-controlled privilege.
As we see from the above, no American can be legally compelled to register
any militarily useful individual arm. That includes pistols, revolvers, carbines,
semi-autos, military-style guns, hunting guns, self-defense guns, pump guns,
lever guns, bolt guns, black powder guns, scoped guns, .50 caliber guns, .338
caliber guns, .30 caliber guns, .223 caliber guns, etc. All have been used,
or are being used, as individual military arms, and therefore are implicitly
referred to by the Second Amendment's militia clause.
Moreover, no American can be legally compelled to register any firearm of
common design or function because the Second Amendment does not protect only
guns that are useful in military affairs; it protects all guns. The militia
reference is clearly meant as one important reason for protecting the right
which follows: the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
The Second Amendment says simply "arms", which imposes no quantity or design
limits. It says "bear", which in its narrowest sense would still include all
firearms capable of being carried and used by one person. Therefore, under the
supreme law of the land, the right to own one or several of any type of individually
portable firearm exists permanently, inherently, automatically, without prior
approval or conditions.
1. Indiscriminate weapons -- those whose effects are difficult to direct upon,
or confine to, a discrete target (such as flamethrowers, fragmentation bombs,
chemical and biological weapons, mortars) etc. -- are arguably excludable from
the full protection of the Second Amendment as posing an unreasonable danger
to friend and foe alike.
2. Individually portable machine guns are clearly allowed under the wording
of the Second Amendment. However, under certain specific circumstances their
employment might arguably be said to encroach into the area of indiscriminate
weapons. Therefore, it is arguable that some extra care might be taken in the
use of these firearms, but that any restrictions imposing an effective ban on
their general ownership or general use would be unconstitutional. As this is
a highly specific, highly debatable subject, it will not be, and need not be,
delved into here.
Aside from the debatable exceptions of 1. and 2. above, absolutely no individually
portable firearm of common design or function may be determined to be an indiscriminate
weapon under any circumstances, nor to pose an unreasonable danger. This is
because a ban on such a firearm could "logically" be extended to all other firearms
of similar design and function (exactly what is occurring with California1s
edicts now), which would completely vitiate the Second Amendment. Thus, the
1994 Federal "assault weapon" ban and magazine capacity limit are both completely
REGISTRATION--YOUR DECISION AFFECTS ALL RIGHTS
If a military pattern firearm, the firearm most suited to the militia mentioned
in the Second Amendment, is not protected by the clear wording of the Second
Amendment, then there is no meaning to the Second Amendment.
If there is no meaning to the Second Amendment, there is no reason to infer
meaning in the rest of the Bill of Rights.
If converting the Second Amendment into a privilege by means of a registration
edict is not the maximum "infringement" of that right, then nothing is. If converting
the Second Amendment into a privilege by means of an edict is possible, then
it is possible to do so for any other right.
Therefore, regarding the Second Amendment, refusing registration affirms the
right to own a militia firearm. It affirms the right to keep and bear all personal
arms. It affirms the validity of the rest of the Bill of Rights. It affirms
that attempting to convert the Second Amendment into a privilege is the maximum
infringement of that right. It rejects a state's power to convert any right
into a privilege. And lastly it affirms the validity of the Constitution, and
the rule of law, not men.
DEMANDING OR COMPLYING WITH REGISTRATION IS BETRAYAL
Article VI of the Constitution designates the Constitution as the supreme
law of the United States, and specifically states that it prevails over all
state constitutions and statutes. Further, Article VI requires all legislative,
executive, and judicial officers of the U.S. government and of the state governments
to take an oath to obey the Constitution. Some of these officials may hate firearms
and the power they give to the citizenry, but that is irrelevant-they must treat
the Second Amendment as they would the rest of our Bill of Rights.
All state officials-judges, representatives, law enforcement officials-know
these facts, but many are corrupt and ignore them. Their sworn word means nothing
to them, nor does the Constitution, nor do the rights of the constituents for
whom they work unless it suits their own political agenda. It is against this
conscienceless species of human that decent Americans must continually fight,
in California and in the rest of the United States.
If you believe you have the right to keep and bear proper militia arms in order
to defend yourself, your family, your home, and your country, and if you believe
this right is recognized in the Bill of Rights, then you cannot register or
turn in any firearm whatsoever. You may rationalize it any way you wish, but
if you register a firearm you are implicitly agreeing with the proposition that
your right to own that firearm is nonexistent, and that such ownership is dependent
upon permission from the government. Registration equals betrayal of yourself,
your family, your ancestors, your birthright, your country, and your Constitution.
A PERSONAL POSITION
Every new illegal gun control edict issued, and every day that existing illegal
gun control edicts continue to be enforced, brings inexorable closer the time
when firearms owners will train their guns on the politicians, judges, and other
officials who have misled the rest of the public into giving up their sacred
and ancient rights. A desire to avoid this terrible tragedy motivates my own
actions regarding the Second Amendment and the rights it protects.
For nearly twenty years I have legally owned a militia rifle possessing the
characteristics of the socialists' so called "assault weapon". Now my right
to own this arm, a right that has existed far longer than the two centuries
plus that this nation has existed, is suddenly being challenged by corrupt politicians.
But I vehemently reject any infringement of my rights. I will never register
this or any other firearm. Nor will I ever turn it in, nor will I ever alter
any characteristic or attachment to it.
I will never again concern myself with legislation about pistol grips, bayonet
lugs, high-capacity magazines, flash suppressors, threaded barrels, folding
stocks, pre-or post ban manufacture, or any other irrelevant detail of my firearms.
I will certainly not do as the NRA Members Councils suggest on their internet
site, which is to saw off the pistol grip of one's AR-style rifle to make it
"legal". Understand this: in America it is already legal. I sometimes wonder
whether the socialists will issue an edict requiring all firearms to have a
pink ribbon tied to the barrel, just to get a belly laugh as the panicked descendants
of once-proud American patriots scurry to comply.
California's current governor, attorney general, and legislators who voted
for these edicts can undoubtedly find thugs as corrupt and anti-American as
themselves to send to my home. I vow not to physically interfere with their
illegal activities, because I wish to see this matter in court. I hope that
other men and women will join me in this public declaration of civil disobedience,
because it would be best to have ten thousand civil disobedience cases in court,
not just mine. But I understand why, in this day and age of brutal, ethics-free
"public servants"; citizens are reluctant to make themselves a target of the
state. Fortunately, the citizens of California and other states demanding registration
can strike a powerful blow for humanity simply by refusing to comply.
SEIZE THIS OPPORTUNITY
To those of you who whine, complain, and talk, talk, talk about your loss
of freedom-I say now is the time to do something. There are few times in an
average man's life when the occasion presents itself to take part in history.
Here and now is such a time. This refusal to submit to tyranny is not simply
about firearms. It is about human rights, it is about the rule of law, and it
is about the continuance of this great nation. To what better use will you ever
put you life than to stand up for these things? Will you look back on this moment
and say, "I wish I had done something", or will you step forward and seize this
With the government having grown so powerful and corrupt, defying it is frightening.
It is especially frightening because many Americans seem fairly content right
now. But the feelings of the apathetic mass are irrelevant. They have never
figured in history, and never will. The apathetic mass will go along with whatever
system exists. It is the freedom-loving individual who, although part of a much
smaller group, has guided every free nation toward the light.
Freedom is not maintained without taking risks and making sacrifices, without
fighting for it. This has always been true, throughout history. If you are afraid
to take a stand against this tyrannical government, if you excuse yourself by
saying you must "take care of my family first", I say thank God there were men
in the past who understood the priority of freedom.
Look at your children. Is it more important that they have an uninterrupted
flow of plastic toys and the soft luxuries of modern American life, or that
they grow up as free men and women, with all inherent rights and responsibilities?
I say any man who does nothing while even a single basic freedom he has enjoyed
is stripped from his offspring-a freedom secured by the blood of others-deserves
As I said, I will turn in no firearms, ever. I will register no firearms, ever.
My right to own and use firearms predates the Constitution. It existed before
the corrupt socialists in Washington and Sacramento came to office, and it will
exist forever afterward. The Second Amendment simply recognizes this right.
I do not know where my civil disobedience will lead, but I am certain where
the slavishness and cowardice of compliance will lead. I refuse to take part
in this foul business of registration. I hope that you refuse also. If we stand
together we will set fires of freedom burning across America.
Mr. Puckett is a free-lance writer whose past work includes articles on U.S.
foreign, domestic, and military policy for the Houston Post. His firearms and
Second Amendment articles have appeared in the magazines Handguns, Combat Handguns,
Guns and Ammo, SWAT, Police, and numerous other publications. He is the author
of the essay "A Plan to Restore the Second Amendment", appearing in an upcoming
issue of Handguns Magazine. He is a co-founder of the gun rights resource organization
GunTruths (http://www.guntruths.com) and the gun rights media action organization
Citizens Of America (http://www.citizensofamerica.org). Mr. Puckett believes
that much of the annual slaughter of Americans by criminals can be blamed directly
on those who advocate gun control, and that any politician who advocates gun
control neither trusts his constituents nor cares about their lives or property.
The above statement/essay is an expression of his opinions alone. He may be
contacted regarding this article at firstname.lastname@example.org . Put the word RESISTER
in the subject line. You can read more of Mr. Puckett's work at http://www.guntruths.com/Puckett/brian_puckett.htm
The above essay, which includes the biographical note, may be reproduced in
any medium provided it is reproduced in full. A copy has been sent via email
and regular mail to the governor of California. Feel free to forward it to all
gun rights activists and lists.
KABA Director's Note: Mr. Puckett is a NO COMPROMISE AMERICAN running a POWERFUL
organization for freedom. If you have not yet looked into the WONDERFUL MEDIA
BLITZ Mr. Puckett is conducting through Citizens of America, PLEASE GO LOOK.
His organization is one key SOLUTION to the media bias in our society regarding
the TRUTH about guns. Not only do I deeply appreciate, respect, and wholeheartedly
believe in the COA mission, I have come to know Mr. Puckett as a Brother of
Americans I respect and REVERE deeply.