I’ve thought a lot about New Mexico’s history of colonization and oppression, and my ancestors’ role in it, as I’ve watched debates about the First and Second amendments play out over the past several years.
The Spanish government sent my Montes ancestors north from Zacatecas in 1694 to help shore up the reconquest of what today is Northern New Mexico. That came 14 years after Native Americans rose up against their Spanish overlords, killing hundreds and forcing the survivors to flee to El Paso.
The histories of our state and nation are full of examples of people taking up arms—be they bows and arrows in 1680 or guns in the modern era—to fight for freedom. Those who formed the United States had this in mind when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.
They created the First Amendment to protect our right to petition our government to address injustice, and also our right to protest when the government fails to do that.
And they created the Second Amendment for times it becomes necessary to challenge a government that has become oppressive.
People sometimes debate whether the First or Second amendment is more important. The answer is they’re symbiotic. These checks on the corrupting influence of power intend that we work tirelessly to talk through our differences—but have the option of force as a last resort.
Perhaps the most challenging part about the rights to speak and bear arms is that they apply to all of us, or they’re at risk for everyone. No matter how distasteful we find a person’s opinions, he or she has the right to share them. It’s unacceptable that people on some public college campuses have violently protested speeches by prominent conservatives.
And people of color have the same gun rights as white folks. The NRA’s inconsistent defense of black—and too many white Americans—of not living up to that principle.
I am, obviously, a frequent exerciser of my First Amendment right to free speech, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading something I wrote. I’m also a gun owner exercising my Second Amendment rights for hunting and personal defense.
I’m encouraged by the societal conversation about addressing mass shootings and other gun deaths. Constitutional rights can be restricted, within reasonable limits. We must work to determine if our gun laws need to change.
But I’d like this conversation to start from an understanding that our rights are foundational to preserving freedom. Calls to repeal the Second Amendment, while they may be well-intentioned, are misguided. So are beliefs that we should limit speech we find abhorrent.
Our government has become increasingly oligarchical and militaristic as it’s fused with our most powerful corporations over the last several decades. Our constitutional rights are intended exactly for times like these.
That’s not a call for violent revolution. It is a plea to preserve the power created by the First and Second amendments that enables citizens to contend with our government. The fact that we’re able to own guns creates a potential threat to government overreach.
I hope we never again reach a point where force against the government is necessary. But history suggests we could. And I say that as a descendent of colonizers who needed to be challenged with force in New Mexico centuries ago.
We must address gun deaths in America, but without eroding the protections that keep this republic from becoming a militaristic dictatorship.