All this talk today about gun control and Second Amendment rights seems to be blotting out a serious threat to another of our constitutional guarantees, that of the Third Amendment. The two mattered equally to James Madison back in 1788 when he presented his 12 amendments to the Constitutional Congress (only 10 made the cut).
I’m talking, of course, about our right to refuse housing to military personnel in our homes. It’s No. 3 in the Bill of Rights, right after No. 2 — our right to bear arms — and right before No. 4 — protecting us from unreasonable search and seizure. The Third Amendment is not long and windy:
“No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
It says it right there, clear and simple: You and I don’t have to open our private domiciles to a bunch of sweaty Army grunts just because they stagger by in need of food and rest. We have the right of refusal! We can turn them away, especially (as Madison was thinking at the time) if they’re British troops, who were known to smell particularly foul thanks to all their bangers and mash swilled down with (burp) Guinness.
Now, you may think this is not particularly important in our day and age. Most of us haven’t had so much as a knock on the door from a stranger in uniform, unless you count Girl Scouts selling cookies or those clean-cut young men in white shirts and dark pants. It was the Brits who had Madison’s shorts all twisted up, but they haven’t invaded our continent for quite a while (excepting the Beatles and Rolling Stones a while back). But let us not get complacent! We must be at the ready, keeping our muskets locked and loaded and our homes locked and, uh, bloated with alarms, security devices and pit bulls. Bullets and billets, it’s all the same.
Just because No. 2 and No. 3 were written for another time does not mean we can’t bend them into relevance today. The fact that we have the largest and most sophisticated military complex the world ever has known doesn’t mean we shouldn’t arm every man, woman and child with a Heckler-Koch MG43 submachine gun. And the fact that our homes have deadbolt locks and security systems does not mean some foreign armies may not soon be banging at our doors demanding to crash in the back bedroom. Thank goodness the National Rifle Association has sufficient imagination in this regard to serve us all, so we’ll not have to yield our guns or house keys until pried from our cold, dead hands.
Today, our right to bear Uzis and assault weapons is our constitutional guarantee, good ol’ No. 2, no matter what we hear from a bunch of wimpy intellectuals who have lost touch with the threat Madison and others knew we’d be facing in 2013. I marvel at how prescient those architects of our Bill of Rights were, to recognize not only the need to own flintlocks and muzzleloaders but also AK-47s with 100-round drum magazines and belt-fed .50-caliber sniper rifles with grenade launchers, all in the name of freedom.
It was the same band of founding fathers who foresaw our perpetual right to deny our Sertas and Sealys to some random group of soldierly passers-by, thanks to good ol’ No. 3. What a marvel that Madison and his men (yeah, they all were men) understood the threat we face today from National Guardsmen leaning on our doorbells or members of the Salvation Army happening by for a drink of water ... and a bed. I know I don’t want some commando changing my Sleep Number setting.
So let’s all stop for a moment and recognize our debt to our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers who crafted that Third Amendment. It is every bit as relevant today as the Second Amendment, and we all know the truth of that.