Over the past two years, America has seen some of the most concerning attacks on freedom in our history. Governments seized previously unimagined power over our day-to-day lives. Churches were forced to close, forsaking freedom of religion. Big tech and government alike attempted to police speech, something that is supposed to be free for all. And though the Supreme Court seems poised to advance the right to life of all people, renewed attacks on that right are only just beginning.
Amid all this, the right that exists to defend all other rights is also under assault.
Yes, I'm talking about the 2nd Amendment, our right to keep and bear arms. The Biden administration is attempting to erode this essential right that the founding fathers passionately supported. He has signed executive orders and pursued legislation to strip law-abiding citizens of their rights, and he has promised to do worse.
Since I became governor, I have enhanced South Dakota's protections for 2nd Amendment rights. The first bill I signed as governor was constitutional carry, also known as permitless carry. Every law-abiding citizen should have the 2nd Amendment rights guaranteed.
Consider these quotes from the founding fathers, each pointing to an early understanding of what it meant for the individual right to bear arms:
"A free people ought to be armed, but disciplined;" -- President George Washington's first message to Congress in 1790, a year before the 2nd Amendment was ratified
"No freeman shall ever be debarred from the use of arms within his own lands or tenements." -- Thomas Jefferson, in drafts of Virginia's constitution
Even Alexander Hamilton -- whose reimagined popularity on Broadway falsely paints him as a liberal -- passionately advocated for the right to self-defense. At the time of the American Revolution, the militias fighting against the British Army were armed with their own muskets and rifles. Hamilton, in Federalist No. 29, asserts that an armed and well-regulated militia would be a check on government tyranny. Under that same principle, a militia today would be armed by the individuals themselves -- unlike the U.S. Military branches, which are themselves an instrument of the government.
We must remember that those continental soldiers were fighting an overbearing national government -- the British -- who was trampling their rights. They kept and bore their own personal arms into battle. In doing so, they built the freest country this world has yet known.
I promise to defend that freedom our founders won for us. That is why we continue to look for ways to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens in South Dakota. In 2020, I blocked bills proposing unconstitutional red-flag laws to strip citizens of their right to bear arms. The following year, I signed "stand your ground" legislation, and I further protected your right to purchase guns and ammo during emergency declarations. This year, I repealed all concealed carry permit fees for state residents, which is necessary to remain in good legal standing in other states with stricter gun laws. It won't cost you a penny to exercise your 2nd Amendment rights.
I've taken these actions because the 2nd Amendment is important to South Dakotans. A study this year found we are in the Top 10 states for gun ownership, and we are the number one state for the percentage of residents who get a hunting license (about 1-in-5 South Dakotans get licensed each year).
Our focus is on protecting the right to protect yourself, your family, and your property, as Thomas Jefferson asserted. Unfortunately, opponents outside of our state fail to understand what successful protections look like. One anti-gun group gave South Dakota an "F" rating because we strengthened our "stand your ground" law. That same group gave Illinois an "A-" despite the state having higher gun death rates per capita.
As Governor, I will always fight to protect your rights and strengthen them. Individual rights are guaranteed in our Constitution, and the Second Amendment exists to protect the rest. As folks continue to look to South Dakota as an example of liberty, we will continue to be a sanctuary for the 2nd Amendment, as well.