Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bill of Rights Day and Gun Control

    In a coincidence which is likely to be viewed with increasing irony in the coming months, on Friday, the same day as the horrific murder spree in Newtown, CT, the White House issued a proclamation signed by President Obama declaring December 15, 2012, "Bill of Rights Day."
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the 150th anniversary of our Nation's Bill of Rights, he called it the "great American charter of personal liberty and human dignity." He understood that the freedoms it protects -- among them speech, worship, assembly, and due process -- are freedoms that reinforce one another. They form the bedrock of the American promise, and we cannot fully realize one without realizing them all. Today, as we work to reinforce human rights at home and around the globe, we reaffirm our belief that government of the people, by the people, and for the people inspires the stability and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.
In adopting the 10 Constitutional Amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, the Framers sought to balance the power and security of a new Federal Government with a guarantee of our most basic civil liberties. They acted on a conviction that rings as true today as it did two centuries ago: unlocking a nation's potential depends on empowering all its people. The Framers also called upon posterity to carry on their work -- to keep our country moving forward and bring us ever closer to a more perfect Union.
Generations of patriots have taken up that challenge. They have been defenders who stood watch at freedom's frontier, marchers who broke down barriers to full equality, dreamers who pushed America from what it was toward what it ought to be. Now it falls to us to build on their work. On Bill of Rights Day, we celebrate the liberties secured by our forebears, pay tribute to all who have fought to protect and expand our civil rights, and rededicate ourselves to driving a new century of American progress.
Even before the day was over, the airwaves and internet were filled with those who might have been happier with a less full-throated endorsement of the Bill of Rights, at least when it came to the second of the first ten amendments.

    As the scope and enormity of the crime became clearer throughout the day, there were a significant number of high profile reactions from those who set aside the usual "this is not the time to discuss policy, but rather a time to grieve" protocol.    Some, including E.J. Dionne, Jr. in the Washington Post, simply ignored the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in calls for strict gun control.  Michael Cooper in the New York Times only referenced the Constitution in a pre-massacre quote from the president of the NRA.

    Others, such as Ed Schultz of MSNBC, were more explicit in their criticism of the Second Amendment (via The Blaze):
Despite the fact that the Connecticut school shooter reportedly used guns legally owned by his mother, MSNBC host Ed Schulz said the shooting is proof that we must “come to grips with a changing society” and stop “hiding behind the Second Amendment.” 
* * * *  
“Tonight is… a time we as a people come to grips with a changing society,” Schultz said. “We need to be the Founding Fathers on how we deal with the sickness in our country called ‘gun violence.’ Hiding behind the Second Amendment doesn’t cut it anymore.”
He continued: “Hiding behind the Second Amendment can no longer be the shield for access. The people who wrote that document owned slaves, oppressed women, and were short on tolerance.”
The MSNBC host went on to say that lawmakers in Washington need to stop doing the bidding of the gun lobby.
    Even the president in his initial statement hinted at a possible change in his previous hesitancy to address the gun control issue:
As a country, we have been through this too many times.  Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.  And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
     His remarks at Sunday's memorial in Newtown were more direct:
We can’t tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end.  And to end them, we must change.  We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true.  No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.  Surely, we can do better than this.  If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.  Because what choice do we have?  We can’t accept events like this as routine.  Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?  Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
    Although the president did not specifically address the Second Amendment or gun control, it is difficult to see how he could resist the pressure that will be exerted by many liberals and Democrats who have often oversimplified the gun control argument as dominated by the "gun lobby."  The reach of the NRA just doesn't go that deep and the love-their-guns-more-than-children insinuation aimed at 2nd Amendment defenders is too ludicrous to be taken seriously by the general public.  The American people realize that while "tragedies must end" sounds like a worthy goal, it is not a justification for undermining the basic liberties upon which this country was founded.

    It remains to be seen if the president will head down the path to weaken the 2nd Amendment in spite of his Bill of Rights Day proclamation or if he will focus on those other areas he mentioned ("law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators".)  If his positions on political speech, campaign finance laws, and the First Amendment are any guide, the former seems more likely than the latter.  The country will soon have an opportunity to see if President believes this is another opportunity to "fundamentally [transform] the United States of America" in the way that we, as his Proclamation says, "balance the power and security of [the] Federal Government with a guarantee of our most basic civil liberties."

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