Monday, January 28, 2013

Is The Right To Bear Arms Absolute? Absolutely Not.

Absolutism (noun) 1. Any theory holding that values, principles, etc., are absolute and not relative, dependent, or changeable.                 --Random House Dictionary

Are the individual rights named in the United States Constitution absolute?  Not subject to any government regulation.  With no wiggle room.  No day light.  No retreat.  A right is always right, ironclad, inviolable and even sacred. Right?

National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is certainly an absolutist when it comes to the second amendment and gun ownership rights. Since the Newtown shootings and the ensuing nationwide push to enact new and strengthened gun control laws, the NRA has opposed, absolutely, any and all efforts to curb or regulate gun ownership rights in any way, shape or form. The NRA’s answer to every single gun control proposal, curbing the size of gun clips, strengthening background checks for gun show sales, or banning certain types of assault rifle…the response is always an unequivocal “NO!” And not just “NO!” but “NO, not ever!” and “NO, absolutely!”. 

So when in his Inaugural address, President Obama voiced his frustration at such absolutism, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”, well of course LaPierre had to immediately and indignantly respond. “Mr. President you might think calling us ‘absolutist’ is a clever way of name calling without using names, But if that is absolutist, then we are as absolutist as our founding fathers and the framers of our Constitution and we are proud of it.”

It must be great to be so absolute, so sure, so self-righteous and self assured in one’s views.  But taken to the extreme, well…maybe the NRA should advocate for the complete and full dismantling of every last gun control law in the United States, wipe them off the books.  If you are going to be absolute, then go all the way.

So why not let minors buy and own guns?  Or the mentally unstable: arm them to the teeth.  Felons—why should we curb their right to have a firearm over a little thing like a prison sentence?  No. Just erase every single restriction on the purchase and ownership of any and all arms.  ABSOLUTELY.

What is a tank but a very large gun mounted on a vehicle?  Sell ‘em at Wal-Mart, right? Grenades?  Just a very big bullet you can toss at a bad guy.  Shoulder mounted missile launchers? Just a really big portable gun and who wouldn’t want to hunt with that kind of firepower? Bambi would think twice about showing her face in the woods.

That’s the absurdity of being as absolute and dogmatic as the NRA is in its absolutist stand on the rights of gun owners. Rights are fundamental, absolutely. But rights are sometimes subject to government regulation when their exercise interferes with the rights and lives of others.

I have the right to free speech, but, as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said, that does not allow me to stand up and yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater.  I have the right to practice my religion but do not have the right to harm others in the practice of my faith.  I have the right to assemble and protest but not in the middle of Storrow Drive at rush hour. I have the right as a newspaper columnist to the freedom of the press but not to intentionally libel a fellow citizen in print.

As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, in a 2008 decision affirming second amendment rights, “…the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places…or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Add this to the truth, THE TRUTH, that not one of the proposed gun control laws seeks to take away the fundamental right of American citizens to bear arms, and the lie of the NRA’s absolutist protests are revealed.  Me thinks they doth protest way too much.

It is time for America to come together, debate civilly, and then enact new and reasonable laws regulating the sale and possession of firearms.  Is the Second Amendment right to bear arms absolutely right, all the time? 

Absolutely not.


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