The Constitution: Just what are we protecting anyway?

As our President and the Congress begin the tough work on reasonable limits on guns used in mass killings, the name calling and the hyperbole from both sides is heating up and, of course, muddying the waters that really could use some clarity right about now. I’ve been trying to engage in some real discourse on Congressman Benishek’s Facebook page because he has been posting a number of highly emotional and inflammatory pieces about gun control. It’s no secret that he receives massive donations from the NRA and has been an ardent supporter of the company line.

Within the massive threads appearing on the Congressman’s page are attempts by some people on both sides of the issue to explain what policies might work. But you have to look for them. Most of the posts have the left calling the right “stupid” for their fervent gun talk, and the right has a whole list of things they call liberals for having the audacity to think we don’t need more mass killings in our country. Some of the names are stuff you’d hear on a third grade playground: libtards, democraps, etc. Some are just wild misuses of common words: communists, socialists, etc.

When I was called a “moon bat” the other day, I thought that I was being called something that someone made up in his complete frustration with my points. As I was turning out the light and heading to bed, I assigned “moon bat” to category A, smiled, and imagined some third grade exchange:

Tommy: “You like girls!”
Davey: “Oh, yeah, well your mom!”
Tommy: “Bugger face!”
Davey: (stomping his feet and bumbling for words) “Uh…uh…uh…Moon bat!”
Tommy: Moon bat?
Davey: Yeah, moon bat!

I resolved to get up in the morning, get on photo shop and create an image I could use on Facebook by putting a space helmet on a bat. First I did an image search on “moon bat” and burst out laughing when my screen filled with images of bats and moons and derogatory statements about liberals. Little Davey didn’t make this up in his frustration, he just stole it from some other third grader!

But I digress….

Once you get beyond the name calling, there is a significant group of people who complain about gun control on constitutional grounds. They claim the 2nd Amendment gives them access to all guns at all times because the words “shall not be infringed” appear in the Amendment. This extreme interpretation of gun rights, of course, runs counter to any interpretation that any reasonable person would attach to any part of the Constitution. Supreme Court case law is littered with infringements on our speech, assembly, press, and religious rights, even though the First Amendment says that no laws can be made to limit them.
What has kept our Constitution in place for over 200 years is NOT how strictly we can interpret it, but rather on how flexible we can read it to face a changing world. The United States has the longest surviving constitution for a reason…it’s the world’s shortest constitution. Compare our seven Articles that fit on a single page with the Iraqi Constitution cobbled together after we killed Saddam Hussein with its 139 Articles.

Our founding fathers knew that coming to agreement on a wide range of issues and embedding them in the Constitution was never going to happen. They basically punted on slavery. They had no idea what the court system should look like. Read Article III and find it contains only a skeleton of a framework. Look at Article II, section 8, where they try to lay out the powers of Congress and finally say that Congress can do anything it finds “necessary and proper.” In short, they provided a framework of government and left it to the Congress, the President, and the courts to work it out.

Along the way, we’ve amended the Constitution twenty-seven times and ignored parts we have found inconvenient to enforce. For example, the Constitution calls for one member of the House of Representatives to be elected for every thirty thousand people. If we stuck to that rule, we’d have over 10,000 members of the House today. Without Constitutional amendment, we decided to cap the House at 435 and apportion those seats according to population. The founding fathers either were really bad at math, or never assumed the country would grow to 300,000,000 people.

In the process of amending the Constitution twenty-seven times, we added a Bill of Rights that was somehow left out of the original document, we fixed a really flawed electoral college system that resulted in chaos in 1800, we banned slavery, we expanded the voting franchise, we defined “citizen” (something the founding fathers left out of the original for some reason), we found a way to fund the government through an income tax, we made the Senate theoretically more accountable to the people, decided who would be President if the President died (another thing the founding fathers forgot to do), and tried to a couple of times to prevent racism from keeping blacks from the polls.

There was not an assumption in 1787 that the one page document, so carefully crafted, would never be changed. In fact, without a promise of a Bill of Rights, the Constitution would never have been adopted in the first place.

The logic that because the Second Amendment includes the words “shall not be infringed” we have set in stone the right of anyone to own and use an automatic weapon with cop killer bullets is deeply flawed. We have the right (and obligation) to change the Constitution when it no longer serves our needs and we have done so on numerous occasions. And if you’re tempted to say that Amendments are protected from being changed, I would point out that the Twenty-first Amendment pretty much squashes that argument.

Beyond amending the document, we have the power and obligation to interpret the words written 200 years ago to fit our changing world. Nothing the President has suggested in recent weeks makes me think he plans to confiscate everyone’s gun. Reasonable people would have dealt with making weapons capable of killing twenty school children harder to get a long time before now. The tired arguments that guns don’t kill people, and that if we make guns illegal only criminals will have guns completely miss the point. While I’m sure there are people who feel our country would be better off without any guns, there are no realistic proposals being floated to appease them. Sensible laws that would make it harder for people to act upon their impulse to senselessly kill innocent people are justified. The Newtown Massacre was perpetrated by a man who was denied his attempt to buy a gun under the law, but gained access to his mother’s arsenal anyway. Making it harder for criminals and mentally ill people to acquire weapons will save lives and do nothing to infringe upon another person’s right to shoot deer, defend himself from criminals, or to fight the black helicopters when they come to take over the country.

Will these laws stop all senseless killings? Of course not, but do we completely ignore ANY solution because there is no perfect one? Of course not. The people who so passionately hold on to the Constitution do so without a genuine understanding of it. They somehow assume that words written 200 years ago will be adequate to govern a nation that the writers of those words had no way of imagining.

What we need now is creativity, compromise and coexistence. What we’re likely to get more of is paranoia, ranting, and name calling. The true patriots will forego the second group in favor of the first, and it’s time for true patriots to make their stand.

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7 Comments on “The Constitution: Just what are we protecting anyway?”

  1. ryno January 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    The constitution shall never be construed…to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”
    ― Alexander Hamilton

    It was ILLEGAL when Lanza stole his mothers guns.
    It was ILLEGAL when he shot her in the face.
    It was ILLEGAL when he stole her car.
    It was ILLEGAL when he took the guns onto school property.
    It was ILLEGAL when he forced his way into the school.
    It was ILLEGAL when he started shooting people.

    Please tell me how passing MORE LAWS on LEGAL gun owners helps solve the problem of the mentally insane and criminals that don’t give a $hit about your laws anyway?

    • Mark Pontoni January 28, 2013 at 5:02 am #

      I hear this line of thinking all the time. It’s best summed up in the adage “If guns were illegal, only criminals would have guns.” While this is clearly true, it doesn’t in any way mean we shouldn’t try to keep weapons used in massacres off the street. The underlying assumption in your statements is that once a person is “good”, he/she is always “good.” This is clearly not the case. “Good” people turn “bad” or mentally ill all the time and for a variety of reasons. You’re somehow suggesting that everyone should be able to own assault weapons until the day they turn “bad” or mentally ill at which point they must turn them in. That seems pretty hard to enforce. Moreover, look at all the things we limit in the attempt to prevent people, either accidentally or on purpose, from harming others. People are not allowed to possess dynamite or other industrial grade explosives. Many cars have governors built in to prevent them from exceeding certain speeds. There is a clear public benefit to limiting the lethal nature of weapons without in any way infringing on the rights outlined in the 2nd Amendment.

      • ryno January 29, 2013 at 3:04 am #

        To limit is to infring…We don’t have a gun problem; we have a civility problem…the lack thereof. You collectivists always amuse me; wouldn’t Dewey be proud.

        “The constitution shall never be construed…to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”
        ― Alexander Hamilton

        The day I need a liberal to tell what kind of a firearm I need; I’ll ask. However, The Bill Of Rights and Constitution on a whole is not about needs but rights; thus limiting the power of the Federal Government.

        “Give all the power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all the power to the few, they will oppress the many.”
        ― Alexander Hamilton

      • Mark Pontoni January 29, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

        Ryno,

        I can appreciate most of what you’re trying to say, but I’m not getting into the name calling and vitriol here. We can save that for facebook. I won’t discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of your disparaging remarks about liberals, etc. but that being said, let me address your main point.

        Are you suggesting that there are NO limits to any of the rights in the Bill of Rights? Surely you realize that all of them have limits. Limits to personal behavior is the essential ingredient in the Social Contract. If your religion included human sacrifice, do you believe the government should interpret the First Amendment in such a way as to allow it? There’s no more cruel and unusual punishment than capital punishment, yet as a society we have decided that the Eighth Amendment can be ignored in some situations. So reasonable limits to gun ownership can be decided without violating the Second Amendment as well.

        What is lost in all the screaming about gun control is that this civil society you apparently crave requires compromise and consideration. And if the argument starts with “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands” is a solid indication that radical gun owners are not ready for either compromise or consideration. Plenty of gun owners have come out publicly in favor of reasonable limits on magazine capacity and firing speed. Many of them are liberals, many of them aren’t. But all of them realize that our country is a worse place when it is all too easy to massacre children while they’re at school. This isn’t about your individual right to own an assault weapon, it’s about participating in the ongoing process of making our country a better place to live.

  2. Sue VanDeventer January 29, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    I think we should take the typical conservative approach to the 2nd amendment and interpret it exactly as it was written: let our citizens have as many muskets as they want. The founders clearly weren’t referring to assault weapons when they were talking about the right to “bear arms” so who can argue that they shouldn’t be regulated . . .

    • ryno January 29, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

      Sue,

      I think you are onto something…”interpret it as it was written”…Now there’s a thought. As far as letting our citizens have as many muskets as they want (assult weapons); well this is and will remain the law of the land.

      The Dick Act of 1902, also known as the Efficiency of Militia Bill H.R. 11654, of June 28, 1902. Invalidates all gun-control laws. It also divides the militia into three distinct and separate entities.

      The three classes H.R. 11654 provides for are the organized militia, henceforth known as the National Guard of the State, Territory and District of Columbia; the unorganized militia; and the regular army.

      The unorganized militia encompasses every able-bodied male between the ages of 18 and 45. All members of the unorganized militia have the absolute personal right and 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms of any type, and as many as they can afford to buy.

      It’s the law.

      Molon Labe.

  3. Mark Pontoni February 2, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    What’s interesting is that a reading of the so-called Dick Act does not say what you says it does. When you do a search on the Dick Act, hundreds of sites pop up saying essentially what you say above. But, sadly, these are all sites run by gun advocate groups and the passages are pretty much copies of each other.

    The real legislation, which you can read through the Library of Congress, says nothing about gun control at all. It simply specifies that the Federal government cannot incorporate state militias (National Guards) into the regular armed forces of the United States. It also prohibits state governors from employing the state militias as their own private armies.

    Since the 1960’s, Presidents have gotten around the ban on putting state militias into the national armed forces by putting them into the Reserves. This was done most prominently during the civil rights era when southern governors used the state militias to threaten the national military who was trying to enforce desegregation laws. By putting the state militias into the reserve system, they became under control of the President. This tactic was also used to mobilize state militias to fight in Iraq most recently.

    I’ll be doing more research on this and doing a complete article on it during the next week or so.

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