Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Right to Bear Arms and Other Constitutional Rights

By Tom Kando

I recently made another pro-gun control statement on this blog, and someone accused me of not knowing about the 2nd amendment. This inspired me to write the following:

I do know about the 2nd amendment. It says, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The Declaration of Independence states that "all people are created equal and are endowed with unalienable rights which include Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and 17 additional Amendments concretize these general ideals. This is where our Founding Fathers and later politicians specified many of our fundamental rights.

Of course, there are many other possible human rights, so there must be good reasons why a few dozen rights have been specifically singled out. Presumably, the rights enshrined in our Constitution, in the Bill of Rights and in the Amendments are very special, important and basic.

Many rights spelled out in the Constitution are indeed exceptionally important. For example the 1st Amendment (freedom of speech and religion), the 13th Amendment (abolition of slavery), the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th Amendments (extending the suffrage to hitherto excluded groups). The Founders of the American Republic possessed great wisdom. They represent a Golden Age in history, comparable to Periclean Athens and the Renaissance.

At the same time, several of the rights singled out in the Bill of Rights and in subsequent amendments are arbitrary or at least time specific. Why are some rights included and other ones not?

For example, how important is the 3rd amendment? ("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 prescribed by law."). Such an amendment reflects the time-bound conditions at that time - the revolutionary war and its aftermath.

Many other amendments also seem to address secondary issues: The 12th, 20th, 22nd, 25th, 27th all deal with such technical things as election dates, term lengths and congressional salaries. Surely many such matters do not need to be cast in concrete. They do not represent eternal values, as does the 1st amendment.

That legislators are fallible and can make mistakes, and that not every amendment should be treated as sacrosanct, is proven by the 18th amendment - Prohibition.

Which brings me to the 2nd amendment - often treated as an unalienable right by millions of Americans. The Founding Fathers singled out ONE item for special protection - guns. Why? At the time, this may have been a good idea. And some might add that the right to self-defense is fundamental. True. But no more fundamental than some other rights. How about the right to physical survival, which requires sustenance/food?

Or the right to shelter, i.e. a roof over your head? Is it unimaginable for society to make it unconstitutional to throw someone out of their home, no matter for what reason?

Is the right to a healthy life not also basic? Which means a potential constitutional right to medical care.

What about love, including marriage? Isn’t there a fundamental right to this as well, regardless of your sexual preference?

Or the right to transportation? People often MUST get somewhere. The Bill of Rights could arguably have declared a constitutional right to a horse (back then), morphing into a right to a car today (no more absurd than the right to a gun).

How about a right to a job? And along with that, to the necessary means to a job, namely training, education and literacy.

How about a basic right to own books. Paraphrasing Charlton Heston, an ardent supporter of such a right could exclaim, "I’ll give you my books when you pry them from my cold, dead hands."

Kidding aside: By now, many other countries include in their constitutions some of the rights I have just suggested.   The Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically lists several of them, including the fundamental right to food and shelter. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTlrSYbCbHE

For a long time, the US Constitution was a model to the world, epitomizing progress. However, its priorities are in danger of becoming obsolete.

To quote Professor David S. Law (New York Times, quoted by Max Westerman, Maarten!, 2012, issue #2, p.23):

"No one wants to copy Windows 3.1. when Windows 7.1. is also available." "The US Constitution, the world’s oldest, is losing its function as a model. ..Just 25 years ago, nearly every country in the world - 160 out of 170 - had a constitution which was on the whole based on the US Constitution. Since then, hardly any country that re-wrote its constitution has been inspired by that of the United States.... A constitution which does not guarantee the right to education and health care, but does protect the right to bear weapons is obsolete." (Max Westerman). leave comment here