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Of Rights and Guns


Alas, too much of our discussion of gun rights these days starts and ends from a primitive understanding of the relationship between the Constitution’s statements about our rights and the real-world applications of those rights.

Put simply, the Constitution is almost always direct and simple. Amendment 1, for example, says  ”Congress shall make no law” limiting speech, or imposing religion, or interfering with your practice of religion, or limiting the press. What could be clearer? “No law” means “NO LAW,” right?

But practice is always murkier. Thus, while I have freedom of speech, we all know I can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater (when no fire is present). Likewise, if I oppose scientific medicine on religious grounds, I have the religious freedom to refuse to go to the doctor. However, the law says I have to take my son to the doctor regardless of my beliefs. And of course I have the right to assemble peaceably to petition government for redress of grievances, but I can’t block traffic just because I want to. No right is absolute and inviolable regardless of circumstance or context.

But not, according to the gun nuts, the second amendment. The gun wackos quote the second amendment—which has a limiting amendatory preface that the first amendment lacks—as if it is gospel. No limitation of any kind can be accepted … because the Constitution says so! The Second Amendment, then, is special, different: the one that is not subject to any kind of real world analysis or compromise.

It’s analytically primitive twaddle, but it drives our discourse about guns in America. We are the worse for it.