A Fish a Day

Long Island, New York, USA

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The Constitution and Conflicts

March 27, 2018

One of the most interesting things about the U.S. Constitution is how the rights guaranteed thereunder relate to one another.  Often, the interplay between rights is one of support.  For example, the first amendment protects our rights to free speech.  It allows us to openly and publicly criticize or support our leaders, and to voice our happiness or dissatisfaction with their leadership.  If we dislike leadership, however, even screaming from the mountain tops is typically not be enough to cause change.  Although it took 100 years to get it basically right, the 15th, 19th, 20th, 24th and 26th amendments provide voting to all of the people (who are 18 or older -- I'm not there yet) and ensures that our opinions voiced under the 1st amendment about our government can be put into action.  A beautiful synergy amongst our constitutional rights -- each making the other stronger!

Our first amendment rights, combined with our voting rights, result in a powerful elixir that can cause change.  Indeed, history shows that first amendment rights and pre-amendment voting rights given to some (but not all) combined to lead to greater, broader voting rights for all the people over time. 

 

Some would argue, however, that the symbiosis between first amendment speech and voting rights can be used to curtail or take away other rights and freedoms -- for example, the prohibition amendment, which outlawed liquor sale (and was later repealed).  There are many in my family that would say prohibition was an impediment to the constitutionally promised right to the "pursuit of happiness."

 

Yet, the beauty of the interplay between speech and voting rights is that it allows the U.S. Constitution to be the "living, breathing document" it is often called.  The U.S. Constitution has changed over time -- through amendment and through the interpretations thereof by the U.S. Supreme Court.  All of this reflective of changes in our society over time and directly effected by the voicing of opinion and the vote of the people.

 

Now we see some claiming that their 2nd amendment rights are under attack -- by the 16 and 17 year old kids of the nation, no less.  In the context of the greater good of the country, the voicing of opinion is never an "attack."  The teenagers of Parkland and the broader population have mobilized not to attack the rights of others but simply to beg leadership to protect their right to be safe in schools.  NRA supporters often attempt to switch the focus and argue that mass shootings are a product of mental health issues.  Yet, it is clear that the solution to the issue is not based on an "either-or" decision tree.  A mass shooting is caused by (a) a mentally unhealthy individual using (b) a semi-automatic or de facto automatic weapon (made using bump stocks or other implements).  Mathematically, the best solution is one that addresses both these elements.

 

When one set of rights may conflict with another set of rights, the U.S. Supreme Court often balances these rights against on another in the context of the greater good and general welfare of the population.  Being able to learn in a safe environment, free of fear and danger, is inarguably the most important right our government can ensure for the youth of the country.  While the right to bear arms and to protect one's home and family seems fairly settled and secure, the need to ensure that most anyone can have relatively easy access to a semi-automatic weapon seems less clear.  Semi-automatic weapons have no application in hunting (as one comedian says -- if you need a semi-automatic weapon to bag a deer, it's time to find a new hobby).  They also seem to have limited application or a favorable self-danger/safety ratio for home protection.

 

 

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