The burning embers of the Twin Towers had a way of being invoked when a particularly dicey part of the Patriot Act needed selling 11 years ago.
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This was the smart play. Watering down constitutional rights is not easily undertaken. So scaring Americans and then using that fear to explain why this egregious assault on their rights is for their own good is genius. This is exactly why the right protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures of Americans is no longer absolute, thanks to the Patriot Act, and a right to a speedy and public trial by jury was only days ago finally reaffirmed in the Senate, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) so eloquently arguing, “If we relinquish our rights because of fear, what is it exactly, then, we are fighting for?”
Yes, tragedy is a dangerous time for the Bill of Rights because somebody is always there to wave a flag or an orphaned baby and use that to explain why we need to voluntarily give up rights our Founding Fathers so wisely gave to us. And so it is with this Jovan Belcher tragedy.
The Kansas City Chiefs linebacker gunned down his girlfriend — the mother of his baby — and then killed himself, leaving a 3-month-old girl without parents. That this is a tragedy is inarguable. That this is some sort of referendum on the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms is absurd.
My esteemed colleague, Jason Whitlock, argued just that in a very thoughtful column, noting “What I believe is, if (Belcher) didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” NBC analyst Bob Costas used this as a jumping off point to proselytize during halftime of “Football Night in America” about perspective in sports and the dangers of guns.
The problem with intelligent, impassioned, well-reasoned arguments is how seductive they are. It is easier to blow off the crazy guy screaming “ban all guns” than journalists such as Whitlock or Costas who are arguing rather convincingly how the Second Amendment threatens our liberty rather than enhances it.
What I know for sure is the distinguished senator from Kentucky is right. And his impassioned defense of the Sixth Amendment on the Senate floor last week needs to be Googled and viewed by everybody calling for a gun ban in response to the Belcher tragedy.
“We have nothing to fear that should cause us to relinquish our rights as free men and women,” Paul said. “I urge my colleagues to reject fear, to reject the siren call for ever more powerful government.”
This is not simply about guns. This is about rights. It is a slippery slope from doing something in the interest of public safety to giving up what we hold dear. The slope is greased with fear, with a self-righteous belief that we know better than the framers of the Constitution. And it is all based on informal fallacy.
The idea that if we just ban all guns Kasandra Perkins does not die and a 3-month-old baby is not orphaned is the very essence of a stated premise that fails to support its proposed conclusion. Yes, guns are dangerous and people such as Belcher sometimes use them to do awful things. What I believe in my heart is Jovan Belcher was going to find a way to wreak havoc that day whether he had a gun or a knife or only his fists. And even the potential to stop him is not justification for willingly handing over rights guaranteed to us.
If this makes me a gun nut or a wing nut or a preachy PITA, I am OK with those labels. Although, I prefer Constitutionalist.
There are not a lot of us left — not absolutists, at least.
Conservatives argue for limiting the right to a speedy trial because terrorists are dangerous. Liberals argue for taking away my right to bear arms because people like Belcher use them in unspeakably horrific ways. Hell, the mayor of New York wants to take away my right to buy a big cup of Coke while in his city because obesity has become such an epidemic. Where does it end? Taking away free speech, freedom of the press? Restricting our right to peaceably assemble? Whittling away our very liberty?
Liberty and democracy are not the same things.
Democracy means the majority decides what rules govern us. Liberty is the idea that we all have certain rights that cannot be taken away, not even by a majority. These are the “inalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence, and when we give them up voluntarily, for whatever reason no matter how altruistic, what we find is all we have done is given more rights to the government that were intended for us.
Doing so makes us less safe, not more.
So I absolutely believe in “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” just as I do the right to a trial by jury and freedom of religion. And as tragic as this Belcher murder-suicide story is, as much as my heart breaks for that little girl, the answer is not taking away or willingly giving up the right of Americans to bear arms.
Because if we give up our liberty for the mirage of safety, what really have we won?