Tag Archives: constitution

YOU NO LONGER HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEFEND YOURSELF WITH A GUN!

Except no, that isn’t true. I came across a comic portrayal of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting today that seemed to suggest that it was true, among several other things. Here’s the comic, I know it would make ME feel smug and justified in gun ownership:

Does anyone else find it disturbing that in this guy's ideal world, Giffords still gets shot in the head? Who's the crazy person again?

There is this notion out there among many conservative gun-nuts that if everyone is allowed to own a gun, then nobody will successfully go on a shooting spree because the majority of upstanding citizens will carry guns around and when something goes down they will just pull out their guns and show the shooter what’s what. That argument assumes two things: 1) that the majority of upstanding citizens will actually choose to carry their firearm around with them in a paranoid and largely unnecessary manner, and 2) that your average citizen would be both willing and able to take down the shooter. One of the most ridiculous things about the “comic” that is the subject of this article is that the people in the crowd have every right and opportunity to buy a gun and carry it with them, just like on the day of the Giffords shooting. Also, cartoon illustrations are one thing, but what happens when the would-be rescuer misses and hits somebody else? Hell, police are specially trained to pick their targets and be aware of their line of fire and they still end up shooting two-year olds. But I digress.

The cartoon above is obviously a reference to the recent shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. It seems to suggest that were the Second Amendment to function unimpeded in America today, a whole crowd of men women and children would not have been sprayed with a Glock, because somebody could have just taken Loughner down. I won’t even bother confronting the assumption that somebody would have been able to retrieve their weapon and take aim before Loughner unloaded most of the bullets in his extended mag semi-automatic pistol (which, for those of you who don’t know, fires as fast as he can pull the trigger). What I will confront is the commonly held, commonly conservative belief that Americans’ constitutional right to own a firearm is being somehow infringed upon by the government or the Obama administration or by the Democratic party.

This guy wants your wallet? Better shoot his ass. Yeah, that's justice.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which was adopted along with the rest of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, reads as follows:

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.

First of all, the date. This amendment to the Constitution was added at a time in American history when magazine-loading firearms did not exist. There was no such thing as a shooting spree. People fired and then reloaded. Had our forefathers known the types of weapons that would be available in the future, I would wager that they would save us the trouble of imposing regulations by specifying the exact type of weapons to which they referred. Alas, hindsight is indeed 20/20.

Second of all, the purpose of this amendment as it reads is to preserve the security of the state through a well-regulated militia. Given that militias at the time were comprised of any and all American citizens who wished to join, this has been, and for good or bad will continue to be interpreted to mean that every member of society has a right to gun ownership by default.

The key word here is default. We are also afforded the right to vote by default. That right can be revoked if, for instance, we commit a felony. In addition, we have a right to vote in certain forums– believe it or not you can’t walk into Congress and throw your ballot in the hat. There are different types of voting just like there are different types of arms. Wouldn’t you agree that you don’t want a liberal commie/fascist/socialist like me having access to a nuclear bomb launcher? I mean it’s a form of armament. Do I have to be able to hold it or something? Slippery slope fellas.

Which brings me to my third point- the 2nd Amendment means that everyone has the right to own a gun. This provision has been reasonably interpreted to have certain limitations, much in the way we impose limits on freedom of speech by not allowing people to shout “FIRE” in a movie theater- it only makes sense. It also only makes sense that we put some kind of cap on the amount of power that we’re going to put into a single persons hand. Some of the weapons out there today won’t just kill a single person, they can kill a shopping mall/highschool classroom/college dorm/office building full of people. Hoping someone else is there with a gun does not make sense- it’s reckless and irrational.

It is only reasonable that we don’t put guns in the hands of the mentally disturbed, or those who are demonstrably prone to initiations of violence. We want people with such power to be able to exercise self-control and only use that power when it is absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, mentally disturbed persons are still able to obtain weapons in our current system. How do you think Loughner got his? He walked into a store and he bought it. And he bought a bunch of bullets for it. And he bought an extended magazine for it. At no point was the person who sold him the gun aware of his long, long history of mental illness and paranoid schizophrenia.

None of you have the urge to kill a bunch of people, right? Cool.

And who can read that poster? Anyone who knows how to read, like this cheery fellow:

"Maybe if I smile he'll throw in an extra box of bullets."

The argument that removing all restrictions on firearms will result in the majority of people suddenly locking and loading and thus balancing the equation is a massive oversimplification, one which is unsurprisingly made by those ignorant many who believe that the guv-ment is trying to disarm the entire population. They aren’t and it’s not going to happen. Would you be surprised to learn that most of the people that make these kinds of arguments support the conservative party? They sure are serving the kool-aid up strong these days.

Nobody is trying to take your guns away. A concealed carry permit is not a difficult thing to obtain. Depending on the state, firearm regulations may seek to require psychological and criminal record screenings in order to obtain them. Such screenings are meant to detect people who show major red flags, such as a history of violence, psychotic episodes, etc. I think we can agree these are the people who should not have guns. Regulations also seek to reduce the potential for destruction that can rest in the hands of a would-be mass murderer, so that should they succeed in evading the screening process (which at this point is clearly not very difficult), the harm they cause will at least have a limit. Imagine if Loughner was allowed to purchase an even larger magazine, or a fully automatic version of the same handgun he used in the shooting– how many more children would have been shot before he had to reload and was taken down? No state has put in place a law or regulation that removes the right to own a firearm from innocent, upstanding citizens. It just isn’t the case. It would be flatly unconstitutional and would be overturned in a heartbeat.

Strawman argument, anyone?

I’ve fired a gun before. I know the rush that you feel with such a precise, powerful instrument in your hands. I understand the confidence and security that comes along with knowing that you can defend yourself against whatever comes your way. All I’m suggesting is that we slow down for a moment and try to look at the issue objectively. Undeserving people are killed every year by guns. That isn’t an accusation, it’s just an acknowledgement of reality. The more conscious people are of the dangers of firearms, and the responsibilities that need to be imposed upon those who wield them,  the better off society will be. I cannot make it clear enough: I do not argue for stronger gun regulations because I think the American public should be disarmed, I argue for stronger gun regulations because I perceive our current level of gun regulation to be pathetically inadequate. Innocent men, women and children die every year because of that inadequacy. I, like every other red-blooded American, want to avoid as many tragedies as possible on American soil. Don’t you?

If you haven’t figured it out already, I happen to support strong regulation of firearms. I think our system for screening and mandatory reporting is severely lacking. I think that there is absolutely no reason that civilians need to have access to assault rifles or fully automatic weapons. These types of weapons transcend self-defense and enter the realm of excessive danger and force. If somebody wants to argue about appropriate levels and types of regulation with me then I welcome them to do so (hit the comments section below, it it pleases you). I am more than willing to acknowledge first of all that this is a grey area and second of all that it can and should be argued by both sides. That is how meaningful compromises are reached- adversary and detail-oriented debate. We do not create a valuable discourse with oversimplified and ignorant comics such as the ones featured above. We create ideological stalemates and disinformation. We’re better than that America. We must make progress.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.

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The Transportation “Security” Administration is a Fucking Joke

One of the most go-to answers for why U.S. citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights are violated is that it is in the interest of national security. For those who don’t know, the Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Apparently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has interpreted this provision of our Constitution to mean that it is acceptable for them to force a 95 year old woman, with cancer, in a wheelchair, to remove her adult diaper in order to pass through security.  I may be alone, but I happen to be of the opinion that if the terrorists are putting explosives in this woman’s Depends, we might as well just let it lie- they’ve won.

But on a more serious note, this situation clearly illustrates the extent of the discretion that we have not only permitted, but encouraged to be placed in the hands of the TSA. The TSA has stood behind the actions of its officers, saying that in regard to this incident, they “acted professionally and according to proper procedure.” Not only have our representatives gone along with such actions in the past, to a large extent they have applauded them. Hell, who could possibly come out against National Security?

“National Security” is doublespeak. It’s a clever little term used to make it sting a bit less when our rights are infringed upon. We don’t really increase the security of the country by letting the TSA violate our constitutional rights. We have seen time and time again that we are fighting an illusive, intelligent enemy. If we make people start taking their shoes off, they put the bombs in their underwear. If we install machines that sniff for explosives, they bring the ingredients and make the bombs in the bathrooms. If we restrict liquids, they set off bombs in baggage claim.  We seem to only think reactively about security, while our enemy thinks only proactively. This is stupid, on our part.

And seriously people, what makes you think the terrorists share our fixation with airplanes? There is no limit to the number of places where Americans gather en masse that are considered just as viable of targets. The Fort Hood and Pentagon shootings have proven that. All a terrorist has to do is get a visa and come to America (assuming they’re not already an American resident/citizen) and not bring any weapons with them on the trip (whatever they might bring is already here anyway). Lucky for them we have yet to create a Department of Thought Crime, though we seem to be getting closer to doing so every day.

Over the last ten years, I have heard little other than praise for the lengths to which the TSA has gone to protect our safety, and yet the whole time I find myself curious as to how exactly they have been able to gauge their great successes. We don’t hear about people who are stopped at these TSA checkpoints who were actually trying to get a bomb or a weapon onboard a plane. What we do hear about is people who have gotten through security, and then are taken down by passengers on the plane. In fact, so far, the two most proven counter-terrorist devices on airliners are passenger reaction and lockable cockpit doors.

Why do we even bother with intrusive security when anybody who cares to can gain access to “secure” areas of an airport. I’ll tell you why. It’s a show. The whole thing is an attempt to prove to the American people that the government is capable of defending against a threat that cannot really be defended against. Unfortunately, the threat against which our government purports to protect us is as difficult to pin down as mustard gas, and in our attempts to resist it we only increase our exposure. That’s not to mention that when we increase security, and particularly when we allow such security to encroach upon our freedoms as Americans, the terrorists win.

What do you think they’re trying to do when they blow up a building, or hijack an airplane? Do you really think that their ultimate goal is to kill a hundred, even a few thousand of the over 300 million American people? Would you consider that an effective way to topple an empire such as ours? They are trying to destroy our nation by eroding and eventually eliminating the freedoms that we stand for. Like the soviets during the cold war, they realize that the most effective strategy is one that causes us to fear and suspect each other. Their methods are terroristic because they know that they stand no chance of defeating us in physical warfare. When we succumb to their reverse-psychological terror tactics, and restrict our right to live free from unreasonable searches, we are in essence telling them that what they are doing is working.

So what to do? Get mad! Nothing is going to change while you’re sitting on your ass reading my incoherent ramblings. The TSA isn’t going to just give up the power that has been vested in it. Your congressmen aren’t going to say anything that might suggest that they’re opposed to an agency that falls into the “National Security” category unless they think their jobs are on the line over it. Stop buying into the idea that “National Security” is such a bulletproof excuse for anything. Talk to people about these issues, and talk particularly loudly about them in airports. If you’re feeling ballsy, tell the TSA exactly how you feel. We do supposedly have a freedom of speech in this country, and if the Westboro church is allowed to say what they want you should be able to as well.

If you loudly vocalize your dissent the TSA might detain you, or search you more thoroughly, but if you don’t do anything wrong they can’t do anything to you other than that. If they do something that harms you physically, mentally, or financially, sue them. If they detain you for speaking out, tell people how unreasonable that is. It will only give credence to the fact that theirs is not an administration of security, but one of the illusion of power and control. Their power is what we give them. Their control is what we allow. Think of it like this- if speaking out does nothing else, it will at least get them to think twice before messing with your grandma’s adult diapers. At this point, I count that as a win.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.


It’s Only War When Real People Get Killed

We are at war with Libya. We are using our Air Force to drop bombs on Libyan soil. We are using unmanned drones to drop bombs on Libyan soil. We are  launching Tomahawk missiles at Libyan soil. Libyan civilians are being killed, in the thousands, by our bombs, on Libyan soil. If we came close enough that Libyan forces could do us harm, they would. We are at war with Libya.

Unfortunately, President Obama disagrees with me (this does not happen very often). He contends that our engagements in Libya are not war, they’re… they’re… well they’re not war. He says since U.S. forces aren’t in jeopardy, it doesn’t count (Unilateral war isn’t war? Good one). That pretty much sums up what he’s told us so far.

Why doesn’t Obama want to call our engagements in Libya war? Because if these are acts of war, he would be required by both the Constitution and the War Powers Act of 1973 to seek congressional approval to continue. He doesn’t think he would get that approval, so he’s avoiding seeking it.

Now there is something to be said for that. I think we can all agree that Libya was just a few steps away from full-on genocide when coalition forces first intervened. On the other hand, NATO forces responded and are in fact still overseeing operations in Libya. Just because we can get involved, doesn’t mean we should. We are in the midst of an economic stall, one that is only worsened by political divisiveness and stalemates.

Also, given the massive sums of money that we’ve spent on wars over the last ten years alone, and the number of innocent civilians we’ve slaughtered in the process (whoever calls them “surgical airstrikes” can operate on someone else), it doesn’t seem so unreasonable that the American people have a say in where we get involved. Congress, as representatives of the people, needs to have the opportunity to speak on their behalf. My guess is that at this point in time, given the state of the economy, their answer to the question of whether we should be involved might be a resounding “HELL NO!” Then again, given the fact that as a NATO ally we are at least partially obligated to offer assistance, they might vote to have our military act in a strictly support role.

But I speculate. The point is this- the reason the Constitution and the War Powers Act require the approval of the legislative branch is to keep the decision of whether our country starts or engages in armed conflicts with other countries in the hands of many, as opposed to the hands of just one. These provisions are what solidify our country as a democracy, rather than some sort of military dictatorship. When I hear that Obama is ordering airstrikes in Libya without congressional approval because he was somehow able to finagle out of the definition of “war”, it feels extremely undemocratic to me, not to mention that it smacks of total bullshit.

I, like Obama, do believe that the U.S. can be a force for good in the world. However, I think if we are going to exercise our power internationally then it needs to be in a carefully regulated and well-thought out manner, preferably a democratic one. Simply manufacturing and taking advantage of a loophole is not well- thought out. In this instance, it opens the door to attack anyone on a whim, so long as we’re careful not to come into firing distance of those we want to attack. By that reasoning, we could send a stealth bomber to drop another nuke on Hiroshima, and it wouldn’t be a problem, because that is not an act of war. Yeah, that makes sense. Wait. No.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.


People in Jail Have Better Health Care Than the Unemployed

Today, a man robbed a bank so he could receive the minimum necessary treatment for his medical problems. James Verone walked into a bank in Gaston County North Carolina, walked up to the counter, and slipped the teller a note announcing that he was robbing the bank. He demanded that they give him one dollar. He then informed the bank staff that he would take a seat to wait for the police. Mr. Verone’s goal was to have himself taken to jail so that he would gain access to the basic medical care afforded to prisoners by law.

His story is a first, at least for me. What isn’t a first for me is hearing that there are people out there who need medical care and are unable to afford it. I’ve been told by some of my conservative colleagues that “health care is a service, not a right,” as though that should convince me to just let the issue lie. It’s true, there are no provisions in our constitution that specifically state that a United States citizen is entitled to health care. Of course that document was written in a time when medical care was barely accessible to the population, and when it was, one of the most common medical solutions was to just “cut it off.”

Did you know that right now in the U.K., a country that provides free health care to all of its citizens, even the most staunch conservatives are running on platforms that specifically emphasize that modifications to the health care system will not result in “American-style” health care schemes? They have a universal health care system (which by the way it turns out doesn’t make a country collapse) and they are so satisfied with it that they don’t even consider privatized, insurance-based health care to be a reasonable option. In fact they consider politicians who speak in support of such a system to be entirely unelectable.

In our country, we have people going bankrupt paying for medical services. These aren’t just the unemployed, these are perfectly well-established, hardworking people who had something happen and then their insurer chose not to cover it. I have been told by my law professors that here in the United States we are all just one major accident away from bankruptcy. That isn’t right, and just because people subscribe to conservative apologetics does not make it right. Of course the Republican party is going to do everything to stop what they call “Obamacare” (what kind of sheeple are convinced by meaningless buzzwords like that anyway?)- private insurance is a cash cow, and conservative representatives receive huge campaign contributions from the insurance industry. This really isn’t that complicated.

So when I hear people say “health care isn’t a right, it’s a service,” I have to agree. Here in the United States it is a service, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can support amendments that improve the currently compromised health care bill, which hasn’t even taken effect yet. Failing that, or in the event that a Republican-controlled Congress manages to suffocate the effects of the bill by controlling funding, we can amend the constitution and we can make it a right.

Don’t kid yourself- you don’t know if you are going to lose your job, have an accident, or develop cancer or some other serious medical condition. You don’t know if you’re going to be covered when you need medical care. It’s time we start thinking long term, and it’s time we start to acknowledge that creating a safety net for others means we are creating a safety net for ourselves. Maybe one day we will realize these things, and we can stop hearing about people who die because they don’t have enough money.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.


One Nation, Under God, the Christian One

We here in the United States are a divided bunch, and in most regards that divisiveness is clear after only a brief glance at the composition of our Congress. The reason the term “most” is important here is that there are certain issues that are perceived to be too controversial to be on the wrong side of. One of them is God.

We are a nation composed of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many other religions. We also have a substantial population of people who are either unaffiliated or are flat-out nonbelievers. The fact that we continue to legislatively support terms like “under God” and “in God we trust” makes a mockery of our democracy and the First Amendment to our constitution.

As you are surely aware, the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, and that clause, known as the Establishment Clause, has been roundly interpreted by not only our Supreme Court but a whole slew of lawmakers to imply a separation of Church and State. Jefferson described it as a wall of separation between Church and State.

The entire idea behind the clause is that one religion should not be given preference over another, that religion in general should not be given preference over non-religion, and that non-religion should not be given preference over religion in general. The fact that our politicians and particularly our presidents are perceived to be somehow unelectable if they even fail to announce their devotion to Christianity represents a tyranny of the majority, and the result is the shameless violation of our Constitution.

As a secular humanist, I am disgusted that as a citizen of this great nation I have no choice but to be associated with a religion that I perceive to be morally bankrupt in many respects. It is not the perspectives of the majority for which the Bill of Rights was established, but for those of the minority. In this instance, I am in that minority, and I implore you all to consider that one day I may not be, and that it is in your interest to consider my words carefully.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.