Point of View Columns

Gun Smokescreen

Last week the United States Senate, led by the Teapublican minority, turned in yet another Profile in Cowardice by refusing to pass a diluted, milquetoast, largely symbolic gun control measure. The key element of the defeated bill was background checks. Who could be against that? The question bears consideration. The answer is simple – and it is complicated.

Since the recent gun fueled slaughters in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown, along with the daily firearms carnage that spills blood throughout this country, most Americans have come to expect that there will be another massacre – the only question being when and where? One would think that the fact that over 30,000 Americans die due to gun violence every year would make gun control something of a priority. Certainly the fact that the United States has the highest rate of gun violence of any developed nation is an embarrassment and a tragedy.

Nevertheless, gun control measures have been repeatedly opposed, diluted and defeated by the so-called defenders of “the right to bear arms”. Aside from the fact that there are serious differences of opinion and perspective when it comes to the Second Amendment it is clear from all of the writings of the framers of the Constitution and subsequent judicial decisions that none of the rights in the Constitution are absolute.

For example, the First Amendment to the Constitution proclaims freedom of speech. But it is quite clear that even with that freedom no one has the constitutionally protected right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater or to advocate the violent overthrow of the government or to publish child pornography. The right to freedom of speech is conditional.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unlawful searches and seizures by the government. But agents of the government can obtain a warrant and search your home, your bank accounts and your internet records. Indeed, if there is a perception of imminent danger agents of the government can seize you and search your person on the street without a warrant. Just ask the proponents of New York City’s odious Stop and Frisk policy. The right to freedom from searches and seizures is conditional.

One wonders how the advocates of the Second Amendment have transformed the right to bear arms into some absolute right. One would think that reasonable measures that control the possession and use of firearms only makes sense in a civilized society. That is why the nonsensical notion that any government involvement in the ownership and possession of firearms is heretical is just that – nonsense.

The fact is that most of the loudest advocates of absolute gun rights are also on the far right conservative side when it comes to restricting the rights of free speech for people with whom they don’t agree, peaceful assembly of people whose causes they don’t like, freedom from illegal search and seizure for people whose politics they don’t like and a woman’s right to have an abortion. These selective absolutists don’t even bother to defend the inconsistency and hypocrisy of their position. And they will shoot anyone who believes otherwise.

Recent polls tell us that 90% of all Americans are in favor of some kind of background check prior to gun purchases. Yet the United States Senate could not find 60% of its members willing to support such a basic measure that could only help to protect all Americans.

The search for the reason for this disconnect begins with a search for the money. Tremendous sums of money are funneled into the National Rifle Association and into the political war chests of American legislators by representatives of the gun lobby. The gun lobby’s position is quite clear – any restriction or control on the sale of guns could lead to a loss of sales and profits. In the world of weapons manufacturers – sales and profits outweigh human life every single time.

The American system of capitalism has created the highest material standard of living of any country in the history of this planet. Free enterprise has resulted in railroads and the Hula Hoop, and it has all led to many forms of progress. But unconditional free enterprise can result in murderous and cannibalistic strains of capitalism where the damage and destruction of society is acceptable if it serves the false gods of sales and profit.

The hypocrisy of gun rights advocates who would restrict constitutional rights except when it comes to guns is shameful. The willingness of the gun lobby to sacrifice your life, and that of your family, in the cause of sales and profits is unspeakable.

Standard
Point of View Columns

When You are Living in a Glass House

At the end of last week, after lengthy and sometimes rancorous debate the New York State Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and that bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo immediately thereafter. New York is the largest and most populous state to have legalized same-sex marriage, a point that is useful to keep in mind since a number of states have proposed to outlaw or have already prohibited such unions.

Leading the charge against same-sex marriage has been the Catholic Church. Not content with prohibiting Catholics from entering into same-sex marriages, the leaders, cardinals, bishops and priests have proclaimed that their view of morality and the will of God are so divinely inspired that they have the right to impose that view on non-Catholics as well.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion certainly empowers these prelates to state their point of view. But if what underlies their speech is the right to deny freedom to others, all freedoms are devalued. After all, there was a time when Roman emperors viewed all Christians as enemies of the state and put them to death for their beliefs. How odd it is that 2000 years later Catholics pronounce political death sentences on politicians that do not support their point of view.

As a practicing Catholic I certainly would feel less queasy about the political activism of the Catholic Church if the now vocal leaders haven’t been oh so silent on the issue of child abuse by Catholic priests. The vehement statements of outrage against same-sex marriage dwarf any statements of dismay, disgust or apology by the Catholic Church when it comes to the abuse of children by priests.

Entire parishes and archdioceses have been bankrupted by the damages awarded to the victims of the Catholic Church. Yet the acknowledgements of guilt and complicity have been tepid when compared to the bellicose roar of the church hierarchy in denying the legitimacy of expressions of love that do not comport with their moral universe.

And the Catholic Church is not the only glass house resident that should be very wary of stones in the neighborhood. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, the new “It” girl of the G.O.Tea Party has proclaimed that as president she would lead the battle to have a constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage throughout the entire United States.

To my recollection, this is the same Michelle Bachmann who has ranted against the intrusion of government into the private lives of Americans. This would be the same Michelle Bachmann who is leading the mock battle against the mock demon called “big government”.

Personally, I cannot think of a greater intrusion into the private lives of Americans than for government to dictate who can marry whom and what relationship is valid and valued and what relationship is invalid and devalued. Visions of “big government” and Big Brother come to mind as we watch the borders between church and state being smeared and obliterated by those who would presume to place their moral standards above those of others.

Since Michelle Bachmann went to law school one could reasonably expect that she would shy away from the apparent contradiction of wishing to reduce the intrusion of government in the lives of Americans on one hand while wielding the Thor-like hammer of the Constitution of the United States to smash the rights of privacy and the freedoms of love and association that Americans supposedly enjoy. The constitutional and legal glass house in which she resides cannot possibly stand up the stones of hypocrisy that she is casting with her own hand.

The point is not the obduracy of the Catholic Church or the mindless and pathetic hypocrisy of Michelle Bachmann. The point actually goes beyond the current debate regarding same-sex marriage and civil unions.

I would suggest that we are witnessing the renaissance of a time best left forgotten when imposing moral standards and views on life were accomplished with threats and violence. Ostensibly, the clearly wobbly beliefs of the framers of the Constitution were tested by issues like slavery and suffrage for women. But the sound concepts of freedom and the rights of individuals bound by a union focused on the common good are worth remembering and citing.

Those sound concepts are being remixed and spun in ways that are taking us back into a time of intolerance and injustice. It is time to remember that in such matters it can get late early.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – January 7, 2011

The first Weekend Edition of the new year looks at the Republicans and the Constitution as well as the proposed repeal of the health care bill. In some ways today feels like December 38, 2010, but I believe that this is a new year.

A Strong Constitution

This past Wednesday the Republican Party formally took control of the United States House of Representatives. On January 6th the first order of business was for the members of Congress to spend close to two hours reading the Constitution of the United States out loud.

Presumably, this exercise was meant to do more than demonstrate the limited oratorical skills of some elected officials. We have been told that the new Republican majority will adhere to the Constitution and this spectacle was Exhibit A.

The Constitution, which was ratified in 1788, was always meant to be a organic document. It set forth certain precepts and principles but it was never meant to be inflexible. Its uniqueness has been its ability to adapt and evolve.

In the original Constitution slavery was lawful, women could not vote and no individual could vote for a United States Senator. All of these items have been changed, no doubt for the better. And there will certainly be changes in the future.

The mechanical reading of the Constitution made for poor theater and even worse political philosophy. The Constitution is not Scripture and it was never meant to be the governmental equivalent of the Ten Commandments.

The Death of Health Care?

The Party of No is, if nothing else, true to its promise. The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will vote to repeal the entire health care reform bill on January 12th.

The Senate almost certainly will not go along with this singularly self-destructive strategy and it is safe to say that, in any event, President Obama would veto the madness if it ever made itto his desk.

Already, Congressman Fred Upton, the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has said that he will try to dismantle this legislation “piece by piece” which is a comforting thought.

One wonders if the esteemed Mr. Upton is referring to the “piece” that allows people with pre-existing illness? Perhaps the “piece” that will give over 30,000,000 uninsured Americans health care coverage that Mr. Upton and his family undoubtedly enjoy at this very moment.

Perhaps the Party of No is referring to the “piece” that will allow American business to be competitive with the rest of the world, a world where corporations do not have employees’ health care expenses as a cost of doing business. Of course, that would be because all developed countries have universal healthcare coverage for their citizens.

“Dismantling” doesn’t sound like a very constructive approach. On January 12th the G.O.Tea Party will demonstrate once more that its way is the wrong way.

Have a great weekend!

Standard