This absurd notion of absolutism
Rep. Lauren Bobert of Colorado likes to shoot from the lip.
She has called President Biden and anyone who agrees with him on firearms restrictions a “tyrant.”
“The Second Amendment is absolute,” Bobert posted. “Anyone who says otherwise is a tyrant.”
The president is no tyrant, and neither are other people who espouse modest restrictions on gun ownership and use.
Bobert is absolutely wrong. So are folks who agree whole-heartedly with her statement, many of them well-intentioned supporters of the everyday person’s gun rights, but who mistakenly see any and all attempts to leven those rights as a road leading to total abolition.
The Second Amendment, like the First Amendment or any other amendment, is NOT absolute. Isn’t now, never has been, and probably never will be.
My column isn’t an argument so much for Biden’s plan, including a ban on ghost guns and pistol-stabilizing braces, or a directive for a “red flag” law that would temporarily block potential threats from possessing guns.
No, it’s about this absurd notion of absolutism. Regarding guns for sure. But also pertaining to a lot of other laws.
Part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s job description is to determine the constitutionality of laws. The Court has held that any law restricting SOME rights must have an especially strong purpose and be narrowly targeted. Particularly the Bill of Rights.
However, government has always had the ability to limit a person’s freedom under certain circumstances.
Let’s start with my favorite amendment, the First Amendment. As an everyday opinion-holder and a former journalist who cherishes the freedom to assemble with others, practice my religion, and engage in vigorous debate, I don’t want to place many restrictions on Amendment No. 1.
But limits there are, and I join most Americans who agree with them.
I do not have an absolute right to libel or tell salacious lies about someone. Rather, I may have that right, but it could land me in court facing big fines or jail.
Likewise, there are rules against child pornography, sedition, copyright infringement, inciting lawless action, bellowing over a loudspeaker near a person’s home at night, etc. And that lovely old standard that you “can’t shout fire in a crowded theater” to incite a stampede.
Kids face more First Amendment restrictions than adults do, including some censorship in student publications.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizures, but in real life, law enforcement can often search a vehicle without a warrant, and it can hold folks on the street.
The Fifth Amendment against self incrimination is not blanket protection. A person has to believe his or her statement could be used in a prosecution or lead to other incriminating evidence.
Under the Sixth Amendment, the right to choose a particular lawyer is not absolute. A judge may deny a chosen attorney if that attorney is also representing co-defendants.
The Seventh Amendment guarantees a trial by jury for most cases. But if you sue the government, you might not get a jury.
The Second Amendment, according to a key Supreme Court ruling, District of Columbia v. Heller, says the right “to keep and bear arms” applies to individuals for purposes including self-defense, and the Court did not buy the “well-regulated militia” argument that used to carry legal water.
But in that same ruling, and in many previous and following court rulings, the right has not been viewed as unlimited or unrestricted. Governments may enact reasonable laws to protect public safety.
The Court, in Heller, said its pro-rights ruling should not “cast doubt” on some restrictions, including bans on gun ownership by people like felons, domestic abusers, mentally ill people, illegal drug users, and undocumented immigrants. It also allowed laws against some types of “dangerous and unusual weapons,” and OK’d limits on carrying firearms in certain public places, and requirements for gun sales.
Some types of firearms are illegal to own, including machine guns and other fully automatic weapons — semi-automatics are legal (Insert your own favorite, but illegal to the public, military hardware here).
Handguns have wide ownership and legality, but many states require permits to buy them.
The Court has recognized that guns can be restricted or prohibited in some public “sensitive places” including schools, courtrooms, polling places, and airports.
Most states don’t allow concealed weapons in some places, such as hospitals and sporting events. And some states have open-carry laws that restrict openly carrying certain types of guns in vehicles.
Selling is likewise far from an unlimited right. Though private sellers are often exempt, licensed dealers need to perform background checks, record keeping and reporting multiple sales to the same person.
Of course, any or all of these restrictions could be challenged or overturned by legislatures, courts, or public initiatives or referendums. Or even Constitutional Amendments. It’s also true that more restrictions could be passed. The Constitution is not a static document, right?