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No right is absolute

richardson

The president’s hucksterism was on full display last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where he shilled for the NRA just one day after meeting with survivors and victims of mass shootings.

Repeatedly calling his political opponents “crazed,” he pumped up the crowd with threats that Democrats would “take away your Second Amendment.” Sowing baseless fear has long been an effective NRA tactic. The not so subtle ploy is to scare the people so they’ll buy more guns and the NRA can buy more politicians.

This kind of bellicose blather cannot go unchallenged. The Second Amendment is not the property of the NRA and its members. Like every other amendment, it is part of the Constitution and belongs to all of us.

The only way that any amendment “can be taken away” is for the Constitution to be amended yet again. For instance, the Eighteenth Amendment establishing prohibition was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment.

Article V of the Constitution prescribes how an amendment can become a part of the Constitution. While there are two ways, only one has ever been used. All 27 Amendments have been ratified after two-thirds of the House and Senate approve of the proposal and send it to the states for a vote. Then, three-fourths of the states must affirm the proposed Amendment.

The other method of passing an amendment requires a Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the States. That Convention can propose as many amendments as it deems necessary. Those amendments must be approved by three-fourths of the states.

This daunting process to amend the Constitution has always presented a very high hurdle, but in this age of deeply polarized and fiercely tribal politics, the consensus needed to garner the required votes is almost surely elusive.

The Second Amendment is here to stay. And the president, the NRA and its CPAC sycophants know it. But as even one of its greatest judicial defenders the late Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged in the landmark case of District of Columbia v Heller, the Second Amendment is not without limits.

It is the idea of limits – reasonable, common sense, constitutionally permissible limits – that the president and the NRA cannot abide. They conveniently forget that no right is absolute.

In a series of cases, courts have placed a number of “time, place, and manner” restrictions on the First Amendment. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

Thus, just as there are limits on the first amendment – and every other amendment – the second amendment should not be read to allow Americans unfettered access to modern, highly lethal weapons of war.

The CPAC crowd may respond to presidential fear-mongering, but I sense the rest of the nation is reaching a tipping point where they fear the NRA’s utter indifference to the gun violence epidemic and its rigid absolutism most of all. The NRA’s continued and virulent resistance to even the most anemic gun safety measures may be its undoing. Change is coming – maybe not today or tomorrow – but soon.
 

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