First off, I hope you all know I’m an admirer of America (why else would I blog here) and particularly of its Constitution which, along with the Declaration of Independence, is one of the jewels of political thought and practice anywhere in the world.
However, the terrible murders in Tucson, the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords, and the connection between various acts of violence towards certain politicians with violent rhetoric seems to bring two key constitutional amendments into an unseemly clash.
This is essentially an open thread to continue the debate in other diaries, but allow me to make a couple of points (which you can
shoot knock down) at will.
The glory of the US constitution, at least as it seems to me, is that it is a work in progress. It is not some absolutist Old Testament text (e.g. The Ten Commandments), but has more in common with the New Testament ethos of rewriting laws to reflect deeper human principles (e.g. The Sermon on the Mount). Key moments such as the abolition of slavery, or incorporating the rights of women, show that this is an evolving document.
With that in mind, we’ve often debated the limits of free speech: though it may not be expressed in your constitution, language which is either a conspiracy to commit a crime, an incitement to violence, or is a slanderous attack on another person, IS limited by law.
Likewise, the ‘right to bear arms’ is modified in different States in myriad ways. There is no unqualified right here. As always, your rights to do something are limited by the rights of others you may infringe. In most democracies, everyone has the right to free movement, but not to drive while under the influence, or ignore all rules and social norms (driving on the wrong side of the road for example).
The Libertarian and Tea Party Right, seem to have captured the language of rights at the moment. All their rhetoric is about Government infringing the rights of individuals (taxation etc.) and not equally potent and prevalent forms of tyranny: from other individuals or groups who can oppress you.
Gun law is just one case in point. The right to bear arms, at least in this instance, seems to clash with the right of individuals to go about their business without getting shot.
On the free speech issue: yes, political groups are free to make whatever inflammatory statements they like about their opponents, but also suffer the consequences, in terms of opprobrium and public chastisement, when their words seem connected, however loosely, with acts of violence. Free speech cuts both ways, or not at all.
It took decades for certain amendments to be made, and while I do not think gun laws will change anytime soon, we can’t be passively pessimistic about this – and I wonder what the Moose thinks could be sensible legislation to both preserve the second amendment, yet limit its damaging political consequences.
And just so we’re in no doubt what those damaging political consequences are: within my lifetime we’ve seen the assassination of a President, his brother, and one of the most important political leaders of the century. We’ve seen a near miss assassination of another President and other politicians crippled for life by gun violence. I can think of no country in the world I know which has this record.
Is the ‘frontier spirit’, that rugged individualism that Fogiv talks about, that proposes its you and your gun against the world, appropriate now both the internal frontier has been conquered, and the external frontiers are rapidly diminishing?
it’s terrible incidents like these that lead thoughtful people like us to take a look at ourselves, at our beliefs. it brings us to discussions like these, where we have to ask ourselves can’t we do better than this? the american cultural identity is lost without rugged and self-sufficient individualism, and nothing symbolizes that more than a ‘musket’. it’s an outdated frontier mentality, to be sure, but not one we’re likely to shed.
I’m always impressed by how even Left Wing Kossacks revert to a survivalist mode when the shit hits the proverbial, and talk about retreating to the woods with supplies and lots of guns. But 80 percent of Americans live in cities or suburbia. Isn’t it time this myth has its day?
Is America in danger of being locked in its constitution, and clinging blindly to absolutist texts, when the country’s whole history has been of amendment and innovation?
Just some thoughts to continue this vital story.
UPDATE: Given Palin’s Inflammatory Self Defense Speech today, and Obama’s pending Memorial Service Speech, please do make this an Open Thread about that.
Some rather good quotations from the Kos diary on Palin’s (scripted) outburst:
Rabbi: By ‘blood libel’ claim Palin admits ‘words can be deadly’
I’m going to continue to threaten you (24+ / 0-)
if you keep on insisting that my speech is threatening?
“yeah I’m bullying you… (2+ / 0-)
and if you tell on me it will get worse.”
UPDATE 2: But enough of that. Here’s the uplifting, aspiration and moving address that only Obama – of all politicians I’ve known in my lifetime – could make