Monday August 20, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE

At the highest level of abstraction, I am opposed to gun control. That is, I am opposed to taking away from the citizens of the United States any rights granted by the Constitution.

At the lowest level of abstraction are the specifics; where disagreement occurs.

For example, when the Constitution was signed, a gun was a musket. A musket fired a single projectile. It took 15 seconds to reload a musket; therefore, one bullet could be fired every 15 seconds. An AK47 fires 11 rounds per second. There are 10-30 bullets in a round; therefore, 110 - 330 bullets can be fired in one second, or as many as 4,900 bullets in 15 seconds. I am opposed an individual's unfettered access to that much fire power. On the lowest level of abstraction, where specifics are considered, where laws are made, and where the work is done, I support gun control.

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The tea party only speaks at the highest level of abstraction. It sounds good, but it may not work well. The tea party is opposed to gun control. On its web site (teaparty.org) their position is simple: "Gun ownership is sacred." Article Two of the Constitution says, "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Therefore, they believe it unconstitutional to infringe -- encroach upon, limit, or regulate -- the right to keep and bear arms; period.

Surprisingly Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, considered a Conservative Justice, disagrees.


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In an interview on July 30, 2012, Scalia said he is not a strict constructionist; he is an originalist. He attempts to understand the original meaning of the Constitution by placing it in historical context. Scalia argued that gun control is constitutional because at the time of the signing there were arms control laws. Not the least of which, he said, is Article Two itself.

"The right of the people to bear arms," Scalia said, is by definition a restriction limited to hand-held guns -- guns one can carry (bear). Article Two restricts the right of the people and does not allow them to own, for example, cannons.

No signatory of the Constitution imagined the fire power of an AK47 when he put pen to parchment, so Scalia might also agree on that basis that individual ownership could and should be regulated. Originalism does have limitations, however, it leaves in limbo the right of an individual to own shoulder mounted rocket launchers because they are specifically "designed to be small enough to be carried by a single person."

Which brings us to the last group: those who believe the Constitution is not sacred nor does one need to understand original intent, instead it should be interpreted in light of advancements over time. The Constitution is silent on the matter of individual ownership of portable missile launchers, for example, and has nothing to say about the Internet and airport security.

All of this just illustrates the difficulty when political parties and candidates only speak at the highest level of abstraction. It may articulate a value that informs decision making but it never articulates a specific solution.

Along with gun control being sacred, another one of the "non-negotiable core beliefs" of the Tea Party is: "illegal aliens are here illegally." Hard to argue; it always is at the highest level of abstraction.

Sounds good, but of course, it doesn't deal with the millions of illegal aliens who are here. Do we shoot them with our AK-47? It is silent on how to prevent more from coming. We do engage our shoulder mounted missile launchers at the borders?

I don't mind the absurdity of touting broad brush, ultimately meaningless rhetoric, as much as I mind the inevitable confusion it creates on the working level. The tea party is for "security, sovereignty, and "domestic tranquility." Me too; who isn't? With such core agreement, we should all be able to play nicely together; reach mutually satisfactory solutions to our growing problems. Pass specific laws for the benefit of all.

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Unfortunately it may not be possible. Why? Because assertions at the highest level of abstraction are the least informative. They sound good, but don't make clear what the person means in specific terms. Secondly, the tea party's enumerated core beliefs are "non-negotiable." If you have a group of people whose real core belief is "my way or the highway," the only reasonable response is to keep them out of the room. Only then can work get done.

At teapartypatriots.org, they say: "Constitutionally limited government means power resides with the people and not with the government." Now that's just silly. The United States never was a pure democracy; it was always a representative democracy. Every two years, in the voting booth, power does rest with the people, and is passed on by them to the representatives who do the work of governing.

If we the people are tired of gridlock; believe honest work needs to be done by the government and right speedily; then we the people should consider the cost benefit of obstinacy, and vote the most pig-headed out of the room.

Carole Owens is a Berkshire writer and historian.