Edward Udel: Rights and responsibilities



Andy Shaw’s "Second Amendment in context" editorial page column of April 19 is a fascinating argument supporting the exercise of Second Amendment rights without restriction. He makes specific reference to the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to support his contention that "... the Bill of Rights protects the individual’s inherent rights against government intrusion." He then suggests that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments "... go much further by spelling out that nothing in the Constitution can even be construed in such a way as to limit the rights of the individual ..." He even provides quotes from James Madison and George Washington to support his position that any threat to the Second Amendment constitutes a threat to freedom and that any attempt to limit this freedom is a form of tyranny.

I respectfully disagree with both his facts and his conclusion. While the Constitution clearly establishes freedom of speech, there are limitations to the practice of that liberty. One is prohibited from yelling "Fire" in a crowded room and one is restrained from using speech intended to provoke violence, to libel or to slander another citizen." To suggest that our "inherent" rights can be practiced without limitation is simply not true.

When exceptions are made to the practice of our freedoms, they are usually grounded in concern for the public welfare. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then a similar argument can be made against absolute freedom.

We tend to embrace those parts of the Constitution that we like and ignore those parts that run counter to our self-interest and we conveniently dismiss the fact that, by design, the Constitution can be modified and amended. We live in a representative democracy, yet some loathe the idea of government and fear it so much that they refuse to acknowledge that we citizens compose the government. When we argue that we must be heavily armed to protect ourselves from government, we are essentially arguing that we must be armed to protect us from ourselves.

Mr. Shaw sees this issue as a left versus right argument with those on the left wanting to "... Increase restrictions on firearm ownership ..." and those on the right favoring unrestricted access and ownership of firearms as an expression of their freedom. Ironically, both positions are driven by fear. If the right insists that gun ownership be considered within the context of the Constitution, then those on the left are equally justified in asking that laws governing the use of firearms be considered within the context of a dangerous society in which school children are slaughtered, elected officials are shot in the head, soldiers on an American military installation are at risk and folks attending a movie or shopping in a mall must worry about encountering an angry patron with a weapon.


Fear of such events drives many, not just on the left, but across the political spectrum, to try to reduce the level of violence in our society. Those who insist that firearms be available to all of us to provide protection from some of us are content to put all of us at greater risk including our school children.

As to the NRA position that guns don’t kill but people kill, carry that to its logical conclusion. If guns are not the controlling factor in preventing gun violence, and we cannot predict who among us will carry an automatic weapon into a school, a theater or a mall to kill out of rage, fear, prejudice or insanity, then how do we get the violence under control? As to the suggestion that we arm our teachers, movie attendants and every employee who works in a publicly accessible location, my own experience in the classroom won’t allow me to go there.

At Crosby Junior High School, an eighth grade student, after an angry exchange with a peer, picked up a heavy school desk and heaved it 20 feet in the direction of his intended target. With that kind of strength and that level of rage, the last thing I would carry into the classroom would be a loaded gun. In that same school, a student attending my class for the very first time, grabbed me from behind, wrestled me to the floor and began swinging wildly at me. It was totally unexpected and unprovoked.

If I had been armed, he could easily have removed a handgun from a holster. When questioned as to his motivation, he responded that I had a mustache like his father’s and he hated his father.

If we have gotten to the point where our rights are more important than our responsibility to provide for the common safety, then the bloodbath will continue. If, on the other hand, both sides of the argument can be better understood and the fear that drives all of us can be recognized as legitimate and worthy of consideration, then perhaps we can move forward.

I respect Andy Shaw’s principled and resolute defense of the Second Amendment even though I disagree with him and I hope that he and other responsible gun owners will step forward with proposals to make our nation safer. Without that effort, the carnage will continue.

Edward Udel is an educator and frequent Eagle contributor.


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