The Unreasonable Right

We are a nation of laws. Those laws act as guidelines for how we live our everyday lives. They are meant to protect our best interests and protect others from our worst instincts.

The First Amendment protects our right to free speech, and subsequent laws define protected free speech. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is, in fact, no fire, is not protected free speech: it’s a dangerous lie that could do grave harm. “Offensive speech” is also unprotected, and courts are still defining today what constitutes “offensive” through judicial rulings.

The Fourth Amendment protects us against unreasonable search and seizure, and subsequent laws define “unreasonable”. If a police officer “reasonably” thinks something dangerous or illegal is going on in your vicinity (on your person, in your house, in your car), they are free to search you and seize those dangerous/illegal things.

The Fourteenth Amendment protects us from being deprived of our “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” (among other things) and subsequent laws define the scope of those terms. Notably, the decision in Roe v. Wade found that a woman’s right to an abortion is part of her right to privacy, which is part of her right to liberty.

In addition to generally-accepted limits on our Constitutional rights, our lives are shaped by mundane laws like speed limits (driving too fast endangers ourselves and others) and bans on hard drugs (doing meth endangers ourselves and others).

It’s clear that our rights as defined in the Constitution are not unlimited. Rarely is any right completely unrestricted, and rarely is this a topic of national debate. Men throughout history have used “offensive speech” as an excuse to silence women. Forget unreasonable search and seizure – people of color are murdered by police officers during regular traffic stops. Laws against abortion have become so complicated that it’s nearly impossible for a woman in Kentucky to get an abortion in the state where she resides.

Proponents of gun control want merely the same considered, reasoned limits on deadly weapons. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is unprotected speech precisely because it could incite a panic and kill people. Owning a semi-automatic weapon that can be used to kill twelve people in an Aurora, Colorado theater before a midnight showing of Batman? Totally fine.

In order to have an abortion, women in some states have to drive hundreds of miles, hear a lot of “counseling” meant to convince them to not exercise their legal right, undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound, and wait another 72 hours before actually having the procedure. Why is it unreasonable to think anyone who wants to have a gun should have to undergo a background check (to make sure they aren’t going to use it to kill the person they’ve been domestically abusing for years) and waiting period?

In order to drive a car, everyone has to have hours of training and pass both a written and driving exam. They have to have insurance (in case they kill someone, natch) and revisit the DMW every so often just so the government can check up on them. Why is it unreasonable to think anyone who wants to have a gun should have to have training on how to use it properly and insurance for the damage it causes?

It’s not unreasonable, just like it’s not unreasonable to limit my ability to yell “Fire!” in a theater. However, unlike the right to free speech, guns are big business. The gun and ammunition industry brings in $11 billion per year. Free speech isn’t making anybody that kind of money. The NRA spent nearly $3.2 million lobbying last year. Scared 20-year-olds barely have enough money to drive all those miles to an abortion clinic, much less influence their members of Congress.

So what to do? After 20 children dead at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, 49 dead at a nightclub in Orlando, 59 (as of this writing) at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Republican legislators did nothing. They say it is a “miracle” that more people didn’t die. They say these deaths are the unfortunate result of people exercising their rights. They say nothing can be done (which is just SO INCREDIBLY factually incorrect. It’s just… wrong).

Will reasonable limits on gun control completely eliminate mass shootings? I am, sadly, sure not. But they’ll help. And while you can’t absolutely protect your family, friends and neighbors from being victims of an arbitrary shooting, you can help keep them safe. And that starts with electing representatives who care about you more than they care about keeping the gun industry happy.

 

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