Rights come with restrictions

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A Box of Soap
by Don vowell 

We have just been treated to all the media-saturated sound and fury of two Congressional hearings.  In one Congressional hearing, then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was asked why she failed to prevent the loss of four American lives at the Consulate in Benghazi, situated in one of the most dangerous regions on earth.  In the other Congressional hearing, they can’t seem to find any way to prevent another loss like the 20 schoolchildren shot to death in Connecticut, which ought to be safer than Libya.

Twenty first-graders, unaware of any peril, were shot to death in Newtown.  Lacking any clear path to making this seem the fault of the Obama administration, legislators have had a more subdued reaction.  Rather than hearings with tough questions we get instead the usual cast of characters trotting out the same tired arguments.

Lots of people who own guns never kill anybody, so it’s not a gun problem.  Lots of mentally ill Americans never kill anybody, so it’s not a mental health problem.  Lots of people watch violent and explicit movies, and play murderous video games without being provoked to homicide, so it’s not a media culture problem.  Lots of people come from broken families, don’t know faith in God, and still don’t kill anybody, so the decline of society can’t be the problem.

Both these hearings were all heat, no light.  One hearing asked why we didn’t do everything to provide security for American diplomats, without explaining how that could be done.  The other hearing explains that since there is no agreement on the one thing that will stop gun violence, nothing can be done.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R–N.H., scolded the Department of State for not realizing that all the weapons stockpiles opened up by Col. Gadhafi’s departure made Libya a lethally lawless and dangerous place.  At the same time she says there must be no restriction on gun ownership in America.  The danger of easily available weapons seems to depend on your constituency.

If a legislator gathered 1,000 randomly chosen Americans in a hall, 16 of them, on average, would be NRA members.  The reality that no gun legislation will pass without the blessing of the 16 defines all that is wrong with Congress.

There are no rights without restriction.  The First Amendment guarantees free speech – yet you can’t defame another individual, can’t make threats, can’t make child pornography, can’t incite others to murder, can’t divulge state secrets, can’t have an oversized billboard, and can’t even aim a loudspeaker over your neighbor’s fence at night.  It is hard to feel threatened by these limits.   All of these restrictions were agreed to because my rights should not trample yours.

Reasonable citizens understand that trying to reduce gun violence does not warrant “they’re coming to get our guns” hysteria.  America once seemed proud of cleaning up the Wild West and putting away the guns, trusting our safety to trained peace officers.   Have we given up on that idea?  Does the NRA proposal to have armed guards at schools take into account our right to send our children to safe havens rather than armed camps?

It is my fervent hope that Congress will show the same outrage at the failure of security in America as they have for the failure of security in Libya.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer.)

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