Friday, July 27, 2012

All freedoms have their limits

What is the most feared lobbying group in Washington? Not the AARP. Not the NAACP. Not Big Pharma. Not the health insurance industry. Undoubtedly, the most feared group in D.C. is the National Rifle Association.

Just look at the way left-leaning Democrats have scurried for cover at even a hint of strengthening assault-weapons laws in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., massacre. President Obama belatedly suggested that the mentally ill shouldn't be allowed to buy firearms and that rapid-fire, large-capacity guns should not be in civilian hands. Democrats in Congress ran for cover as if they were being sprayed by a 50-caliber machine gun. And the gun supporters pulled out their usual arguments that "guns don't kill people ..." and "laws don't stop criminals," and "if owning a gun is a crime, then only criminals will have guns." Yeah, we've heard it all before.

But no one is suggesting that gun ownership be banned. It cannot be so long as the Second Amendment is in the Constitution. But like all constitutional rights, the Second Amendment is not absolute, regardless of what the NRA might tell you. Freedom of the press does not prohibit lawsuits for libel. Freedom of speech does not prohibit defamation lawsuits. Freedom of assembly may be limited by a requirement to obtain a parade permit or to prohibit violent disruptions. And the right to bear arms can be limited by sensible restrictions to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people and to limit possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Gun advocates' opposition to background checks for gun ownership plays into the hands of the mentally ill and outright crazy who end up murdering people. If the right to bear arms is absolute, as some people claim, then it is all right for a civilian to own 50-caliber machine guns, artillery pieces, rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles and hydrogen bombs. But that right is not absolute.

The issue should be: Where do we draw the line on the right to bear arms? That's an issue that can be sensibly debated and decided based on the collective will of the people. But so long as the NRA claims there can be no debate over limits to the Second Amendment, that discussion cannot take place.

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