Op-ed: Shooting at the Constitution

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, July 5, 2016 3:28pm
  • Opinion

Before I’m finished with this commentary, I will have incensed nearly everyone. It’s about guns. So let the fury begin: If I had my way, private ownership would be eliminated — no pistols, no rifles, certainly no assault weapons, except in the hands of the military and law enforcement. End of story. Right now, the readers who adore their instruments of death are already seething and preparing their hateful comments and personal threats.

But let’s not leave out antagonizing those who advocate controls on the nation’s private arsenal. Their heroes are the Democratic members who led a sit-in on the House of Representatives floor. Their antics totally bent out of shape the majority Republicans who screamed that the sitter sinners were breaking the rules. When the cameras were turned off, these protesters violated even more House rules by putting out a TV feed via social media. It was all designed to hearken back to the public-accommodation disruptions in the 1960s, when demonstrators were breaking the back of Jim Crow. To make sure everyone didn’t miss the point, civil-rights hero and now Congressman John Lewis was leading this demonstration 50 or so years later. This time, they are trying to achieve a victory against a modern-day tyrant, the National Rifle Association.

It’s hard to blame them. The NRA has used every political corruption and intimidation tactic imaginable to successfully crush even token efforts to regulate guns. Each time there’s a massacre, their lobbyists whip up a frenzy and beat back any controls, no matter how minuscule. So those on the other side should applaud any policy that actually manages to draw attention to the cause.

No, they shouldn’t. What our non-ragtag band of demonstrators somehow have managed to do is support a solution that is at least as noxious as the problem. What they are demanding is a “No Fly, No Buy” law. If someone is on the No Fly List or the Terror Watch List, he or she would be stopped from purchasing a gun. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Actually, it doesn’t.

Gun ownership has been deemed a right in this country. That’s what the courts have decided based on what our founders suggested when they concocted the Second Amendment. Maybe they made a mistake back in the 1700s, or maybe our justices did with their interpretation. Nevertheless, it is the law of the land.

But then, so is due process. The Fifth and 14th Amendments make that very clear. Their practical effect is that any deprivation of rights must be adjudicated, it can’t be arbitrarily taken away, certainly not out of public view. The No Fly List does just that. Law enforcement, acting in secret, determines just who is on that list. Regrettably, sometimes investigators make horrendous mistakes, or even occasionally act out of malice. An individual has little recourse.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which endorses gun control and is certainly no friend of the NRA, calls the No Fly Lists “error-prone and unreliable,” leaving those who end up on them “without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names.”

One can only imagine that many supporters of gun control would have a serious problem stripping away such a fundamental right as due process. However, in their frustration with their political impotence at the hands of the gun lobby, people are advocating exactly that, which is a highly objectionable way to accomplish their goals. And the Republicans are rubbing it in, by floating a “compromise” that would be unworkable.

The fact is, the Second Amendment does allow gun ownership to be “well-regulated.” The trick is to convince millions of Americans who adore their weapons that stringent restrictions are needed.

Freedom of expression is another constitutional right, of course, outlined in the First Amendment. So go ahead and let me have it, everyone — and I mean everyone. Words should be the ultimate weapons.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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