Friday, December 28, 2012

Piers Morgan, and First/Second Amendment rights

The petition against the television personality is unwarranted -- and unjust

CNN’s Piers Morgan isn’t exactly someone you’d ordinarily rush to defend. The former British tabloid editor, judge of “America’s Got Talent,” and replacement host of Larry King’s former talk show spot, doesn’t exactly reach the criteria for someone worth caring that much over.

With that said, Morgan’s recent stance on gun control in America is commendable -- and the response to it from gun owners is deplorable.

Morgan recently came out in favor of stricter gun control laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, which took the lives of twenty children and six adults. Morgan berated a gun rights spokesman on his show, calling him a “stupid” and “dangerous man.”

Perhaps Morgan’s response wasn’t the most cordial one. But it’s still his to make, and for us to accept or push aside, however legitimate we deem it to be.

Yet, because of his comments, right wing gun supporters have posted a petition on the White House’s website, urging President Obama to deport the television personality.

The petition states:
British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment. We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights...
The irony behind this petition is that it claims Morgan is attacking an important freedom found in the Constitution while simultaneously neglecting the importance of another protected right: that of free speech. While the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, and the right to promote your ideas without fear or persecution from the government.

Of course, within all rights there are limits, usually defined by what harm befalls another individual due to their use/abuse. You cannot use speech rights to cause harm to others, for example -- screaming “bomb” on a crowded plane just to get a giggle isn’t acceptable, given the commotion and potential for injury to others surrounding you.

CNN's Piers Morgan favors stricter gun control legislation
But calling for stricter controls on guns, especially in the wake of such a horrible tragedy, doesn’t fit the bill for “harm.” Piers Morgan didn’t take away anyone’s rights with his words -- nor does he have the power to do so in any way, shape, or form.

Describing his comments as a “hostile attack” on the Constitution is therefore unwarranted, and beyond exaggeration. Morgan has every right to question the extent of the Second Amendment, and how far is too far when it comes to gun ownership. His freedom to do so is derived from a natural-given right to express himself without worry of political retribution from the government.

Those who signed the petition to deport Piers Morgan believe his right to question gun ownership goes too far -- and that’s an opinion they’re free to have. But if they’re to hold that opinion, that a person’s words can warrant outright expulsion from our nation, it’s hardly proper for them to also pretend that they’re somehow the keepers of our other liberties.

In fact, just the opposite holds true -- those claiming to be oppressed are in actuality advocating the oppression of another individual based on freedoms he deserves to exercise.

Agree or disagree with Mr. Morgan: the petition against him is rubbish, and his right to express his thoughts are protected.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Following another tragedy, some thoughts on the Second Amendment

The spirit of the Second Amendment shouldn't allow for abuse of the right at the expense of others' livelihoods

Following the horrendous tragedy that occurred in Connecticut, many people might say the following conversation is coming much too soon. But it’s a conversation that needs to be had, especially after the devastating, soul-shattering act that we witnessed on Friday.

Bringing him to tears, President Barack Obama made one thing clear: “these children are our children,” and the families of those affected by gun violence are our families. We feel for them, pray for them -- and can only imagine what they’re going through, dread the thought of having to go through it ourselves.

Yet throughout the day, the defense of Second Amendment rights was still prevalent, in conservative media as well as in social media. While pleas for stronger laws to protect future generations of children were being made, to possibly prevent future occurrences like these from happening again, some of our fellow countrymen and women made it clear that any action that took away gun rights wouldn’t be acceptable.

But at what point do we acknowledge that something is amiss here? At what point can we look at our nation, after witnessing atrocity after painstaking atrocity, and say that something is wrong?

To which I ask another important question: is the Second Amendment AS WE KNOW IT, which secures the right for one to bear arms, an archaic and outdated right?

The notion would be blasphemous to some minds. The right to protect oneself is as basic as can be. But I’m not talking about the right to protect yourself -- self-defense, in any situation that warrants it, is a no-brainer.

I’m talking about the extreme attitude that oftentimes coincides with the Second Amendment, the idea perpetuated by some that reasonable gun restrictions cannot co-exist with the right to defend yourself. I’m here to say right now that idea is a myth -- the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Reasonable restrictions exist on all rights. You can’t erroneously yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater (or “BOMB!” on a plane, to modernize the idea). Speech rights aren’t absolute in that regard. Nor are religious liberties absolute, as religions that promote human sacrifices would be found to be in violation of other people’s liberties.

The fact is, when it comes to a certain liberty (any liberty), it can only be rightfully exercised so long as it doesn’t interfere with another person’s rights. That means that even rights we typically defend to the last breath aren’t absolute, if they’re abused in a way that hurts others.

With gun rights, the idea gets admittedly complicated. Individuals are the ones pulling the triggers -- it’s not as if guns are the sole reason behind our nation’s many shootings, but rather those that are using the weapons in a wrong way.

But there’s significant evidence that suggests tighter gun laws have positive effects on the safety of a population. States with tighter laws have less homicides per capita, for example. We also know that more guns equals more violence, between comparisons among separate countries as well as separate states within the U.S.

Still, this research suggests that safety comes with a small price: restrictions upon the rights of gun owners, who cry foul when suggestions are even made about the idea.

Are they complaining too loudly? Or is there significant reason to contemplate curtailing this supposed freedom?

To answer that, I want to ask (and then answer) two separate questions, one of historical importance, the other a hypothetical similarity to the situation at hand.

President Obama responds to the atrocious violence in CT
First, the question of history: The Second Amendment was written well over 200 years ago. Around that time, the possibility of foreign invasion was significantly strong, our nation having just won its independence barely a decade earlier. A surprise attack being a sincere possibility, the citizenry was encouraged to keep their arms in order to respond faster than a government-run military might be able to.

Today, foreign threats aren’t quite as capable of surprising our nation, at least in the sense that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, or Madison were concerned with. A full-scale invasion by a foreign adversary would be met with swift response from our military might, and likely not from a citizenry that kept a vigilant eye on things like at the turn of the 19th century.

With that in mind, I ask: does the Second Amendment need some readjustments? Does the right exist, yet do regulations become necessary not only on the “well-regulated” militias but rather on the right to bear CERTAIN arms (and accessories) as well?

Second, the hypothetical: suppose a company developed a type of technology that allowed a user to cause a miniature explosion within their immediate vicinity. Such a product would naturally have dire consequences, for the user itself and for those around him. Yet, certainly SOMEONE might purchase this device. Should the government consider restricting who can buy it, or whether it should be made at all? Or should responsibility rest solely on the individuals who purchase it, and not the company manufacturing it?

I will answer both with my own opinion. On the historical question of the importance of the Second Amendment, I believe there exists a need to reassess the protection of this right. Individuals deserve to feel protected -- they deserve to have the means to defend themselves -- and that was the original intent of the Second Amendment.

That right is being exploited by a small size of the population. It’d be wrong of us to say that the right must come to an end because of the actions of a few. But it’s in no way improper to say that certain limitations on what citizens can do to protect themselves should exist.

When the motive of a weapon becomes assault rather than defense, the spirit of the Second Amendment is not at work. Indeed, if we look at one extreme, at a certain point the “right to bear arms” might include allowing individuals to own nuclear arms -- and certainly no rationally-minded person wants anything like that to occur.

Which brings up my thoughts on the second question, the hypothetical involving the exploding device. Individual responsibility must be considered most of all when dealing with people whose destruction puts others in harm’s way. But a device such as this is just asking for trouble. To limit which individuals can purchase it goes beyond the point -- the device was made for a singular purpose, to destroy.

When a mechanism’s intent is destructive rather than enhancing a person’s livelihood, when it works to the detriment of society, it can justly be restrained. And that is how I feel about certain weapons and accessories in our culture. We KNOW that most people who own these items are law-abiding, safe citizens. That’s not our concern. Rather, what we worry over are those who would use these weapons for evil purposes. For when that becomes the intent, it’s events like what we saw on Friday that come about.

I’m not naive -- I’m well aware that weapons restrictions won’t totally eliminate violence. The adage that many conservatives cite, that criminals will still use outlawed weapons, may be true. But there’s ample evidence to suggest that such crimes will be reduced significantly if we’re willing to limit what they can legally have or obtain.

The right to defend oneself must remain intact. I don’t find fault with the true intent of the Second Amendment. However, the abuse of that right, of utilizing some blind indifference between weapons built for defense and those built for destruction, needs to be addressed.

Common sense dictates that, where a problem exists, reasonable action is required of us. To expect a different result -- to suggest that the answer is MORE guns, as some on the right have said already -- is pure fantasy, and logically unsound.

Pray for the victims' families, of this and of other tragedies that have occurred in the past. In their honor, may we do something to prevent or limit such heinous attacks on innocents in the future.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Same-day voter registration remains safe...for now

Governor's comments suggest the only thing stopping GOP is the economic impact of change

Gov. Scott Walker says that he won’t sign a bill into law if it eliminates same-day voter registration.

His reasoning behind his change of heart is financial: doing-away with the decades-old practice would cost the state more than $5 million initially, with additional costs of $2 million every two years after that.

So while Walker’s decision to push aside the issue is a welcomed one, his reasoning is less than noble -- it’d be much better if Walker had changed his mind based on the importance of preserving democracy rather than concerns of its costs. 
Still, it seems that same-day voter registration is safe, at least for now.

But that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

Indeed, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, the Wisconsin Assemblyman who has dedicated himself for years towards ending same-day registration, says he’s pressing on with finding a way to get rid of the democratically empowering practice that Wisconsinites have enjoyed for generations.

“We’re going to continue to look at the potential to eliminate same-day voter registration while balancing its fiscal impact on the state,” Kleefisch said.

For some Republicans, it seems the only reason behind preserving the people’s right to register on Election Day is economic. For other Republicans, not even that rationale is enough to keep the practice intact.

What’s lost among both factions of conservative thought here, however, is the necessity of same-day voter registration, which is utilized by nearly half a million voting-age citizens.

Those citizens are not concerned with the economics of voting -- they’re just concerned with keeping their voices heard, through the power they have inside the voting booth.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

“Talk with Walker” tour is condescending to the people of Wisconsin

Governor fails to include constituents in his “conversations” with them

Gov. Scott Walker wants to talk to the people. He said so himself a week ago, when he announced his “Talk with Walker” tour:

“I’m looking forward to talking with people around Wisconsin about what is important to them,” he said. “We are looking for bold ideas and real solutions to the problems facing our state.”

It’s great that Walker has said he wants to talk to people. Unfortunately, it’s also untrue -- the so-called “Talk with Walker” tour doesn’t actually allow citizens to access the governor personally.

Instead, Walker is visiting local businesses, allowing only those employees and business leaders the chance to have real access to the governor.

Individuals who don’t share Walker’s views are disallowed from attending. So when Walker states that he “[wants] to have a conversation with the people of Wisconsin about the best ways to move our state forward,” he’s really saying that he doesn’t care one iota about your views.

But he's hoping this ruse of a “tour” will convince you he does.

These conversations are occurring between Walker and Walker-friendly businesses. That’s hardly a “conversation with the people” -- it’s a conversation with his friends only. It doesn't demonstrate leadership, but rather the opposite qualities of what a person in Walker's position should have.
Scott Walker doesn't care about your opinion

A respectable leader would be unafraid of opening up these meetings with real people from across the state. Such a leader would realize that ideas for the budget don’t come solely from his own side. Instead, Walker has closed these meetings off -- from you, from me, and from anyone else that has legitimate concerns about the next budget to be passed.

Though it’s understandable that Walker wouldn’t want to hear from opposing viewpoints, it’s both rude and condescending to his constituents to pretend that his “Talk with Walker” tour is a true conversation. Gov. Walker should be straight with the people he’s meant to serve, describing his little publicity tour exactly as it is -- a meeting of Walker’s allies that fails to allow everyone a voice in the conversation.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Debunking the "democracy vs. republic" debate

Conservative claims over our "republican" style of government misses the point completely

“We’re not a democracy; we’re a republic.”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that argument in the many debates I’ve had with others over the years. More often than not coming from the mouths (or keyboards) of conservatives, the line is meant to counter any argument made that the will of the people should be recognized, though usually only in times when liberals are in power.

I’ve heard the defense of this line as follows: as a republic, we’re meant to protect the rights of the minorities over the tyranny of the majority. In other words, despite winning a majority number of representatives in our government, or in winning the main seat of government (as the case is this year with President Barack Obama retaining the White House), the people’s will should be thwarted because our government is a republic, designed to restrict the ability of those who won from exercising the very platform they advocated during the campaign.

To some extent, there is truth in this argument; there have to be safeguards against the tyranny of the majority, against possible abuses of power by those who won contested elections, especially in these days when every election seems to be decided within five percentage points or less.

But arguing against representative government is a foolish ideal to promote. The very fact that these very people who make this argument rarely do so when their representatives are in power provides reason to be suspicious of this argument in the first place.

And then there’s the idea that republics inherently serve to promote the rights of minorities to consider. In fact, that’s not the case at all -- some people-unfriendly republics include very oppressive nations indeed, such as Cuba, China, and the former Soviet Union. And the promotion of minority rights was rarely seen in the post-Reconstruction south, when African Americans rarely had any rights protected at all.

What differentiates the current form of the United States from those other “republic” nations? The fact that our elections actually MEAN something. Within those republics, there’s little choice, and therefore little democracy. The single ruling party decides the outcome, determines the course the nation takes, not the people.

In America, though, elections have real consequences. That can be a dangerous thing, but it’s also a wonderful gift.

Our founding governing document reads “We the People.” That means that responsibility lies with us, not with a single party, not with our governing officials, but with those whose opinions and dictates eventually put our representatives into positions of power.

We’re not a full-fledged democracy; but neither are we a republic that is detached from the people’s wishes and desires. We’re a hybrid form of government, a representative democracy, that’s charged with two very important functions.

Firstly, we do have a responsibility to protect those that aren’t in power, those that could potentially see themselves tyrannized under other forms of governments. Our constitutional amendments, including the bill of rights, as well as other aspects of how our government was set up, ensure that such abuses don’t come to fruition.

But secondly, our representative democracy is also charged with promoting the policies and plans of those who rightfully won office, through the endorsement and the will of the people that put them in power. While respecting the rights of minorities is crucial, allowing those that aren’t in power to cripple the government is just as equally an unjust position to endorse.

Rule by minority obstruction restrains what makes America better than those other republics. The alternative -- allowing the majority in office to rule based on the people’s wants -- enables the people themselves to have a voice and make a difference in their own futures, to promote their own interests through the direct selection of representatives.

So yes, there’s a difference between a republic and a democracy. But what we have in America is neither of those two systems. We are neither a direct democracy, which has the unfortunate possibility of allowing the majority to rule the minority in tyranny. Yet, neither are we a simple republic, which would allow leaders to disregard the people’s needs and interests altogether.

We are a representative government, set up to simultaneously defend the rights and promote the wills of the people, both at the same time. It’s truly a glorious experiment, one that has stood the test of time as well as the tests of history.

Do not shun the democratic aspect of our great nation. To do so would disregard the government our founders set up for us, would shun the sacrifices of those who died defending our country. We are a country that defends others’ rights but promotes the democracy. And we should be proud of that duality.