“The Constitution’s a mess–”
“So it needs amendments–”
“It’s full of contradictions–”
“So is independence!” –Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, “Non-Stop”, Hamilton
Something interesting happened last week…something kind of awesome interesting…which we didn’t hear about because on Saturday night a certain man in Orlando decided to abuse his 2nd Amendment Rights by killing Precious People in a night club with a perfectly legal assault rifle. Say what you want about Omar Mateen, but the fact is…he was a United States Citizen, exercising his inalienable, constitutional rights…right up until he was killed by police for having shot more than 100 people, murdering at least 49 of them.
There’s a group of 21 young people under the age of 18 who are suing the Federal Government for “violating their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property” by allowing and promoting the extraction of fossil fuels despite the conclusive scientific evidence that CO2 emissions are causing a change to the climate of our planet that endangers the life of every living thing here. The Federal Government–accompanied by the fossil fuel industry–made a motion to dismiss the case, but just last week U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon decided in favor of the plaintiffs. Here’s a direct quote from the court’s decision:
“Plaintiffs are suing the United States … because the government has known for decades that carbon dioxide (C02) pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change and has failed to take necessary action to curtail fossil fuel emissions. Moreover, plaintiffs allege that the government and its agencies have taken action or failed to take action that has resulted in increased carbon pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation, and exportation. Plaintiffs allege the current actions and omissions of defendants make it extremely difficult for plaintiffs to protect their vital natural systems and a livable world. Plaintiffs assert the actions and omissions of defendants that increased C02 emissions ‘shock the conscience,’ and are infringing the plaintiffs’ right to life and liberty in violation of their substantive due process rights.”
Now…I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a constitutional scholar…just a rapidly aging white man who is having trouble sleeping this week and listening to a lot of Lin-Manuel Miranda…but see if you can follow me here:
If the court will allow the United States Federal Government to be sued by Citizens of the United States for infringing upon their RIGHT to life and liberty…shouldn’t every single person who has been killed in our country be allowed to sue their murderer for the exact same reason…because they infringed on the deceased’s right to life and liberty in violation of their substantive due process rights?
I suppose the problem is that dead people are unable to sue. Compounded by the problem that, in a lot of these cases, their murderers wind up dead as well…and you can’t be sued when you’re dead. Not yet, anyway. Thank God. Actually….maybe you can. For all I know. Oy.
We have a criminal justice system that is supposed to deal with the repercussions for anyone who commits violent acts…but why do we never hear anyone arguing the obvious: no citizen is given the right to deny another their right to life and liberty. It’s probably a moot point because…you know…what with being dead and all. But it seems to me that as long as some citizens can claim that no one is allowed to make rules and regulations regarding the sale, ownership, and operation of firearms in our country–due to their constitutional rights afforded them by the second amendment–then the rest of us should be able to make a case of our own: NOTHING should be able to infringe on my right, or YOUR right, or the right of ANYONE in the United States to be robbed of their life and liberty. Period.
When framed in that way, doesn’t the argument become: The Right to Bear Arms vs. The Right to Live? If an entire argument for how we will conduct ourselves as a nation is predicated on the rights afforded us by our rule of law…aren’t we at a standstill immediately? We are each of us given a constitutional right to life and liberty, to due process, AND the right to bear arms. And a gun is designed for one thing only: to kill. Homer Simpson proved that it’s not super useful for anything else.
I know the idea is that we are given the right to own firearms in order to kill who/what we are supposed to kill, BUT…there are kids pursuing a thus-far successful lawsuit that argues: even me driving to the grocery store is an act that is violating their rights to life and liberty. And we have to confess: we know that is true.
We just don’t care. Well…we care…but not enough to suddenly become pedestrians and totally transform our lives just to recognize the rights of some kids in Oregon to live theirs.
And that’s on us. That’s on me. Every time I start my car. Even if it is a hybrid.
If I can admit my complicity in violating the rights of other humans in favor of my right to drive my own vehicle…then surely gun owners can do the same.
(If not…I’ll ask that you kindly remain silent for the duration of our conversation about guns and constitutional rights…because you have demonstrated you are not emotionally prepared to be part of that conversation.)
Look, we have a lot of rights in our country. If you want to be able to do anything you want in your life without anyone getting in your way too much…America is really a pretty sweet place to be. Especially if you’re white…and ESPECIALLY if you are white AND male! We get to do SO MUCH STUFF! Congrats to us. But it seems pretty obvious to me at this point that our rights are not nearly as important as our responsibility. Uncle Ben taught us that. With great power comes great responsibility. He taught that to his nephew Peter, empowering him to use his spider powers to help others and evolve into a Hero. The rights we are afforded in our country give each and every one of us a LOT of power. We are so totally free that we are allowed to do a number of things in our every day lives–nearly every minute of every day–which violate the right of present and future children to their own life and liberty. That means we possess an awesome responsibility to begin exercising our rights in ways that ensure the safety and tranquility of future generations. That logically means curbing our own rights in order to fulfill our responsibilities.
It’s what actual adults do.
Have you ever met a parent who insists that it is their right to treat their own children however they wish? Have you met those people who have children in their care, and they verbally and emotionally abuse those kids because “no one is allowed” to tell them not to? All the while, they are ensuring that the lives of those children will be more difficult and horrid because their parents are exercising their right to parent how they see fit.
We have freedom of religion in our country, and we know for a fact that so called “religious” people who have made it their business to demonize and spiritually brutalize Precious GLBTQ People have contributed to the likelihood of GLBTQ People being murdered.
How is it any different to claim that anyone’s Second Amendment right to own guns is more important than another citizen’s right to be alive? That is putting the rights of certain people over the rights of others. And we actually can’t be allowed to do that…at least, not without our entire nation folding in on itself.
This is what being a truly free person is about…taking on the responsibility of ensuring everyone else’s freedom. Even if–maybe especially if–it means sacrificing some of the rights and privileges we were handed at birth.
When you can liberate your Pride and honestly confront your Terror…then you can begin to responsibly exercise your Rights. And then…we can get started with the big questions.