Thomas Jefferson says a colon follows the word “happiness” in the Declaration of Independence

United States Declaration of IndependenceDanielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., is claiming that, for 238 years, everyone has been misreading the Declaration of Independence. According to her, a floating period, missing from some drafts but not from others, establishes that the Founding Fathers believed that it was the government’s, not the individual’s, responsibility to make sure we get our self-evident rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The error, according to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., concerns a period that appears right after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the transcript, but almost certainly not, she maintains, on the badly faded parchment original.

That errant spot of ink, she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the document.

The period creates the impression that the list of self-evident truths ends with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she says. But as intended by Thomas Jefferson, she argues, what comes next is just as important: the essential role of governments — “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” — in securing those rights.

“The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights,” Ms. Allen said. “You lose that connection when the period gets added.”

So, according to Allen, the Founders weren’t committed to individual liberties. Instead, they were statists who wanted to vest power in the government, not the individual.

Let me just say as a predicate that the Founder’s own behavior when the established the Constitution and the Bill of Rights puts the lie to Allen’s contention.  Had they been the statists she believes, they never would have established a limited government in the first place, one made even more limited when the Bill of Rights vested in the people specific powers that should have made the government, at all times, subordinate to the people.

But if Allen wants to play little games, by all means, let’s play little games.

The best way, of course, to determine the author’s intent, is to ask the author. Thomas Jefferson may have been dead 189 years, but he’s left us a document in which he compares his original draft of the Declaration (his preferred version), with the one that Congress eventually enacted.  This document is Jefferson’s 1821 autobiography, in which he carefully spells out how the Declaration came into being.

Here is the pertinent material from Jefferson’s autobiography:

Congress proceeded the same day to consider the declaration of Independance [sic] which had been reported & lain on the table the Friday preceding, and on Monday referred to a commee of the whole. The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offence. The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others. The debates having taken up the greater parts of the 2d 3d & 4th days of July were, in the evening of the last, closed the declaration was reported by the commee, agreed to by the house and signed by every member present except Mr. Dickinson. As the sentiments of men are known not only by what they receive, but what they reject also, I will state the form of the declaration as originally reported. The parts struck out by Congress shall be distinguished by a black line drawn under them; & those inserted by them shall be placed in the margin or in a concurrent column.

[Editors note: text in boldface was removed for the final version of the Declaration, and text in italics was added].

A Declaration by the Representatives of the

United States of America, in General

Congress Assembled.

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate & equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and [certain] inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, & to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles, & organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness. Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light & transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses & usurpations begun at a distinguished period and pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government, & to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; & such is now the necessity which constrains them to expunge [alter] their former systems of government. The history of the present king of Great Britain is a history of unremitting [repeated] injuries & usurpations, among which appears no solitary fact to contradict the uniform tenor of the rest but all have [all having] in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world for the truth of which we pledge a faith yet unsullied by falsehood.

So, parsing the sentence, what does the colon mean?

Traditionally, aside from following the salutation in a business letter, colons have four primary usages. Wikipedia has as good a summary as any:

Syntactical-deductive

The colon introduces the logical consequence, or effect, of a fact stated before.

There was only one possible explanation: the train had never arrived.

Syntactical-descriptive

In this sense the colon introduces a description; in particular, it makes explicit the elements of a set.

I have three sisters: Daphne, Rose, and Suzanne.

[snip]

Appositive

The colon introduces an appositive independent clause. In other words, the sentence after the colon is in apposition (grammatically parallel) to the one before the colon. Please note that this could also be simply considered an explanation of why Bob could not speak, and written without the capital He after the colon. Both would be technically correct.

Bob could not speak: He was drunk.[6]
Bob could not speak: he was drunk.

[snip]

Segmental

Like a dash or quotation mark, a segmental colon introduces speech. The segmental function was once a common means of indicating an unmarked quotation on the same line. The following example is from the grammar bookThe King’s English:

Benjamin Franklin proclaimed the virtue of frugality: A penny saved is a penny earned.

This form is still used in written dialogues, such as in a play. The colon indicates that the words following an individual’s name are spoken by that individual.

Slut: Doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains.
Doctor: Because you’re always open!

So let’s break down that all important clause as Thomas Jefferson himself wanted it to be, with a colon.

The colon could mean a syntactical-deductive, meaning that the words following “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” are the logical consequences of that phrase:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The logical consequence of these unalienable rights is that, in order to ensure that they are given proper deference is the men create governments, the sole authority of which comes from men willingly subordinating themselves to a government entrusted to ensure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This means that, if the government ceases to serve this function, it is a failed government, which the people can abolish.

The colon could mean a syntactical-descriptive, meaning that the words following “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” expand upon and explicitly define the preceding clause. This grammatical usage, however, which is most closely aligned to Allen’s interpretation, actually reduces the sentence to nonsense:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness: What we mean by “unalienable rights,” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” is that creating and destroying governments is the essence of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, or perhaps we mean that governments are the essence of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The colon could be introducing an appositive, independent clause, which an artsy way of tying somewhat independent thoughts together using grammatical parallelism. This makes for hideous, awkward writing, but again makes clear that government is subordinate to man, meant to sustain him, not control him:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness: Self-evident too is that government’s are endowed by man to ensure those unalienable rights and that government’s are destroyed by man when they fail to ensure those unalienable rights.

What the colon cannot do is serve as a segmental purpose, with the material following the colon being a quotation voiced by the material preceding the colon — unless we want to pretend that Jefferson was quoting the Creator:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness: [The Creator said] “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government….”

The one thing that’s clear to me is that, no matter how one parses it, one can never escape the fact that the material following the period, dash, or colon is manifestly subordinate to the material preceding that period, dash, or colon. The best way to understand that is through one of my beloved outlines:

I. SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS

A. All men are created equal

B. The Creator endows all men with certain unalienable Rights, which include, but are not limited to:

1. Life,

2. Liberty,

3. The pursuit of Happiness

II. ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

A. Men create governments

B. Limitations on these man-created governments:

1. They exist to preserve self-evident truths

2. They have no power independent of that which men vest in them.

3. If they fail to protect self-evident truths (and presumably, if they seek to destroy those truths), men can

a. Alter the government

b. Abolish the existing government and create a new one that exists to serve man

Again, the above is just grammatical game-playing. The Constitution, which establishes a very limited representative government, with power doled out amongst three branches, so as to prevent the tyranny of any single branch; and the Bill of Rights, which establishes vast zones of human behavior that government cannot touch, establish unequivocally that Jefferson’s “colon” was intended to protect individuals, not to make them subordinate to the government.

The Democrats’ lawlessness

Charles Krauthammer gets to the heart of the matter:

The violence to constitutional norms here [with the filibuster's destruction] consisted in how that change was executed. By brute force — a near party-line vote of 52-48. This was a disgraceful violation of more than two centuries of precedent. If a bare majority can change the fundamental rules that govern an institution, then there are no rules. Senate rules today are whatever the majority decides they are that morning.

What distinguishes an institution from a flash mob is that its rules endure. They can be changed, of course. But only by significant supermajorities. That’s why constitutional changes require two-thirds of both houses plus three-quarters of the states. If we could make constitutional changes by majority vote, there would be no Constitution.

As of today, the Senate effectively has no rules. Congratulations, Harry Reid. Finally, something you will be remembered for.

Read it all.  I doubt you’ll find a better exposition of the profound damage the Obama administration is doing to the Constitution and to America.

What authority does Obama rely upon to “improve” a law?

Constitution

The Constitution is very clear:  Congress writes the laws; the President enforces them.

In light of Obama’s announcement today that he was unilaterally “improving” a law by ignoring its terms (i.e., the time limits contained within Obamacare), Veronique de Rugy asks a good question:

What authority does the president of the United States have to decide that he will or will not enforce some parts of the law that have become inconvenient for him politically or that are proven to have been a terrible idea?

There’s a simple answer to this excellent question.  The limit to Obama’s authority lies in the Senate.  The only thing that can stop a rogue president is impeachment — and a Senate with a Democrat majority will not allow conviction.

The real power to control Obama’s unlawful activities lies with the voters. So far, though, they’ve chosen not to exercise this power.  Although Obama had been manifestly re-writing laws to suit his purpose before the 2012 election (e.g., immigration laws and Obamacare), the voters shrugged and kept the Senate in Democrat hands.

If voters in 2014 again return Democrats to the Senate in sufficient numbers to block impeachment, the voters have granted Obama the authority to ignore the limitations that the Constitution places upon him.  It’s obviously not an express grant of authority, because the president is still violating the Constitution, but it’s an implicit grant of authority.  Like the bribed police officer at the scene of a crime, voters will simply be looking the other way.

And speaking of 2014, there’s a Ricochet thread thinking about campaign slogans.  This is the top suggestion:  “If you don’t like your Democrat. you don’t have to keep him. Vote for ______.”  I think it’s on the right track, but somehow a little unwieldy.

Given the record on which Obama and the Democrats will be running in 2014, what catchy slogans would you guys and gals suggest?

I am losing patience with idio . . . er, progressives on my Facebook page

Normally, when I see the usual liberal talking points on my Facebook page, I try to ignore them lest I damage my blood pressure.  Today, though, I got a wall of stupid.  I’ve already written here about the profound ignorance that lies behind the progressive masses’ repeated claim that Obamacare is the “law of the land” and that the Republicans can do nothing.  Aside from being grossly hypocritical coming from a party that refuses to enforce the nation’s immigration laws, it’s also ignorant.  The House has the power of the purse precisely because, as a representative body with a two-year turnover, it is the best reflection of the will of the people at any given moment.

I probably could have tolerated that stupidity if I hadn’t also gotten a boatload of dumb about the gun shots fired in Washington, D.C. today.  Early reports indicated that a driver who tried to slam into the White House was the shooter.  Instantly, people went on their anti-gun tirades.  Of course, when the dust settled, it turned out that the only shooters were the cops and that the person driving the car had a long history of mental illness.   (Warning:  site has autoplay video.)  When I passed this information on to the Lefties claiming that guns were at the root of this, at least two of them made the identical risible argument:  Even though the gal didn’t have a gun, she’s still a poster child for gun control, because she could have had a gun.

Honestly!  How in the world can you counter that kind of monomania?  It transcends reason and fact, and is an article of faith as profound as the Democrats’ historic belief that blacks are an inferior race who need either slavery or government welfare to function.

Given this type of irrational anti-gun lunacy, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that a Phoenix-area police officer was asked not to wear his uniform when he picked his child up from elementary school, because parents were frightened by his gun.

I love Ace’s take on this story.  The article that originally reported the story presented the school’s point of view:

A district spokeswoman told the station that “some parents” voiced concern about seeing a fully armed police officer on the school’s campus. The spokeswoman apologized that Urkov perhaps took the discussion the wrong way.

“It was not the intent of the principal to offend him,” the spokeswoman said.

To which Ace provided the only response possible:

Yes yes yes yes yes. He took it the wrong way. It’s on him. He didn’t understand your intent. He’s got the problem; not you.

Of course you don’t have a problem. Hysteria is not only natural, it’s preferable.

Shall we ban Cowboy Hats next? I mean: Cowboys. They carry six-shooters.

The awesome majesty of the state’s power — thoughts for Constitution Day

Nobody believes more strongly in defense attorneys than Progressives.  This is ironic, because the whole point of defense counsel is to be a bulwark against Big Government.  I was reminded of this fact when one of my children, out of the blue, wondered how defense attorneys could bear to represent their clients . . . the really bad ones, she hastened to add.

What an excellent question and one, I think, that goes to the heart of a citizen’s relationship to the state.

It all starts with the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Bill of Rights:

Fifth:  No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

Sixth:  In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.  (Emphasis added.)

These rights are inherent in each citizen.  Being Mirandized doesn’t create the rights; it simply reminds citizens in stressful situations that they have these rights.  Each of these rights has as its purpose protecting the citizen against the awesome majesty and power of the state.  With the Constitution in place, gone are the days of trials by fire or drowning; lengthy imprisonments before a trial; repeated prosecutions; and coerced testimony.  No matter what information we have about a criminal defendant’s conduct outside of the courtroom — no matter that a hundred people saw him stab the knife into someone’s heart — when he stands before the court, the law presumes him innocent and therefore entitled to every right that goes with that innocence.

In this context, a criminal defense attorney stands as the knowledgeable friend of an innocent man who would otherwise have to face alone everything that the state can bring to bear against him: its coercive power against witnesses; its wealth; its resources; its ownership of the judicial system; its familiarity with rules, law, and procedure; and, most importantly, its capacity to imprison or even to kill the person who stands before it.  A criminal court is Big Government made personal.  A criminal defense attorney is an honorable man (or woman) who stands as a necessary bulwark against potential tyranny.  The attorney represents not only his (or her) client, but all citizens.

Progressives are rightfully fanatic about making sure that an accused person has counsel.  At my law school, it was always the left of Left students who went on to become public defenders.  Most of them burned out, of course, because absent the presumptive assumption of innocence, the people defense counsel work with are for the most part not very savory.  Sure, there are the fools, the innocents, the dupes, the careless ones, the one-time, unlucky DUIs, and the victims, but for the most part, criminal defense work entails representing criminals.

Given their fealty to the notion that the government is an extremely dangerous entity, the power of which must always be constrained, it’s quite peculiar that Progressives are so enamored of Big Government.  One would think that they, more than others who don’t routinely think about our justice system, recognize how monumental government is and how dangerous it can be without our zealously reminding it of its limits.

The fundamental unconstitutionalism of Obama’s presidency

Much has been made of Obama’s statement that the gun rights crowd should stop worrying, because Obama contends that he is “constrained” by the system the Founders put in place.  If you don’t read his actual words with great care, it sounds as if he’s saying he’s contractually constrained — or, to put it in political language, he’s constitutionally constrained.  Without actually listening to him, we assume he’s saying, “Stop worrying, because even I understand that the Constitution stops me from grabbing your guns.”

The reason that there’s been such an uproar, though, is because that’s not what he’s saying.  Here’s the entire statement:

You hear some of these quotes, ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away.’  Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.

That short paragraph breaks down into three distinct thoughts:

Thought one:  Crazy gun rights nuts fear the government.

Thought two:  People elect their government.

Thought three:  Those who are elected “are constrained by a system that our Founders put into place.”

Obama’s nasty language (and it is nasty, to the extent it calls at least 50% of Americans paranoid and ill-informed) says two things that are wrong.

The first wrong thing Obama’s implication, in thoughts two and three, that politicians are charged with taking care of our Constitutional rights.  That’s bass ackwards.  We are charged with taking care of our Constitutional rights — they’re natural rights, inherent in us, and the Second Amendment exists to make sure that if too many elected officials forget that those are natural rights, and begin to think they’re merely legislative rules that legislators can change, we can rid our country of these politicians’ tyranny.

The second wrong thing, which is more subtle, is that Obama is implying in thoughts two and three that, if a sufficient number of Americans elect anti-gun politicians, that majority overrides the constitution.  What he says in those last five sentences (“the government is us,” “you elect yourselves,” “the election is for you”) is that, if a majority of people elect politicians who support an unconstitutional idea, those politicians get to move forward enacting that idea irrespective of the Constitution.  That is a staggering misreading of the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.

All of which gets me back to gay marriage and abortion, not because I’m specifically concerned with gay marriage and abortion, but because I’m concerned about the Constitutional implications when the Left takes on gay marriage and abortion.  First, neither is in the Constitution.  In 1973, Supreme Court justices used an emanation of a penumbra based upon an inference to find a “constitutional right to abortion” in the first trimester, with that individual woman’s right decreasing steadily until the third trimester, when the viable fetus became the state’s responsibility.

Since 1973, that trimester by trimester calculation has been abandoned so completely that a Planned Parenthood representative felt comfortable telling the Florida legislature that it was okay to “continue” an abortion if the baby manages to emerge alive.  In some places, that’s called murder.  Indeed, that’s why Kermit Gosnell is being tried for murder.  In Planned Parenthood’s world, however, his work was constitutionally legitimate.

As for gay marriage, it’s being cast as an inchoate civil right because no one can contend the Founders thought about it.  They certainly knew about abortion, although they made no mention of it, but they definitely didn’t consider the possibility of gay marriage.

In the Founders’ time, marriage was thought to be only one possible thing:  the joining of man and woman.  If the Constitution had made mention of it (which it didn’t), that it is what it would have meant.  The Left, though, is now recasting marriage as the uniting of two people who love each other.  The Founders would have been surprised.  In those days, after all, marriage was still very much a business proposition, one that gave a woman children and the assurance of care for those children, and one that gave a man the right to his wife’s financial estate, and the promise of progeny to inherit that combined estate.  If a marriage included love, such as John and Abigail Adams had, or George and Martha Washington enjoyed, that was a pleasant byproduct of a sexual and economic transaction sanctified by religion and sanctioned by the state.

The Obama administration has already used ObamaCare as a bludgeon by which to force conservative religious organizations to sponsor abortion. Before, those organizations preached against it; now, they’re being forced to pay for it.

What happened with abortion matters because the same thing is happening with gay marriage.  During the gay marriage debate’s first iteration, when California’s Prop. 8 was on the ballot, and before ObamaCare, we were promised that there was no way that the State could force religious institutions to perform gay marriages.  “After all,” said Prop. 8 opponents airily, “the state doesn’t force churches to perform abortions.”  Well, in Obama world — secure in his sufficient majority — the State does force churches to perform abortions.

The same will be true with gay marriage.  People dismiss the fact that religious institutions in other countries have been forced to perform gay marriages, or been punished for not performing gay marriages. Those countries, they say, don’t have a constitution.  We know, though, that this constitutional argument is meaningless in Obama’s America.  Last year, his administration made clear that it is unconstrained by Constitutional concerns.  And last week, Obama explained why:  if he feels he has the power, that power overrides the constitution.

At least now we know where we stand.

The question is whether, by 2014, we can convince a majority of American voters that their constitutional rights are at risk and that, even if they agree with the Obama plans so far (abortion, gay marriage, gun control), they may not like the next plans he has lined up down the road.  If I were Obama, I’d go after the 4th and 5th Amendments next.  After getting Americans to understand this comes the harder task:  keeping their focus all the way through 2016.

The problem when it comes to educating Americans is that these ideas are so horribly complex.  They don’t reduce to a poster.  It’s not going to resonate with most Americans to see a poster of a sad priest being forced to perform a gay marriage ceremony.  They’ll probably just say that the priest deserves to suffer because his organization once turned a blind eye to pedophiles.  (Under that standard, of course, the University of Pennsylvania should be razed and the earth sown with salt.)

When the liberals in my world catch hold of the fact that I don’t support gay marriage, they attack me as a homophobe.  I’m really not.  What I am is someone deeply concerned by the Constitutional implications of a mad rush to create implicit constitutional rights where none existed before, and then to use those inferred rights to destroy explicit ones.  They should be just as concerned.  If they want gay marriage as a Constitutional right, they should amend the Constitution, rather than trying to destroy it.  For all they know, they may be the next in line when the Obama state turns its destructive beam on yet another constitutional right.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Found it on Facebook — ranking Constitutional rights

For copy right reasons, I can’t produce the image here, but I can describe the cartoon that Joel Pett drew.  It shows two young, earth-mother types sitting at a coffee shop.  One is reading a newspaper with a headline stating “Restrictive abortion laws.”  She turns to her friend and says “I’ve changed my mind…  We may well need high-capacity fire arms to protect our rights…”

This cartoon is wrong at two very profound levels.  The first thing that’s wrong is the constitution hierarchy.  In the cartoonist’s world, which is the Left’s world, the lower ranked right in the Constitution is the Second Amendment, despite the fact that the Founders came up with it and the fact that it explicitly states that nothing and nobody can infringe in any way on the People’s right to bear arms.  For Pett and his crowd, it’s still subordinate to a “right” that doesn’t show up anywhere in the Constitution but that is, instead, a judge-made emanation of a penumbra of an inference.  He could just as easily have had his cartoon character state “I will reluctantly, and temporarily, support an explicit right in order to kill those who would try to deny me a “right” that can only generously be called implicit.”

The second reason that the cartoon is profoundly wrong is because it essentially advocates a sickening world view.  It says that the right to kill a fetus is so overarching that it’s okay to drag out a stale, old, white-men created Bill of Rights doctrine in order to enable abortion supporters to kill their opponents.

The same people who protest against the death penalty (which is also explicitly acknowledged in the Bill of Rights, provided that it is neither cruel or unusual), believe that the judge-made right to kill fetuses should be reinforced by killing those who oppose killing fetuses.

As always, I’ll pause here to say that I remain somewhat ambivalent about abortion.  I recognize circumstances where it is appropriate, and I still can’t entirely shake my old pro-Choice leanings.  Nevertheless, I continue to be sickened by the way in which the Left advances abortion.  You cannot have an honest debate on the subject without acknowledging that the fetus is a life, and then further acknowledging that society has always recognized instances in which one life is allowed to trump another.  That’s a worthy debate.  The game the Left plays, however, is disgusting.  “I’ll see (or rather, ignore) your Constitutional rights and raise you two mob rules.  Hah!  I win.”

Charles Krauthammer has been reading Bookworm Room about gay marriage

That post title is, of course, a wild leap of faith.  But there’s no doubt but that Dr. Krauthammer has come to exactly the same conclusion I’ve been trumpeting forever at this blog:  making gay marriage a civil right protected by the Constitution will cause a headlong crash into the First Amendment’s promise that government will leave religious doctrine and practice alone.

I’m going to quote myself from March 2009, long before gay marriage got to the Supreme Court:

As you know, one of my main reasons for supporting Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, was because I believe that move to redefine marriage has the potential to put the State and religion organizations — especially the Catholic church — into a head-on collision.

Liberals, when confronted with this notion, will often argue that, while the Catholic Church objects to abortion, that’s never created a constitutional crisis.  What they ignore is the fact that, while the church is not in the business of providing abortions, it is in the business of providing marriages.  It also ignores the fact that abortion is a legal right, not a constitutional one, while gay marriage proponents have been framing it in the opposite way:  they say gay marriage as a constitutional, rather than a mere legal right.

Keep in mind that, for Catholics, marriage isn’t just a white dress, cake and Mendelssohn’s wedding march.  Instead, it’s a sacrament.  A basic tenet of the religion is the joining of man and woman before God.

So imagine this scenario:  Two men go to the local Catholic parish and demand that it marry them.  The priest, sympathetic to their love for each other, nevertheless states that he cannot, at a purely religious level marry them.  The men turn around and sue the Church for violating their Constitutional rights.  Suddenly, the judicial system is called upon to examine doctrinal issues to determine whether they mesh with Constitutional issues.  It’s a scary scenario for anyone who takes seriously the principle that government may not interfere with religious doctrine.

The only thing that’s changed now is that, thanks to ObamaCare, which requires that Catholic institutions pay for birth control and abortifacients, the Obama administration has already managed to create a Constitutional crisis with regard to abortion.  I hadn’t seen that one coming back in 2009.

Ted Cruz’s question to Dianne Feinstein regarding the constitutionality of her gun law should be required reading for conservatives

Ted Cruz

Every day, I am more impressed with Ted Cruz.  He’s smart, he’s courageous, he’s knowledgeable, and he’s deeply loyal to the Constitution.  I understand that he went to Harvard Law School, rather than my alma mater, The University of Texas School of Law in Austin, but I can forgive him that failing because he’s so damn smart and intellectually brave.

Cruz couldn’t have asked better questions yesterday in the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Dianne Feinstein’s proposed gun control bill.  You’ve already heard those questions.  DiFi’s huffy, offended response was the only one available to her, because he’d shut the door on her intellectually.  Thus, all she could say was “Who do you think you’re talking to, little boy?  I was writing unconstitutional laws before you were born!”  That was fun.

(Let me be catty for a minute. DiFi says she’s not a sixth grader. Hoo-boy, is that obvious! She looks like a mummy. She was once a very attractive younger woman, but she’s morphed into a creepily scary old woman. Okay, I needed to get that out of my system.)

Typically, though, it was Rush Limbaugh who summed up most perfectly what Ted asked, what it meant, and why DiFI had just enough firing brain cells to realize what a devastating attack Cruz had leveled at her bill.  Here’s what Rush had to say this morning, which started with him playing a tape of Cruz’s brilliant question:

CRUZ: The question that I would pose to the senior senator from California is: Would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment? Namely, would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?

RUSH: Are you applauding, folks?

Are you standing up and cheering here?

This is just not done! These people are never called on this. Here’s Dianne Feinstein with her list of approved guns. Dianne Feinstein, California senator, former mayor of San Francisco. Okay, fine. Great resume. You and you alone are gonna determine what kind of guns we can have all? So Cruz said, “Well, are you going to determine what books we can all read? Are you gonna determine what words can’t be said and what words can?” and liberals are not used to this. This is effrontery. This is lecturing. This is disrespect, as far as the left is concerned.

Dianne Feinstein was not happy with this, and she told Cruz not to lecture her.</blockquote>

It’s hard to believe that Cruz and Obama attended the same law school.  Cruz actually learned something.  Obama was probably too busy organizing communities and hobnobbing with Ayers & Co. to pay attention in class.  Or, given Cruz’s accurate statement about the Leftists’ in charge of the Harvard Law School classrooms, may Obama was paying too much attention.  Either way, one student graduated knowing American law, while the other student graduated knowing Karl Marx.

Coming soon — your constitutional right to bestiality?

A face that only a zoophile could love

I know this isn’t my usual blog fare, but I had so much fun writing up this story at Mr. Conservative that I’m reprinting it here in its entirety:

When Carlos Romero was tried in Marion County, Florida, for having sex with a donkey, he mounted an unusual defense:  It’s unconstitutional to ban donkey love or, indeed, to ban any sexual relationships between humans and animals.  Carlos eventually plea bargained his claim, although he still plans to appeal the judgment holding that his conduct was illegal.

It all started when Carlos was caught last August in a compromising position with a female miniature donkey named Doodle.  (Doodle was, apparently, a very pretty donkey.)  The state charged him with sexual activities involving animals, a first-degree misdemeanor.  Rather than copping a deal after copping a donkey feel, Carlos insisted upon going to trial in order to defend his constitutional right to have sex with animals.

 In papers filed with the Court, Carlos public defenders (who must have been fresh out of, or still in, law school) argued that Florida’s statute banning mixed species sexual relations infringed upon Carlo’s due process rights and violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. More specifically, said Carlos’ council, the Florida law infringed Carlos’ “personal liberty and autonomy when it comes to private intimate activities.”

Further, said the lawyers, “By making sexual conduct with an animal a crime, the statute demeans individuals like Defendant (Romero) by making his private sexual conduct a crime.”

Carlos’ enthusiastic defense counsel didn’t stop there. In case Carlos’ privacy rights weren’t enough to make a constitutional argument, the attorneys also argued that the statute was deficient in that the state was not required to prove either that the animal was injured or that it did not consent. “Therefore, the only possible rational basis for the statute is a moral objection to sexual acts considered deviant or downright ‘disgusting,’?”

(The lawyers really weren’t thinking when they made that argument. Florida’s anti-bestiality statute is the animal equivalent of statutory rape laws, which also do not rest upon the absence of injury or the presence of consent. The law presumes that children are injured when an adult has sex with them and it also states that children cannot legally give consent. Same goes for animals.)

Despite the intellectual and legal weakness of their arguments, Carlos’ attorneys were on a role:

The personal morals of the majority, whether based on religion or traditions, cannot be used as a reason to deprive a person of their personal liberties. If the statute were to require sexual conduct with animals to be nonconsensual or to cause injury in order to be a crime, then perhaps the State would have a rational basis and legitimate state interest in enforcement.

[snip]

The classification of zoophilic acts as first-degree misdemeanors is grossly out of proportion to the severity of zoophilic acts.

One has to admire the zeal Carlos’ attorneys showed when they afforded Carlos’ his constitutional right to an attorney. He is a most unappealing character. According to the Gainesville Sun,

Romero admitted that he gets sexually aroused around animals more so than humans and allegedly masturbated with Doodle in his room. He claimed that he would have had sex with the miniature donkey eventually, but that she wasn’t ready and was “blooming into maturity.”

“Blooming into maturity?”  Funnily enough, that’s exactly what pedophiles say when they groom their child victims for rape, both statutory and otherwise.

On December 14, Carlos Romero pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year of probation, including psychiatric counseling, testing for STDs, and a prohibition against getting anywhere near children. Probation rather than jail was important to him, Carlos said, because it would have been difficult to mount an appeal challenging the law if he had been sent to jail.

Carlos’ promised appeal means that there is still some likelihood that the Supreme Court will one day have to decide whether states may criminalize bestiality. Insurers already struggling with the increased costs resulting from ObamaCare may discover that there’s a whole new class of federal rules controlling medical and veterinary insurance coverage for mixed-species marriages.

What I’d like to write to my child’s teacher about his gun control advocacy in class

As a matter of professional ethics, public school teachers should not use their classroom to advance a specific viewpoint.  It’s not just that teachers receive their pay from taxpayers who don’t wish to see their money used to indoctrinate captive children in views antithetical to some or all of the taxpayers.  It’s more subtle than that.  Teachers are also authority figures whose opinions color a child’s mental development and whose power over those all-important grades may coerce a student into believing that academic success requires that he must accept the teacher’s views.  To force feed a specific political ideology on a vulnerable, captive audience is a violation of the public trust.

Sadly, these ethical constraints do not weigh heavily upon many teachers, especially teachers who have a Leftist political ideology.  Just yesterday, my son came home from high school and shared with me two New York Times articles that his English teacher had distributed to the students.  One article was by Elisabeth Rosenthal and the other by Nicholas Kristof.  Each advocates a significant increase in gun control.  The teacher was unable to explain to the students why he believed those articles were in any way relevant to the book they were studying.

Letter

When me son told me about this breach of public school ethics, I immediately sat down and wrote a long letter to the teacher.  I didn’t castigate.  I simply pointed out errors in Rosenthal’s and Kristof’s work, and then offered the other side of the gun control argument, which he had apparently forgotten to share with his students.

When I read my letter over, though, I realized that, while I had written an excellent blog post, the teacher probably wouldn’t view my letter as an invitation to open classroom debate.  Instead, there was a distinct chance that he would turn on my son, who is effectively a hostage in his classroom.  Teachers know that parents and students in our affluent community direct all their efforts to getting into the “best” colleges, and that a single bad grade can jettison those academic plans.

NRA Logo

I still intend to approach the teacher, but I will do so in “dumb blonde” mode, which sees my looking winsome and asking sweetly if he could please explain to me why he handed out documents that touch only upon one side of a very strongly debated issue (and, moreover, on a side that sees Americans in greater sync with the NRA than with the Obamites.).  However, since I hate to let a good piece of writing go to waste, I offer here my letter challenging Kristof’s and Rosenthal’s views, and offering an opposing argument in favor of only the most limited gun control laws. If my child wasn’t a hostage (figuratively, if not actually), I would have said this to the teacher:

Dear Mr. English Teacher:

I appreciate that you are encouraging your students to engage in analytical thinking.  I therefore thought I could help begin the dialog by reviewing the factual and logical fallacies that underlie those two opinion pieces and by offering an opposing viewpoint.

I’ll begin by examining Dr. Rosenthal’s “news analysis,” which relies upon failed Latin American countries to argue that “More Guns = More Killings.[1]  As you’ve probably already realized, Dr. Rosenthal, despite purporting to present news, includes almost no data in her article.  For the most part, she relies on anecdotal evidence and strong opinions.  When she does introduce data, she drifts from one country to another to make her points, without ever anchoring her facts to a statistical analysis of rising or falling gun crime within a single country.

Rosenthal’s inability to stick to one data set is a common fallacy.  People who argue in favor of strict gun control like to point out that England, which has extremely strict gun control, has a lower gun homicide rate than the United States.  The logical conclusion, gun-control proponents imply, is that if the United States enacted English gun control laws it too would have an equally low homicide rate.

The problem with this syllogism is that England and the United States have never had comparable gun homicide rates, a situation going back to the 19th century, when England had no gun control (although poaching was a capital offense) and America’s gun control was primarily limited to keeping guns out of black hands.  Nineteenth-century America, a newer, rougher frontier country with a heterogeneous population was already more violent than England, which had an old civilization, a homogenous society, and a vast Empire to act as a safety valve for criminals and malcontents.

What’s infinitely more interesting than this false equivalence is to compare English crime rates before gun control to English crime rates after gun control.  That analysis – comparing like to like – yields more useful data; namely, that England’s violent crime rate, including its murder rate, skyrocketed in the wake of the strict gun control enacted following the Dunblane School massacre.[2]  While England still has fewer per capita gun homicides than the United States, it’s the EU’s leader in robbery, muggings, rape, and people being beaten to death.

Things are just as interesting when one compares violent crime rates between American states.  William Landes and John Lott, two university economists, published a peer-reviewed, long-term study examining the twenty-year impact of various public policies upon multiple shootings in all fifty states.  They concluded “that the only policy factor to have a consistently significant influence on multiple victim public shootings is the passage of concealed handgun laws.”  Perhaps I should add here is that the “significant influence” was a decrease in mass shootings.

For Dr. Rosenthal to offer anecdotal comparisons between war-torn, crime-ridden Latin American countries, on the one hand, and the more stable, but still heterogeneous United States, on the other hand, is as ridiculous as it is to compare pre- and post-gun control statistics in the United States and England without first adjusting for England’s historically low crime rate as compared to America’s historically higher crime rate.  A logical analysis must begin with a “before” and “after” look at a single country:  Did violent crime go up or down in that country when the government either prohibited or allowed private citizens to carry guns?  Only when one has established this base-line data can one begin to draw conclusions about gun control generally, or about trends that are common to a variety of nations.

Dr. Rosenthal’s erroneous analysis is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation.  The fact that the Latin American countries she visited have both sturdy defenses against crime (including those armed guards) and high crime rates doesn’t mean the former caused the latter.  Indeed, it’s more reasonable to believe that the former resulted from the latter.

In addition to committing logical fallacies, Dr. Rosenthal relies upon faulty statistical data about gun control in Australia.  Without linking to any study, Rosenthal blithely quotes a Ms. Peters, who contends that Australia’s extremely strict gun control led to a 50% drop in homicide and suicide rates.

Actual studies show a different story, one that makes Ms. Peters look like a liar by omission.  It is true that there was a drop in homicide and suicide rates,  The available evidence, however, indicates that gun control had nothing to do with those drops.

Beginning in 1969, gun homicides in Australia started a consistent decline.  After the gun ban, barring a single uptick in gun homicides the year after Australia enacted the ban, gun homicides continued to decline at almost the same rate as before (meaning that the gun ban made no difference to the decline).  What changed in Australia wasn’t the guns, it was the culture.

The claimed drop in suicides is equally fallacious.  What Dr. Rosenthal fails to note is that all forms of suicide dropped in Australia.  Not only were people no longer shooting themselves, they also stopped swallowing poison and jumping from high places.  In this context, it’s worth noting that Japan, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the world (not to mention the most law-abiding population), has the highest suicide rate in the First World.

Rosenthal is equally careless with statistics when she baldly asserts that “[b]efore (the gun ban), Australia had averaged one mass shooting a year. (Since then,) there have been no mass killings.”  What she doesn’t point out (or maybe doesn’t know) is that mass murders are extremely rare, so rare that one cannot discern annual or even decennial trends.

One can, however, discern trends over a span of several decades, and that analysis reveals that mass murders are no more common in America now than they were forty years ago.  The difference today isn’t the murders’ scope; it’s the media’s frenzy.[3]

The one thing that has been remarkably consistent when governments ban private citizens from carrying arms is that the violent crime rate increases.  I already noted the increase in England’s violent crime rate with the gun ban.  One needn’t go so far from home, though.  Both Washington, D.C. and Chicago, which enacted the strictest gun control laws in America, saw their violent crime rates skyrocket.

Beleaguered Washington, D.C. residents eventually filed suit, alleging that the gun control laws violated their constitutional right to bear arms.  The Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller agreed, striking down the gun control laws.  Gun control proponents then predicted that Washington, D.C.’s already high crime rate would reach apocalyptic heights.  They erred:

But Armageddon never arrived. Quite the contrary, murders in Washington plummeted by an astounding 25 percent in 2009, dropping from 186 murders in 2008 to 140. That translates to a murder rate that is now down to 23.5 per 100,000 people, Washington’s lowest since 1967. While other cities have also fared well over the last year, D.C.’s drop was several times greater than that for other similar sized cities. According to preliminary estimates by the FBI, nationwide murders fell by a relatively more modest 10 percent last year and by about 8 percent in other similarly sized cities of half a million to one million people (D.C.’s population count is at about 590,000).

Dr. Rosenthal might have more to say on guns in other articles.  One hopes she does, because her arguments in this article do not hold up to closer factual or logical scrutiny.

Nicholas Kristof’s article (Lessons From Guns And A Goose) is equally riddled with logical non sequiturs and factual errors.  Proving that he is a savvier advocate than Dr. Rosenthal, though, Kristof starts by proving his bona fides:  He used to shoot a .22 caliber rifle and he took an N.R.A. safety class.  Kristof apparently hopes that this childhood moment will disguise the fact that he has no expertise when it comes to either statistics or gun crimes.

Having established himself as a knowledgeable gun-lover, Kristof then tells a comfy little story about foolish farmers squaring off with their guns over a goose.  “See,” he says,  “Guns are bad because they cause escalation!”  It doesn’t seem to occur to Kristof that the farmers could have squared off equally well, and equally lethally, with other weapons, such as cars, knives, fists, bats, acid, pitchforks, or whatever else their imaginations and surroundings could supply.  Anecdotes, no matter how cute, are not data.

Having set the stage (“expertise” and “data”), Kristof then dredges up the usual talking points about suicides and gun violence in the home.  As I noted above, though, suicide statistics do not track neatly with gun statistics.  In Australia, they declined across the board, while in Japan, suicide rates are horrifyingly high, despite stringent gun bans in a compliant society.

As for domestic violence, it seems appropriate here to point out that in tightly gun-controlled England, domestic violence is steadily increasing, with a 35% increase in one year alone.  Two points can be made from this statistical fact:  First, humans are ingenious and, baulked of one way to commit mayhem, will invariably find another.  Second, guns are a great equalizer when it comes to a small woman and a big man.

As must be quite obvious by now, one can nitpick forever when it comes to the erroneous facts, false comparisons, baseless anecdotes, and other logical fallacies that plague both Kristof’s and Rosenthal’s articles.  These nitpickings, however, are negative arguments that refute inaccurate information, without then providing an affirmative case for gun rights.  In that regard, there are two positive arguments in favor of gun rights that it would be interesting to see Kristof or Rosenthal address.

The first positive argument, which both Kristof and Rosenthal ignore, is that the right to bear arms is one of the premier constitutional rights.  Too many Americans take our Constitution for granted, without considering its centrality, not to government, but to the individuals being governed.  Unlike the various federal statutes which impose laws on the people of this land, the Constitution imposes its restrictions on the federal government itself.  The predicate to these individual rights is the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Without this acknowledgement of our unalienable status and dignity, the explicitly listed Rights in the Bill of Rights are meaningless.  These unalienable rights – Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — are the abstract foundational concepts that justify a citizen’s more concrete “right” to have spheres of activity (or inactivity) upon which the government cannot impinge.

Which gets us to the Bill of Rights.  What exactly is it?  I mean, we all know what’s in it, but I don’t think most people stop and really think about how important it is to them, as individuals.

The Constitution is a contract between the People (acting through their state-elected representatives) and the government.  The main body of the Constitution, however, has nothing to do with the People, and everything to do with defining a functioning government.  Thus, while it seeks to make sure that the executive can’t overwhelm the legislature or that the courts can’t overwhelm the executive, there’s nothing in the Constitution about whether the government as a whole, or any of its individual parts, can overwhelm the citizens under its rule.

The Founders realized in the wake of the Constitution’s ratification that creating a government is not the same as protecting the People’s unalienable under that government.  If the government can “giveth” something and then “taketh it away” again, that something is not a right, it is, instead, a mere privilege.

Rights, on the other hand, belong to the People independent of government.  Rights have nothing to do with government control over people, and everything to do with the People’s right to control government.

That rights are independent of government does not mean that the government cannot use its aggregated military, police, and taxing power to destroy those rights.  Our rights’ fragility is what drove the Founding generation to create the Bill of Rights.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution describe rights that are fundamental to the individual and, therefore, transcend government.  The Founders stated them explicitly, however, because they refused to assume that a beneficent government would automatically protect these rights.  It was therefore necessary to err on the side of caution and warn the federal government away from touching the People’s core liberties.

The net result of adding a single extraordinary sentence in the Declaration of Independence and the first ten amendments to the Constitution is pure magic:  For the first time in history, a government exists that respects the bright line of human inviolability into which government cannot intrude.

On the People’s side of that bright line are the freedoms to speak, worship, and assemble.  And of course, the right to be armed, for whatever the heck reason you want, is also one of those unalienable right.

Contrary to what gun control advocates would have us believe, the Founders did not toss the right to bear arms into the Bill of Rights just because people were marching around with slow-to-load, hard-to-aim muskets or because people liked to hunt.  Instead, they included this right because they viewed it as an important bulwark defending individual liberties:

Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself.  They are the American people’s liberty teeth and the keystone under independence….  The rifle and pistol are equally indispensable….  The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference  –  they deserve a place of honor with all that is good.  When firearms go, all goes – we need them every hour.  (George Washington)

False is the idea of utility. . . that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction (of liberty).  The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws o’f such nature.  They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. . . such laws serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.  (Thomas Jefferson ‘Commonplace Book’ 1775, quoting 18th Century criminologist Cesare Beccaria in on Crimes and Punishment (1764))

No man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.  The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against the tyranny in government.   (Thomas Jefferson, June 1776, Thomas Jefferson Papers, (C. J. Boyd, Ed., 1950))

Although our rights are inviolable in principle, in fact the government can impose restrictions upon them – but if it does so, the government must prove that these restrictions are absolutely necessary.  The opposite is not true.  That is, the People do not bear the burden of proving that the government cannot impinge upon these unalienable rights.

For example, although we Americans have the right to free speech, that right can be limited in very specific situations.  We all know that one cannot go around falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  That’s certainly speech, but the downside risk of a panicked rush to the exit far outweighs the right to free speech in that specific instance.

Those who favor strict gun control argue that, by showing that guns kill innocent people just as surely as false cries of “fire” do, they have satisfied their burden of proving that gun control is as much a necessity as speech limitations on falsely shouting “fire.”  This argument is wrong for two reasons.

The first reason is that, unlike freedom of speech, which is a generalized right, the right to bear arms is specifically and absolutely articulated:  it “shall not be infringed.”  Although we’ve long recognized that government can, in fact, infringe on this right, the standard to do so is incredibly high.

The second reason the gun control argument cannot reach the high constitutional standard for imposing strict limitations on gun rights is because it forgets that guns don’t just take lives, they also save lives.  Until one produces an accurate risk-benefit analysis, showing that more people die because of guns than are saved by them, one cannot meet the constitutional standard for infringing  on the right to bear arms.

I promised above that there are two affirmative arguments that favor preventing all but the most limited infringement on gun rights.  The second affirmative argument is grounded in this intellectual limitation that has Progressives seeing only dead bodies, without any regard for those who do not die thanks to guns.  This myopia creates the giant intellectual chasm that exists between those who oppose the Second Amendment and those who support it.  The former see only the people who died in the past, while the latter count the ones who will live on into the future.

Logically, we know that people are going to die under any circumstances.  Even those who argue most strenuously in favor of total gun-control concede that gun control will not actually do away with guns.  They’re just pretty sure it will decrease the number of guns overall.

With a generic decrease in guns as their goal, gun control proponents ignore the fact, proven in Washington, D.C., Chicago, England, Mexico, and countless other gun control environments, that this decrease is always lopsided:  law-abiding people end up being disarmed, while lawless and delusional people are the ones carrying the remaining arms.

I started this letter with a reference to two economists, John Lott and William Landes, whose statistical data showed that concealed-carry laws are the only thing that cause a measurable decrease in mass shootinggs. It therefore seems appropriate to end this letter by looking to another economist, Frédéric Bastiat, the Frenchman who wrote the magnificent Parable of the Broken Window back in 1850.  If the parable doesn’t seem relevant at first, please bear with me, and I will explain why it matters here (emphasis mine):

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation—”It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade—that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs—I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

Just as is the case with the economic illiterate who cannot imagine that money might be spent on something more useful than fixing a broken window, a gun control advocate’s world view “is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”  He counts those who have died, but cannot even begin to imagine those whose lives were saved or never threatened.  Point such an advocate to a story about an off-duty deputy who was able to stop a mall shooter, and he will say only that “the shooter’s aim was bad, so he wasn’t going to kill anyone anyway.”

To the gun control proponent, a story without dead bodies is no story at all and it certainly has no statistical validity in the debate over the Second Amendment.  To one who believes in the Second Amendment, however, stories about people using concealed carry guns to take out mass shooters matter because we, unlike our gun-control friend, are able to take account of those people who survived what would otherwise have been a mass shooting.

In the same way, when a person who supports gun rights looks at crime statistics showing that legally-armed communities have a lower murder rate than gun-controlled communities, he thinks of all those law-abiding citizens in the first community who sleep safely in their beds at night.  To him, these “not-dead” people are as statistically relevant and important as the dead in that pathetic gun-controlled town.

You are fortunate to have a classroom full of intelligent, engaged young people.  It is a disservice to them to present them with only one side of an argument that goes to core issues about government control and individual freedom.  I urge you to hand out to the students some of the many thoughtful articles that explain (with data!) just why our American right to bear arms is so precious, and why it is so dangerous to allow emotionalism and hysteria to drive the political process.

Very truly yours,

Bookworm

 


[1] I am indebted to Ann Coulter, whose rebuttal to Rosenthal’s article gave me the jump-start I needed for my letter.  You’ll see echoes of both Ann’s essay structure and her source materials in the Rosenthal discussion.

[2] Note the article’s headline:  “Hand gun crime ‘up’ despite ban.” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the BBC’s crack team of reporters that hand gun crime might have gone up, not despite the ban, but because of it.)

[3] In this regard, it’s also worth noting that the worst mass murders in America did not involve guns:  In 1927, Andrew Kehoe set off bombs at a Michigan school, killing 44 people (38 of whom were children), and injuring 58 others.  In 1995, Timothy McVeigh used a bomb to kill 168 people.  In 2001, Islamist terrorist used three hijacked airplanes and some box cutters to kill 2,996 people.

Random thoughts about the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, and ObamaCare

Fellow Weasel Watcher Greg, at Rhymes with Right, came up with a good poster likening every woman’s right to have a gun to a black woman’s right to sit anywhere she wants in the bus.  That poster, combined with a discussion I had with some young ‘uns about the Bill of Rights got me thinking about the expression “Civil Rights,” which is something the Left bandies about freely.

Lately, the Left has taken to calling government control of American health care a Civil Right. We all know that’s wrong, but it’s worth understanding precisely why it’s wrong.  I’m still trying to organize my thoughts here, so please bear with me as a waffle my way through this.

United States Declaration of Independence

The beginning of any discussion of civil rights must be the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This single sentence is the “whereas” the precedes the Constitution.  Without this acknowledgement of God-given human status and dignity, the explicitly listed Rights in the Bill of Rights are meaningless.  These unalienable rights are the abstract predicates that justify a citizen’s more concrete “right” to have certain areas of functioning upon which the government cannot impinge.  Unless we acknowledge that humans — all humans — are equal and deserving of Life, Liberty, and the ability to make their way in the world, all the other bulwarks against government overreach are meaningless.

Second Amendment

Which gets us to the Bill of Rights.  What exactly is it?  I mean, we all know what’s in it, but I don’t think most people stop and think about what it is.

The Constitution is a contract between the People (acting through their state-elected representatives) and the government.  Its sole purpose is to describe what form the federal government will take.  It’s a rather dull document that’s given over to defining the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch, and then apportioning power and responsibilities between the three of them.

The main body of the Constitution has nothing to do with the People, and everything to do with defining a functioning government.  Thus, while it seeks to make sure that the executive can’t overwhelm the legislature or that the courts can’t overwhelm the executive, there’s nothing in it about whether the government as a whole can overwhelm the citizens under its rule.

What the Founders realized in the wake of the Constitution’s ratification is that creating a government is not the same as protecting the People’s declared rights under that government.  “Rights” aren’t things that the government gives people and that it can take away from people.  Things that the government can “giveth and taketh away” are merely privileges.  Rights, on the other hand, belong to the People outside of the government.  Rights have nothing to do with government control over people, and everything to do with the People’s right to control government.  They preexist the government and will continue to exist long after the government is gone.  Rights are independent of government.

That rights are independent of government does not mean that the government cannot use its aggregated power to destroy those rights.  That they are destructible, despite being unalienable, is what concerned the Founding generation and what led them to create the Bill of Rights.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution recognize that the rights described are fundamental rights that transcend government, but that a tyrannical government can nevertheless destroy these fundamental rights.  Rather than assuming that a beneficent government will automatically protect these rights, the Founders erred on the side of caution and warned the government that it had (and has) no power to touch rights that exist in the People, irrespective of the government.

Combined, that extraordinary sentence in the Declaration of Independence and of the first ten amendments to the Constitution create a bright line of human inviolability into which government cannot intrude.  For example, from the Declaration of Independence, we have a controlling principle that explains why, even though sitting in the front of the bus isn’t set out explicitly or even implicitly in the Bill of Rights, it is still a fundamental Right that is a necessary predicate to the Bill of Rights.  Rights must be applied equally to all humankind, because humankind is created equally.

Freedom to speak, worship, and assemble are unalienable rights.  The right to be armed, for whatever the heck reason you want, is an unalienable right.  The right to have your home free from American troops in an unalienable right.  The right to be protected from torture and coercion aimed at forcing you to convict yourself out of your own mouth is an unalienable right.  The state has the right to execute you if a properly constituted trial finds you guilty of a capital crime, but you have the right to an execution that is neither cruel (death by torture) nor unusual (death by bizarre forms of torture).  There are other unalienable rights.

Let me say again what these rights are:  They are a bright line of human inviolability and power that the government, despite its concentrated strength (police forces, armies, taxing powers, etc.) cannot attack or abridge.

Once one understands the difference between Rights (which are unalienable) and privileges (which depend on the government we elect) we can see why it’s so ridiculous when the Left describes health care as a “civil right.”  It’s not.  True civil rights recognize that citizens and the government are adversaries:  the government constantly attempts to impose itself on the citizens, and the citizens have as their bulwark the Declaration and the Bill of Rights to protect them from this government overreach.  Good health is not a matter of government overreach — except, of course, when the government uses health as a means of undermining the Bill of Rights.

This then, is the problem with ObamaCare: Rather than upholding a civil right, it is created to undermine people’s civil rights.  Its death panels contravene the unalienable right to Life.  Its abortion and contraception mandates directly impinge upon the unalienable right to freedom of worship.  It’s proposed requirements that doctors ask prying questions about guns infringes upon the unalienable right to keep and bear arms.  And Justice Roberts’ decision to the contract, its penalties for inaction are a direct infringement to people’s liberty.

As I said, this is a work in progress, so I don’t have a rousing or neat conclusion.  I’m not even sure what to do with these thoughts, but I did want to get them down while they were still swirling in my head.  Please feel free to add to or refine upon what I’ve written.