Columns 2016

The Constitution was created to allow changes

America’s birthday is rapidly approaching and, as it does, we should all spend at least a brief moment between hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill to contemplate that fact. It was not a given that we would survive our rebellion against England. It was not a given that disparate groups from 13 very different colonies would be able to come up with a document that all would sign. What our forefathers did was compromise in order to achieve the greater good of nationhood.

Yes, I said compromise. That tends to be a dirty word in today’s America. We all have retreated to our individual corners and will not budge an inch on “principle”. Our forefathers knew a lot about principles. But they also knew that a government of the people would always be a government fraught with discord over any and every issue that could arise. And the only way to move that government forward, the only way to move their work to create a new nation forward, was to compromise. Give a little, get a little. And eventually, the whole thing balances out. Proof is in the pudding. Our Declaration of Independence is a great document but it is the Constitution that is the masterpiece because it is a document born of discourse, debate and compromise.

I find it interesting that our forefathers are held up to us as beacons of the best America can produce by the same people who view compromise as a sin.

The men who crafted our Constitution were wise and thoughtful. But they weren’t invincible, their weren’t without their own errors of thought and action. They believed that women were a man’s possession and should not have any say in the national discourse. Most owned slaves with little thought, if any, to the morality of their action.

We acknowledge their mistakes now without demeaning the work they accomplished. The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution stood as beacons of light in the dark world in which they were created.  For the first time, the rights of the people were codified, proclaimed and enforced – but not the rights of all people. It covered only white men with property. Women, slaves, poor people were not considered intelligent enough to be trusted with this responsibility.

Women can vote now. And slavery has been relegated to a shameful past. We accept that our founding fathers got those things wrong and corrected them. The Constitution is frequently referred to as a living document. Anything living needs room to stretch and grow. That’s why we have amendments. Our founding fathers may have been brilliant but they weren’t capable of creating a document that could handle 21st century problems.

All of which is to say that the Second Amendment was written in an entirely different day and age than that which we face today. The weapons used by those proclaiming their right to bring semiautomatic rifles into Starbucks would absolutely astound our founders. Open carry in grocery stores does not meet their definition of a well regulated militia.

Accepting as truth that guns don’t kill people, people do, we should have no problem with regulating the people who own guns since they are the ones who use them to kill. Cars don’t kill people. People driving them do. That’s why we regulate the people who are allowed to use that potentially lethal weapon. Why is it so hard for some to translate that into sensible regulations of the people who use guns.

Given that the no-fly list is, at best, a questionable list of possible terrorists, I’m not all that sold on using it to keep people from buying guns unless they come up with a way for innocent people to quickly get their names off the list. But surely even our esteemed forefathers would have seen the merit of regulating who gets to buy guns that have no other use than to kill a lot of people fast.

I think they would be horrified at what we have done to their Second Amendment. On the other hand, America leads the world in manufacturing arms. And weapons producers are closely bedded with the upper echelons of the NRA. As long as their profits are involved, common sense, the Constitution, our Founding Fathers… none of that matters. Dead people are just statistics. But money in the bank buys that second yacht.