“I believe when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”
Sir Thomas More in A Man for all Seasons, by Robert Bolt
We all know about the Trojan horse and how the wily Greeks used it to burn the topless towers of Ilium and destroy the Trojan civilization. It’s a lesson worth keeping in mind.
The appalling terrorist attack in Orlando has brought out the usual absurd, extreme reactions on either side. The progressive left claims that repealing the Second Amendment and confiscating all firearms will make America a kinder, gentler, safer place where, according to our Attorney General Loretta Lynch, even terrorists will be defeated by love and compassion, and we’ll all become vegans and behave like a cross between Care Bears and Barney the purple dinosaur. The radical right claims that if every American went armed everywhere we could use ISIS terrorists and random bad guys as pop-up targets and wipe them off the face of the globe, or at least off the face of the fifty states. Both sides, and those who wallow indecisively in the middle, agree something—something—must be done.
And indeed something must be done: every American is rightly calling for a stop to the kind of bloody carnage a single radical Islamic loony-tune was able to perpetrate, and politicians are tripping over themselves in their rush to push their particular vision of a solution into law. But the Trojan horse every American should keep in mind is the unforeseen—or far worse, casually dismissed—effect these proposed laws will have. It’s not just the Second Amendment, but also the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, that are being conveniently overlooked in the political stampede to appear relevant and effective and decisive. And if you want to take the progressive liberal proposals in Congress to their illogical but certainly not impossible extreme, other Amendments jeopardized by current proposals include the First, Fourth, and the Sixth.
Forget your feelings, pro or con, about firearms; instead, think of your right to free speech, or to own your house and/or land, or your right to privacy, or your right to “be secure” from unreasonable search and seizure, or your right to a speedy trial where you have been informed of the charges against you. Think of losing all those things. Think of losing the unwritten principle of innocent until proven guilty. All of those depend to a greater or lesser extent on the due process clause, and due process is what outraged Democrats—and even some Republicans—want to dispense with.
If you are really naïve enough to believe in a perpetually benign and loving government that would never abuse you or your rights, I would remind you that a due process clause was first enumerated as a right in the Magna Carta in 1215, but because Great Britain does not have a Constitution, that clause was cheerfully ignored by kings from Henry III on. Don’t believe me; read your history. It only affected firearms beginning (gradually and “reasonably,” as such things do) in 1920, but it really took effect in 1997 with large-scale confiscation of firearms, blithely by-passing the due process clause first written-up in the Magna Carta almost eight hundred years earlier: “No free man shall be imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions…” Has ignoring due process and confiscating guns had a salutary effect on violent crime in Great Britain? According to Pulitzer Prize nominee Joyce Lee Malcolm it has not, and according to several British news investigations it has not, but that’s beside the point.
Other countries recognize some vague kind of due process as stipulated in international law, but only America and Great Britain spell it out, and only America pays any attention to it, sort of. All of the current schemes being touted on Capitol Hill, couched in the meretricious language of, “no-fly, no buy,” violate our due process clause as clearly spelled out in the Fifth Amendment (“…nor [shall any person] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” and in Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” And without due process, nothing else in our legal system holds water.
In case you should doubt that this is the intent of the various proposed laws being hailed as vital by lawmakers wallowing in righteous outrage, bear in mind that the loss of any right is, and should always be, protected by the due process clause, and to violate that with regard to firearms opens a slippery slope to other rights as well. Free speech is the first one to leap to mind, especially given Hillary’s stated intent to overturn the Citizens United ruling. But property rights also leap to mind: far too many people in this country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from ranchers to inner-city low-income housing residents, have lost property precisely because of abuses of due process by various levels of government, from municipal to federal. Again, don’t trust me: do your homework. Hell, Tom Brokaw did a special on this very topic about fifteen years ago.
I believe it was Ronald Reagan who once observed that the Constitution was like a crystal bowl; you can’t take one piece out without destroying the whole thing. Just as Troy once welcomed a specious good that destroyed it, the laws our politicians are promising will make us a safer and gentler country carry within them consequences that will prove disastrous, now or later. We would do well to remember Reagan’s admonition. We would also do well to remember that each age and each country, each sad and guilty age, each sad and guilty country, has, or has had, or will have its Hitler, its Mussolini, its Stalin, its Mao, its Pol Pot. To believe otherwise is to be guilty of dizzying and willful naïveté.