Thursday, June 23, 2016

Due Process, Guns, and Political Expediency

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando, Democrats hoped to create a policy change that would make it more difficult to obtain a gun.  The proposed change Democrat
s sought to pass called for banning the sale of firearms to anyone on a terrorist watch list.  Since Republicans control both houses in Congress, such a change seemed unlikely to occur, considering the long-standing support of the Second Amendment from the GOP.

House Democrats pile onto the House floor
The House leadership opted to not even allow this proposed change to come to a floor vote, which annoyed Democrats to the point where they staged a sit-in on the House floor.  Their protest included a number of legislators sitting on the floor itself and shouting down Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other members of the GOP.  Democrat members started changes of "Shame, shame, shame" and "No bill, no break!"  Signs were held and speeches by protestors were made that effectively stopped any other House business from being conducted.

Democrats vow they will keep their sit-in active and not rest until their proposal receives a floor vote.  Speaker Ryan will undoubtedly not yield to the antics of the House Democrats, nor will he allow a floor vote, since it will place House Republicans in the uncomfortable position of having to either disappoint constituents or gun rights groups.

Political tactics and shenanigans aside, the proposal of Democrats institutes a fundamental problem in terms of Constitutional law.  Restricting the ability of anyone to exercise their Second Amendment rights without having first proven in a court of law that they have committed a crime violates their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process.  (The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process protections from the federal government, while the Fourteenth provides protection from all state governments.)

A similar situation has been the subject of debate for the last 15 years.  The federal government created a "no fly" list after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which prevents certain individuals from boarding an airplane if they were merely suspected of terrorism.  The list contains thousands of individuals who have no access to commercial flights, including many American citizens who have little recourse in determining why they are on the list or how to get off these lists.  This doesn't even begin to address the issue of humiliation and loss of dignity suffered by these people. 

The irony of this situation should not be lost upon us.  For years, Democrats have been protesting the "no fly" list and Republicans have defended it as necessary to national security.  Now, both sides appear to demonstrate a sense of hypocrisy and ideological inconsistency.  Even more strangely, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who is leading the sit-in movement in the House, was once mistakenly put on the "no fly" list (along with the late Senator Ted Kennedy).

Lewis  and fellow Democrats now find themselves in the unenviable position of demanding the violation of due process rights of others in the name of safety.  Of course, Republicans are just as guilty of this foolishness.

So, where does this mess leave the country?

The United States still has a problem with ideological consistency -- creating a specific set of policies based upon principles and adhering to those principles.  While there are times when members of opposing viewpoints should compromise to advance the interests of the nation as a whole, both major political parties seem to have no consistency in their belief systems.

Democrats and Republicans care about advancing their own causes and will distort reality to get their way.  Their agendas are not based on principle, but appear to be more focused on maintaining power and authority.

Our Constitution and its writers borrowed heavily from John Locke, who believed a law-making body should make laws for no other reason than the good of the people.  Can our Congress genuinely say that they are acting in such a capacity?

Guns violence is a problem in this nation and there is no definitive answer.  The Orlando massacre is one of many horrific attacks in this country perpetrated with guns that allow for a large amount of damage to be inflicted by just one person. 

Mass shootings take place with an alarming regularity and Republicans don't want to admit this.  Restricting gun ownership isn't necessarily the answer and Democrats don't wan to acknowledge that many nations have far less stringent gun laws and they do not have the level of gun violence that occurs here.

Political rhetoric is at an all-time high and it is insulting to Americans.  To further their own power-driven agendas, both parties will shower the population with platitudes that do little to solve the problems of public safety or personal liberties.

For instance, resident idiot of the House of Representatives, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), responded to the Democrat protests by trotting out the tired line, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."  I have no doubt that many individuals will cherry pick their favorite lines by a Founding Father to justify their position on personal liberties or gun rights.

The question also remains if Democrats are serious about creating a policy about guns.  Their sit-in may be seen as a political stunt that obstructs the business of Congress.  It's also somewhat arrogant of the Democrats to be so bold, considering they are the minority party in both houses.  Why would they believe they have the right to set the agenda?  Moreover, how long will it be before this rabble of publicity hounds moves on to their next attempt at soaking up media attention?  

These types of responses are not satisfactory.  In this context, the job of Congress and government is to safeguard personal liberties while still ensuring public safety.  If these representatives are unwilling or unable to achieve those ends, then they ought to be replaced. 

Finally, Americans should be concerned about their personal liberties.  I understand the temptation to create legislation to correct problems and I believe the government and citizens need to work together to lessen the amount of violence in this nation.  Yet, to restrict a person's ability to purchase a gun when they have committed no crime is a violation of procedural due process (and probably substantive due process too). 

When the government arbitrarily determines who should or should not be on a 'blacklist' of sorts, that is a significant threat.  Have we not learned our lessons from the Salem Witch Trials or the Red Scare?  Since when is policy driven by fear?

The problem of terrorism is more of a concern than past threats because the problem is perpetual.  In previous crises, the federal government heaped restrictions upon the people.  During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln unilaterally suspended habeas corpus.  In the midst of World War I, free speech was curtailed.  World War II saw rationing of goods, price freezes, and the internment of an entire group of people. 

After these situations were resolved and peace was restored, so were freedoms.  Terrorism is different, though.  Despite our best efforts, terrorism requires us to be at the ready without ceasing.  Are we to surrender our rights because of this constant threat?  Whatever our problems may be, we must not abandon our principles because we are afraid. 

No comments:

Post a Comment