Saturday, March 24, 2012

We have finally achieved the triumph of rights over responsibilities.

If you took note of the front page of last Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, you might have concluded the apocalypse is upon us. American democracy has taken on the characteristics of a Louisiana swamp. The serenity of the surface hides the threat lurking below.

We have finally achieved the triumph of rights over responsibilities. Side-by-side were two stories about guns. One told of gun owners stocking up with weapons and ammunition fearful of the coming reelection of President Obama and the end times. A second described a gun raid on a local home. Unknown gunmen fired at least nine bullets into a Cheyenne house.

In the first article a local gun seller said he’d seen shortages in “concealable guns and high-capacity combat guns.” Some are afraid of President Obama, others are of a doomsday scenario. One should ask whether people who are so delusional should be allowed to own concealable weapons much less “high-capacity combat guns.”

Barack Obama can’t get a break. "I'm not going to take away your guns," he said as a candidate and he hasn't as president. Last year the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence cited his "extraordinary silence and passivity,” grading him an “F” on gun control, ironically the same grade given him by the National Rifle Association. "He has a failing record when it comes to gun rights, and that's what our members and gun owners and hunters across the country know," says NRA public-affairs director Andrew Arulanandam. "I also think they don't trust him."

It appears that “not trusting him” is good for business. Claims about his intentions, even though inconsistent with the truth, stir people to stock up on guns and ammo. It’s an interesting twist of fate that the worse the Republicans do at the polls this November, the more guns these folks sell.

I wade into the swamp water around the gun issue only to make the case that when the time comes that the United States of America goes the way of the Greek and Roman Empires, historians will trace the cause back to the time when we decided that our “rights” mattered to us more than our responsibilities.

The Bill of Rights guarantees the right to bear arms. It also assures free speech and protections from “unreasonable” searches and cruel and unusual punishments. The 10th of those rights reserves to the states the rights not expressly delegated to the federal government.

But nowhere in the Bill of Rights can you find the word or even the concept of “responsibility.” Free speech is protected but it doesn’t have to be truthful and often as not in political campaigns it isn’t. Freedom of religion is assured but legislators have few qualms about blatantly writing their own religious views into law.

The gun stories on the front page of last Sunday’s paper are but a symptom of the problem. The status of gun laws in this country provides evidence of what has become “swamp water” democracy. Swamps are places where the surface of the water appears serene, much like the platitudes used to describe our freedoms. However, below the surface of the swamp, you’ll find all matter of bacteria, predators, and other threats.

Using unfounded claims to stir fear, organizations achieve a level of power in American politics far exceeding the ability of individual voters to bring order out of the chaos. Drive-by shootings exist side by side with contrived claims that the government will soon come to your door demanding your guns. Demands for free speech protections are employed to support the blatant use of falsehoods to achieve political ends. States claim rights under the 10th amendment they don’t have the political will to achieve.

And the best we can seem to do is quote Winston Churchill. “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

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