A constitutional balancing act
The Constitution of the United States is not an easy taskmaster. It requires respect for the rights of individuals to free speech and association, to bear arms, to be secure from unwarranted searches or seizures and to due process of law. It is becoming a popular argument that the government is powerless to restrict these rights, especially as concerns the Second Amendment.
But years before the individual rights were delineated in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the preamble set the ground rules for a more perfect union, and it placed a value on establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for a common defense and promoting the general welfare.
The Constitution demands a balance between the more perfect union and general welfare to which it aspires and the individual rights that it bestows. And times such as these require the executive and legislative branches of government to work together to achieve the proper balance. If they go too far, it is the job of the judiciary to keep them honest.
Last week, President Barack Obama unveiled his administration’s gun control package, a response to a national tragedy, the murder of 20 children and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
There will and should be a healthy debate over what constitutes an “assault weapon” and whether outlawing these rifles is practical or even possible. The differences between a semiautomatic hunting rifle and an assault weapon are largely cosmetic.
But there should be no debate over outlawing high-capacity magazines that give a madman with a semiautomatic pistol or rifle the ability to inflict battlefield-level damage on people in classrooms, theaters or shopping malls.
Nor should there be much disagreement over the need for universal background checks, better mental-health screening and some level of increased security in schools.
The key to all of this is balance. An individual’s ability to buy a 30-round magazine does not outweigh a parent’s reasonable expectation that the six-year-old sent to school in the morning will be returning home at the end of the day.