If the National Rifle Association’s leaders want to help suspected terrorists get easy access to guns, bucking the wishes of their own membership, they should come out and say so.
Instead – even in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting massacre – NRA bosses cloak their opposition to legislation that would close the Terror Gap in our nation’s gun laws with misdirected readings of the Constitution, as if our founding fathers said anything about the “rights” of suspected terrorists to arm themselves before slaughtering innocent Americans.
To the contrary, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote 60 years ago, the Constitution is not a “suicide pact”:
No liberty is made more secure by holding that its abuses are inseparable from its enjoyment… The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact….
Justice Jackson wrote this in a First Amendment case. Yet while many may disagree over how to apply his principle to questions of free speech, the issue should be clear when it comes to access to firearms.
Speech is used to express ideas. Firearms are used to kill over 30,000 Americans every year and wound another 80,000.
What the NRA’s leaders ignore is that America has always been about striking a balance between order and liberty, rather than always favoring one over the other. By sacrificing public safety at the altar of an “any gun, anywhere, any time” dogma, NRA bosses attempt to wreck this balance.
There is no room for this sort of mindset in America, especially after 9/11, and most recently, the Fort Hood shooting.
Making it easy for suspected terrorists to buy the weapons they would use to attack us on our own soil – just to adhere to some fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment that even the founders, as well as the current Supreme Court, would not recognize – is dangerous and suicidal.
According to a recent survey by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, most NRA members agree. Luntz found recently that 82% of NRA members favor prohibiting people on the “Terrorist Watch List” from buying guns. The NRA’s bosses, however, are either unaware of their members’ views on this issue or they don’t care.
When it comes to protecting our communities from terrorism, Americans do not read the Constitution as a theoretical exercise. We live it and breathe it every day. So while the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun in the home for self defense, we also know that it isn’t a “suicide pact” that requires us to allow suspected terrorists to easily acquire all the weapons they desire.
Most Americans – including NRA members and gun owners – reject the NRA leadership’s false choice between order and liberty.
We choose both.
By Paul Helmke