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Not Even 2nd Amendment Rights Are Absolute. Let's Talk About Keeping Guns from the Insane

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

There are many facets to the discussion about preventing killing sprees like the recent tragedy in Uvalde, including doing a better job of hardening vulnerable sites like schools and churches and insisting that those charged with protecting us actually do their jobs. 

But predictably, much of the political left moved immediately after Uvalde to blame guns, while much of the right immediately retreated to slippery slope arguments that “if government has the power to take AR-15s away from crazy people, eventually it will confiscate your hunting rifle.” 

Meanwhile, to many of us, it seems entirely sensible that we can preserve our Second Amendment right to bear arms while keeping significant firepower out of the hands of the disturbed, the dangerous and the immature. Would that eliminate all gun crime? Of course not. But it might very well reduce the number of horrifying killing sprees that have become all too familiar.

Many of my conservative friends won’t even participate in such a discussion not only because of slippery slope arguments but also because of a widespread, fundamental misunderstanding — that our rights are absolute. 

If the Second Amendment is absolute, then no limitations or exceptions could be tolerated by a free people. No red flag laws, no age limits, no restrictions on certain types of firearms. Nothing.

The assumption that the Second Amendment is absolute is the basis for the term “constitutional carry.” Now, I have no problem with the policy of open carry, but the term is based on the misconception that the Constitution demands restrictionless gun rights. 

Because our Second Amendment rights, like all our rights, are not absolute. 

Think about it: Your First Amendment right to free speech is not absolute. You cannot commit libel or slander. You can’t endanger life or instigate violence with speech. You can’t lie under oath. You can’t inaccurately label products. There are limitations and exceptions on free speech. 

Your property rights are not absolute. No matter how many “No Trespassing” signs you put on your property, the courts have found that people are allowed to cross your property and even forcibly enter your home in order to escape bodily harm. Easements and eminent domain are also legal exceptions to property rights. 

Your right to religious freedom is not absolute. A Santeria priest can’t butcher and sacrifice a chicken in the aisle of the nearest Walmart. Polygamy is illegal, even if you religion insists on it. Religious services are not permitted in ways that disturb the peace. Churches are subject to zoning and health and safety regulations.

Honor killings, female genital mutilation, child marriage and the killing of infidels are simply banned in the United States, even though they are tenets of various world religions. Our right to religious liberty, while broad, is not absolute. 

I could point out similar exceptions and limitations to every right. The point is that our constitutional rights are not designed to contribute to societal anarchy, but rather to ordered liberty, and that requires limitations and exceptions to rights. 

The reason none of your rights can be absolute is that I have rights, too. 

In other words, if an absolute right to bear whatever arms you choose leads you to point a loaded cannon at my bedroom window, you are depriving me of my right to the peaceful enjoyment of my property. If you insist on holding a religious ritual in a Walmart, you are depriving the company of its property rights. 

So let’s stop operating as if Second Amendment rights are absolute, and let’s start discussing reasonable steps to keep firepower out of the hands of the disturbed, the dangerous and the immature. Like we do with literally everything else.