I don’t know how we got here but I do have some ideas on how to improve our government. I believe we truly need to hash out our differences once and for all on a couple of vital differences. We need to decide who gets to own firearms, what kind and how many. We also need to figure out where religion fits in our government. I hear the readers muttering but that’s all covered under the First & Second Amendments to the United States Constitution. True, but many politicians were absent the day the Bill of Rights was taught. If we settle these two issues, we can then maybe reach the utopian idea of the United States of America.
Our Bill of Rights, has there ever been ten ideas more debated than those covered in our first ten amendments. Let’s take them in order. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Simple enough, no state religion, free speech, free press, the right to peaceful protest and petition all great ideas for a nation founded on the principal of liberty. One problem we don’t practice half of this.
Free speech isn’t in as much jeopardy as the others because well, it really is almost impossible to monitor every private conversation in a nation. Three others are in jeopardy. Take our right to peaceful assembly. Following the 1968, presidential election the secret service’s involvement in presidential campaigns increased dramatically. Sen. Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated and the Democratic National Convention was marred by a police riot. Over the following decades, protesters were suddenly being told where they could peacefully assemble. I don’t see that text in the First Amendment. It doesn’t say we can peacefully assemble but only where the government says we can.
A free press is another important idea for a free country. For most of our history, this has been true. Then freedom of the press ran head first into the limited government idea of laissez faire economics. Over the last few decades the number of people or corporations owning media outlets has steadily shrunk. In 1983, 50 corporations (I’ll use that term in general as Citizens United says they’re people too) owned all of the media. That number is now down to six corporations owning 90% of the media. If we continue to allow corporations to consolidate their control over our journalists’, freedom of the press in America will more closely resemble the state controlled media of countries like Russia & China.
Lastly, on the topic of the First Amendment let me explain that thorn on the rose, religion. I have a faith. What it is is nobody’s business but my own. However, there is a sect, a cult even, of people who proclaim themselves as Christians and run around telling the rest of us that if we don’t believe as they do we are going to burn in hell. Fine, that in and of itself goes directly against scripture. However, there are people and more importantly politicians who believe this is a Christian nation. We must stop this idea in its tracks.
We are not a Christian nation, period. In fact, in my home state of Maryland our founders were Catholics who left England because they did not want to have to join the Church of England. Puritans came here for freedom of religion. Quakers came here for freedom of religion too. Unfortunately, there are far too many politicians that do not understand this part of our history. I say let’s take 135 of them, cram them onto a 105’ wooden sailing vessel, add in a little cholera & dysentery, sail them back to England, and see if after all of that they would allow any human being tell them which religion they get to practice. Yet when you vote based on your religious beliefs rather than the concept of liberty you are violating the text and the spirit of the First Amendment.
On to the Second Amendment and who gets to own guns, and what kind of guns they can own in America. First the text: "A well regulated (sic) Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." There it is in its entirety. What does it mean? Two hundred forty-five years of arguments has not settled that debate. To me it means that the federal government cannot tell states that they can’t have their own well-regulated militias to defend their states. Obviously if Pennsylvania has the right to defend itself against attack from Maryland than the people in both states have a right to own a firearm in case they are needed for the defense of their state or the nation.
Prior to the arrival of the Tea Party faction of the GOP, I would have said Maryland is never going to attack West Virginia. However today, if you asked me if I thought it would be possible that a group of modern day militiamen from West Virginia could conceivably invade Maryland I’d have to answer yes, it is a possibility. I hope that it’s a very remote possibility but it is a possibility.
More important is if we all have a right to own a firearm for sport and self-defense what kinds of weapons should we allow the average citizen own. Let’s start with a list of the definitely you cannot own any of these, a M-1 Abrams tank, a 40-ton 155mm Howitzer artillery cannon, a grenade launcher or any of the grenades it launches. Obviously, you can’t own an F-22 Raptor even if you are qualified to fly jets. These weapons are obvious. There is one military weapon that we do need to debate, the assault rifle.
An assault rifle whether it’s the M-16A4 currently issued to our infantry soldiers or the slightly less lethal citizen’s version the AR-15 or a citizen version of Russia’s AK-47 are all still rifles developed for the battlefield. The M-16A4 in full auto mode can easily fire 10 rounds per second or 600 rounds per minute. You can pick which description makes you feel safer neither make me feel safe. In the hands of a properly trained soldier, that firing rate can go as high as 900 rounds/minute.
The citizen’s version is an AR-15, think Aurora or Sandy Point, this is the type of rifles those mass murders used. It fires as fast as you can pull the trigger. However there is a way to manipulate it to make it fire at a rate comparable to full auto. I will not even name the method because the video of it being employed was terrifying. No matter, this is still a military weapon. It has no place in our residential or even in our rural communities. The number of lives “saved” by owning a military assault rifle in comparison to the carnage of innocent lives assault rifles are responsible for makes this issue a no brainer. We are not each a one-person militia defending against a foreign military attack. We are not soldiers. The average American citizen should not be allowed to own an assault rifle.
We must enact gun laws that closely resemble our motor vehicle laws. We live under them. Most people don’t bitch about them (except for the tickets they may collect). Gun owners must be made to pass thorough & comprehensive background checks, they must be able to pass a proficiency test, a test on the laws pertaining to the use of lethal force, and carry liability insurance. Responsible gun owners support this. The National Rifle Association does not. The NRA is now the national lobby for firearms manufacturers, it is no longer the organization of responsible gun owners it once was.
Our constitution provides us, through us, the right to defend our families, our property and ourselves. It also provides us the right to choose to worship any way we want, simply put you can be a conservative Evangelical Christian & I get to be a Rastafarian if I choose. I even get to be a modern day Madeline Murray O’Hare and lead a movement of atheists. These rights must have been most important to our forefather’s because they are the first two changes we made to our Constitution.
These issues should not be that difficult to resolve but they sure as hell have been. One of the reasons we’ve gone backwards on the unity issue is Pres. Ronald Reagan convincing a bunch of selfish baby boomers that identified as Democrats that government is the problem. Since then we now have politicians running around saying we need to do away with the Department of Education ending what was once a robust public school system. They want to do away with the IRS, because they don’t want their federal income taxes going to states other than their own. Hell these people want to do away with United States Postal Service. Yep they want to fire the mailman.
Education is the key to resolving our differences. However, we now allow parents who only have a GED education home school their children because they don’t like the curriculum. They don’t want sex or evolution taught. They prefer to teach their children that masturbation is murder and Fred Flintstone with his dinosaur worked at the quarry that made the bricks for the Great Pyramids. While in the same breath saying that they’re keeping their child out of our public schools because, our public schools are responsible for the dumbing down of America.
To fulfill our dream of a united nation we must have a robust public school system. Not as some would infer to indoctrinate our children but to teach our children not just data, we need to teach them to seek the truth and to think for themselves. Thinking for yourself does not mean you get to have your own facts, as it seems to be in some circles. It means taking facts, even theories and using them to move our nation forward in every way.
What is disheartening is that when it comes to education the Internet is a great source of information. Unfortunately, it is also the source of incredible bullshit masquerading as information. It is a great source of vitriol. It has led to the spread of homophobia, xenophobia & racism. Hell racism thanks to the Internet now even has a new name. Instead of calling themselves the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, or White Supremacists now, they are the alt-right movement, same traitors, with just different names.
The Internet has now become a great source of divisiveness. From Alex Jones and Fox News reporting propaganda as fact to the most reputable news services this nation has known, they are all out there. It will take education and leadership to untangle all of this mess. However, as citizens we must each in our own hearts answer two questions. Is America the land of freedom of religion or a Christian nation? Secondly, are a peaceful people who want to see the carnage in our malls, movie theaters and places of worship end or do we want to be Dodge City, Kansas prior to Wyatt Earp’s arrival in 1876. I truly hope that we have evolved as a society enough in the last one hundred forty years that we choose the former when answering both those questions.