Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The U-B's June 29 editorial on the U.S. Supreme Court decision that state and local governments are subject to the Second Amendment's limitations on government power to infringe on the individual right to bear arms was mostly unremarkable -- until the next-to-last paragraph, when the writer lurched into territory occupied by today's extreme right wing of American politics.
It is settled law that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to own and bear arms. Even Elena Kagan, President Obama's current nominee to replace retiring Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court, said so in her Senate confirmation hearings last week.
The debate about why authors and ratifiers of the Amendment created the right, however, is still open.
Unfortunately, the U-B's assertion that the reason gun rights exist is because "The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure ordinary citizens could rise up against the government if necessary," is misleading and irresponsible.
Most legal and historical scholars exploring this subject trace gun rights primarily to colonial notions of defense of self and property, and protection of the country against hostile insurgents and insurrections, not solely to a need to rise up in arms against the government.
The U-B's singular focus on rising up against government misrepresents the historical origins of gun rights, and instead reflects today's tea party and conservative talk radio diatribes to "Take Back America."
The extreme right's putative leaders, such as Sarah Palin ("Don't retreat -- reload!"), and Nevada Senate candidate Sharon Angle ("If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies."), use this kind of code language all the time.
It signals to their most extreme and unstable followers that striking at authority with guns is OK if you don't like the results you're getting in elections.
But it's not OK. That's not how Americans settle their political differences.
This kind of language should have no place in mainstream conservative political discourse, and it's past time for thoughtful conservatives to reject it.
If the U-B's choice to use only this unfortunate code language was merely unwitting or careless, it should acknowledge its mistake on the Viewpoints page and pledge not to make similar errors again.
If the language was used intentionally, however, it will, for me at least, mark the troubling end of the newspaper's reasoned voice. That should be worrying to everybody in our community, regardless of one's politics.