Gun issue challenges us to weigh the rights vs. their costs

Freedoms do not come free. Rights, when exercised, can lead to a lot of wrong behavior. The Bill of Rights might as well be called the Bill of Complications.

It’s much easier to accept the downside of liberty when the topic is a clause in the Constitution that you revere.

For example, as a person of faith, I so appreciate the First Amendment’s words about the free exercise of religion.

As a journalist, I equally savor the guarantee of a free press.

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But as someone who has never fired a gun, for either pleasure or protection, I might not be the best person to weigh the complexities of the Second Amendment.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., horror and other bloody tragedies, a clamor has arisen for greater limits on firearms.

Listening to some of the rhetoric, I wish some folks advocating for gun control sounded more like they understand that gun ownership is protected by our Constitution.

Yes, we can wish the framers of the Bill of Rights had used clearer syntax in that section. And, yes, some scholars contest the current Supreme Court’s view that the framers intended to establish an individual right to gun ownership.

But that is now the law of the land. In our pain and rage over Newtown and the others, we can’t just block the Second Amendment out of our minds. Absolutism on one side of this debate just encourages the demented absolutism of a Wayne LaPierre on the other.

And, we should admit that the constitutional rights we cherish all come with a cost, which we agree to bear because we find the freedom to be a higher value.

For example, the freedom to worship gives cover to hucksters and cranks. Freedom of the press offers latitude to hatemongers and wanton gossips. And, thanks to the right to a fair trial, the guilty do sometimes go unpunished.

Yet I cherish those freedoms because I believe, over time, they create more light than pain.

While I can grasp that the Constitution guarantees some right to buy guns for protection or for sport, I don’t trust my own judgment as to how much downside to accept to protect this liberty that I don’t myself exercise. 

But I do know that the massacre of innocents is too high a price. I don’t know exactly how we can most effectively curb gun violence. This is one of the hardest conversations we can have with one another, and yelling slogans is not a good way to to start it.  Less cocksure absolutism on each side would help.

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