I was planning to speak today on the importance of voting. With rights come responsibilities. The responsibility to vote is especially important when the choices offered are unpleasant.
But then the Orlando shooting occurred, and I’ve had to rethink this speech. I’ve had to look into the very nature of our democracy, and the nature of the rights we espouse.
Our nation came into existence with the Declaration of Independence. Our federal government began to function in its present form with the ratification of the Constitution.
But our basic rights as individuals do not come from the Declaration or from the Constitution. The founders of our nation understood that these rights are found in natural law, and that they are provided by Nature and Nature’s Creator. They emanate from the inherent worth and sacredness of the individual. These were merely acknowledged by the Declaration, and made enforceable as positive law through the Constitution.
Yet the founders of our nation also understood social contract, a concept advanced by philosophers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We are not isolated individuals. For our mutual benefit and protection, we form a social contract: we surrender our natural rights at least to some extent.
As we live in a democracy, we do not surrender our rights to a severe extent. But the limitations are there nonetheless. No right is absolute.
The right to bear arms is not absolute. After so many shootings, we need to stop the nonsense of saying that there should be no gun laws.
The Orlando shooter had a history of domestic violence. He had connections with a suicide bomber. The FBI had interviewed him at least three times, and had him on a watch list. Nevertheless, days before the shooting, he was allowed to purchase assault weapons.
It is political folly to argue whether this shooting was a hate crime or a terrorist act. It was both. It is foolish to say that this was not a terrorist act.
Now, close to fifteen years after 9/11, our nation still does not have an effective security system. We have long lines at airports, but weapons can find their way onto planes. Suspected terrorists can buy assault weapons.
Individuals with terrorist connections are not allowed to fly. They should also not be allowed to buy guns. Laws need to be passed to this effect by Congress. Let those on the right wing be made to explain why this hole remains in our national security.
Abraham Lincoln said that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth. But we are only one nation among many in the earth’s history. The prospect of any society’s survival is largely dependent on that society’s willingness to address its issues responsibly.
In our history, we have finally several resolved major issues after much controversy and considerable blundering. We ended slavery, and we ended segregation.
The time to address the gun issue responsibly and rationally is now, and it can begin with terrorism.