Constitutional Rights and the “Right Kind of Families”


Readers of this site may have noticed that I participated in the Tiverton Town Council’s declaration of support for the Second Amendment earlier this week.  The relevant article in the Providence Journal, which the paper carried over from Newport Daily News reporter Marcia Pobzeznik, quotes me at the very end suggesting that the state government “has a tendency to overstep its bounds,” and “the Second Amendment is uniquely threatened by the politics of our day.”

What the article doesn’t note is that I made this statement in response to hostile questions asking why the council wasn’t considering resolutions supporting other amendments but was focused on this one.  Believe me, my view is that the state government oversteps its bounds in myriad ways that extend to the rest of the Bill of Rights, and if an instance arises that leads residents to request a statement from their local government, I’ll be just as happy to put that forward, as well.

One speaker asked, “Where does it end?”  Well, if it gets to the point that the town council has affirmed support for the entire Bill of Rights one right at a time, would that be so bad?

With the Second Amendment in mind, recently, this paragraph from an essay for The Federalist, by Cody Wisniewski, seemed particularly important:

The Supreme Court has the chance to reinforce its 11-year-old message to the lower courts: the Second Amendment is not to be weighed against governmental interests. The people have a natural right to keep and bear arms. Courts must consider that right as important as our Founders and Framers did. Until that happens, governments across our republic will continue to ignore our rights, and the lower courts will not stop them.

Given my local experience with advocates on the opposing side, this statement of truth raises the central question:  Why?  Why would people advocate against a resolution that has no practical effect but to affirm their own natural rights?  As Pobzeznik also partially quoted me as saying, answering constituents’ request for an affirmation of their rights does not harm anybody or come into conflict with other rights.

Actually, that point might require a caveat:  The resolution does not come into conflict with other rights enumerated in the Constitution, but we also have a natural right to determine the character of the community in which we live and its form of government.  This is where the passion comes from for both sides, and one Tiverton resident summed up the complaint very succinctly — indeed, with shocking clarity — on a local Facebook page.

This resident, who does not consider the town his primary residence and therefore cannot vote here, insulted supporters of the resolution as “physically, intellectually, and emotionally inadequate men” who were “making us look like we are a backwater dump in Appalachia instead of a coastal New England Town.”  This matters, he wrote, because:

You would not see this s*** in what most would consider “better” towns.  Marketing our community to the right kind of families who can move our community forward will be a tough sell after this.

There’s the competition that rouses passion over a resolution that all agree to be more a statement than an action.  Supporters, like those who supported the more-explicit “Second Amendment sanctuary town” resolutions passed in other communities, feel as if their priorities and their way of life are under attack from their own government, and they are getting fed up with talk about the process of safeguarding rights.  It’s a long way from an infringement on the rights of a person in a small New England town to a Supreme Court ruling in that citizen’s favor, and these folks have seen how the net gets tighter and tighter around them, with no single tug ever seeming to be the one that cuts off their circulation to the point that a court would cut them free.

Opponents of the resolution (at least some of them) want their home to be considered a good progressive community, with the values and political aesthetics that such a community should have.  If neighbors who don’t necessarily share those values are content to keep to themselves, going no farther than adding a little color to the letters-to-the-editor page of the local newspaper, then they can stay.  But when it comes down to having a representative government, they’d prefer those neighbors be replaced with “the right kind of families.”

My first day on a new job shortly after college, my manager told me that the law did require the company to give us a certain number of breaks during the day, “but nobody really takes them.”  That’s the progressive attitude toward gun rights.  Yes, you have the “right to keep and bear arms,” as recognized by both the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 22 of the Rhode Island Constitution, but nobody really exercises it.

Anti-gun advocates know that the political ground would shake if they attempted to amend either the state or federal constitutions to reflect their beliefs, so they take an incremental approach.  Of course, the more of “the right kind of families” there are, the less incremental the steps have to be.  And the less comfortable “the wrong kind of families” feel expressing their views, the more likely they’ll uproot their lives and go somewhere else.