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.

  • bagida’wewinini

    The Second Amendment is uniquely threatened by the politics of our day,” he said, adding that the resolution “harms no one.”
    That’s from the Providence Journal and the quote is from Justin Katz

    The men wearing yellow shirts who spoke at the May 28 Tiverton town council meeting on the subject of the resolution made by Council member Katz making Tiverton a so called Second Amendment Santuary town almost all said that their guns harmed no one. Watching them addressing the council one could hear their anger that they had to defend their rights and if they did not they would be made criminals or be forced to give up their rights. Almost all said they were law abiding. And this was to speak for a resolution that all agree means nothing. Opposition to the resolution went from if ‘its meaningless why do it ‘ to representatives of gun reform groups citing facts about how legislation would not be unconstitutional. But somehow it seems to be important enough to show up in opposition to a resolution that means and does nothing. Why ? One speaker had it right. She pointed out the the Council’s new Vice President and author of the resolution was practicing his divisive brand of politics. I think she was right. More than anything else what has stymied efforts to find any common ground about gun rights and reform has been the cynical exploitation of the issues by groups whose main mission is to raise money. The political influence of these groups all but assures that politicians will line up for the cash and adopt their sponsors positions making any compromise impossible. Look what happened when Trump made some statements about gun reform being possible . It took only hours for the NRA to quickly get a meeting at the White House and the President’s words were not only walked back they were obliterated.
    So how can people at the local level figure this out. How can the advocates from both camps get away from talking across each other by spouting facts and talking points that were developed by lobbyists and political partisans. Certainly not by the leadership of a conservative activist like Justin who although the resolution he wrote and refers to as a statement is not in of itself divisive his action of bringing it into the town is

  • Rhody

    “[T]he Second Amendment is not to be weighed against governmental interests” has got to be the most asinine and ignorant comment on our Constitution I’ve heard in a very long time. The provisions of our Constitution are weighed against other governmental interests all the time and by necessity.

    The 1st amendment says Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech but, once weighed against the governmental interest of not having people trampled to death, we have laws against falsely shouting “Fire!” In a crowded theater. The 2nd amendment is no different.

    • Rhett Hardwick

      True, automatic weapons (machine guns) have been illegal since the 20’s. The Sullivan Act was passed in response to the Thompson, “The gun that made the 20’s roar”. Actually, not so much “illegal” as required to be taxed and registered. That one had Second Amendment problems too.
      I think part of the problem is a changing America. As I have mentioned, as kids, to pass time on a Saturday, we would “go shooting”. Now, it seems everyone lives in a sub-division. Gun owners are somehow “not right”. America has lost it’s familiarity with guns. We have been inundated with “guns kill people” (and I suppose pencils misspell) I recall such an ad on TV. My daughter pointed to her .22 and said “That one tried to kill me last week, but I slapped it around until it stopped”. Today she would probably be clutching her pearls if she knew I repeated that.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        Another change, since the demise of the “Draft”. Relatively few Americans have been through Basic Training and acquired a familiarity with guns.

  • bagida’wewinini

    One of the men wearing a yellow shirt who spoke in favor of the resolution to make the town of Tiverton a second amendment sanctuary town joining a few other in RI , said that he owned guns ‘to protect his wife and daughter .’ Who would doubt him. The desire and commitment to protect your children and in some cases your spouse is easy to relate to and you would think could be the point at which to start a discussion with someone not wearing a yellow shirt and may not agree that gun ownership protects their families. And those who do not own guns and wish to see gun violence curbed are not automatically against the second amendment. I’m sure that some of the second amendment proponents wearing their yellow shirts may agree that responsible gun ownership involves securing those guns when they are not in use. It’s too bad that we allow people to divide us with campaigns of distrust and resentment

    In this time of ‘all or nothing’ thinking the politics of divisiveness trumps common sense compromise. Too bad
    I would like to tell that man who said he wants to protect his wife and daughter to think about what happened on a sunny Sunday in May 2008 in a Cranston RI neighborhood. Nicholas Gianquitti and his neighbor, James Pagano has a disagreement about a childs ball. The altercation ended with Pagano dead , shot in the back. Gianquitti was arrested and eventually sentenced to prison. Pagano had been enjoying a day off from his work as a Cranston Firefighter with his wife ,daughter, son and extended family. Pagano’s family sadly witnessed the shooting.
    Gianquitti, a retired Providence police officer, presumably trained with guns lived with his wife and daughter . Possibly he kept the loaded gun handy to protect that wife and daughter much like our Yellow Shirt. One finger on a lethal machine on that sunny day destroyed a life and devastated a family and also harmed the other family.

    I think most people overestimate their abilities when they believe they can use guns effectively in high stress moments.

    • ShannonEntropy

      The desire and commitment to protect your children and in some cases your spouse is easy to relate to…


      That is prolly the funniest post here maybe *ever* , bagi !!

      I know a lot of guys who wish their wives would get bumped off but never have any of them put it as sublimely as you have. Kudos to you hermano !!

  • Christopher C. Reed

    Nobody should be allowed possession of high-capacity self-loading sidearms except people like John O’Neil, late of West Greenwich.
    After all, when seconds count, 911 is only minutes away.

    • Rhett Hardwick

      Your link failed for me. When I was a kid and got “The American Rifleman” from the NRA, there was a monthly column “The Armed Citizen”. It was full of newspaper accounts of people defending themselves at home, there were really quite a few of them.

      • Christopher C. Reed

        probably the paywall, sorry. Site search Projo on “West Greenwich man beaten to death” returns multiple open links.
        “The Armed Citizen” only scratches the surface, but it’s not “News” cuz…”we say so.” The FBI stopped tracking defensive use cuz the Feebs track crime. Defensive use is not a crime, so, there’s nothing to track, see? If a tree falls in the forest..

        I remember a while back a defensive use right up the road in Attleboro (I think), made the Boston paper, but not the local, cuz…’not newsworthy. But if Prov’s finest find a 9mm casing on the street it at least makes the page 2 police blotter.

  • ShannonEntropy

    Wanna get your home or local school invaded by a fire-armed maniac ??

    Just post this sign on the door:×1000-c-top.jpg

    Haven’t you gun-control maroons ever wondered why these mass shooters never shoot up a police station ??

    • Rhett Hardwick

      Years ago, maybe the 70’s, Massachusetts passed a law regarding gun possession (I forget the content). Notice of the law was to be posted at every point a street entered the Commonwealth, and sure enough it was. Not sure if the law had any effect, but I notice the signs are gone.