Last night, the Tiverton Town Council considered a resolution declaring status as a Second Amendment Sanctuary Town. It failed by a single vote, although we’ll be taking it up again on Monday, but the most important part of the discussion was the political philosophy humming beneath the discussion:
Town Administrator Jan Reitsma said he had concerns with the resolution because “there’s a little bit of a tone in there” that if you disagree with the state law you’ll not enforce it. “It puts the Police Department in a difficult position,” he said. “I’m supposed to uphold the law” as are all officials, but “this creates a little bit of ambiguity.”
In a similar vein, Council Member Tricia Hilton explained her “no” vote by emphasizing the process for changing laws or having them nullified. First the state passes the objectionable law, then opponents either advocate for legislative changes or challenge it in court, then it goes up the ladder until nine justices in the Supreme Court decide the matter for the entire nation.
In general, that’s the process we should follow, but if we bleach that “little bit of a tone” out of everything we do, the process becomes a one-way path to progressive tyranny. The state finds it easier to infringe, little by little, than the people find it to pursue judicial relief. Inch by inch, we lose our freedom.
When government officials, elected and appointed, take oaths, we do so to uphold the Constitution, not the Supreme Court. We vow to obey the law, not the legislature. In this fine distinction rests the entire health of our republic. As higher tiers of government impose laws on the lower tiers, they must be wary of overstepping their bounds. The lower tiers must not be seen as inferior; we all have a duty to resist the overreach and the tyranny of each other. We all are the judges of constitutionality.
With all the talk about the Constitution at Tiverton Town Hall, I couldn’t help but contrast two observations. On one hand was the tidy vision of an orderly series of procedural steps that we supposedly must follow when our rights are under threat. On the other hand were the American Revolution-style graphics on some of the yellow t-shirts in the audience. Remember: Our Constitution was written by people who’d reached the limit of their tolerance for a futile, but orderly, process of appeals and petitions and therefore started a war of independence.
As those who control the process move to make criminals of people who possess certain kinds of guns or who carry their rifles in their cars, let them hear the mild tone in a phrase about “discretion when enforcing laws impacting the rights of citizens under the second amendment.” And let them know that next will come:
To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot submit, but in hopes their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a revision of them, restore us to that state, in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have for the present, only resolved to … prepare an address to the people of Great-Britain, and… a loyal address to his majesty…
… whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…
Among animals, a growl or a rattle not only foretells but prevents a bite. Just so, among people a tone can prevent a fight. When, out of propriety and a sense of good form, government officials refuse to convey a tone that many of their constituents feel vibrating beneath their skin, they prevent corrections that might avoid worse if only the trespassers could hear.