Today, an anti-gun group tagged me on social media with a post using Memorial Day as a pivot to oppose Tiverton’s prospective declaration of status as a Second Amendment Sanctuary Town:
Beautiful day to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms.
Also a day to contemplate that those freedoms afforded us come with a responsibility to uphold our democracy and the rule of law .
Tomorrow evening the Tiverton Town Council will vote on a resolution to undermine their responsibility To do this.
The founders of our nation designed our Constitutional order to protect our fundamental, God-given rights from the natural tendency of people to attempt to dominate each other. Thus, neither the federal nor the state government runs the Tiverton Police Department; local elected officials do that. If a local government attempts to infringe on its constituents’ rights, they have recourse to higher levels of government for appeal, and similarly, when those higher levels of government are the ones attempting the infringement, the locals can decline to participate.
If, in turn, that decision somehow violates somebody else’s rights, then once again, they have recourse for appeals. Nobody should claim that it is easy to have 16,000 people living peacefully under consensual government, let alone 320,000,000. By definition, the answers to challenging questions are not obvious, and neither is the “will of the people,” and all must be balanced with some filters against the irrational impulses that can come in a wave of public sentiment.
Those whom we remember on this day gave their lives not only for the right of Americans to keep and bear arms, and not only for the right of other Americans to advocate for a more-restrictive regime, but for this entire system of ours — this experiment.
The nature of that experiment is profoundly relevant to the hard, painful fact of their deaths. Protecting rights in this intricate system of overlapping laws and elections is not only a matter of principle, but also a means of avoiding violence. A citizen who faces an injustice or who feels that he or she is not living under a government that represents his or her values can work for change without bloodshed.
(Citizens’ ability to be individually armed is, by the way, an important part of that balance, because nothing invites violence like a weak or unarmed opponent.)
Unfortunately, in a fallen world, our differences do sometimes come to blows. On our big, broad planet, evil ideals can take hold and fester in an individual mind and infect an entire country, and those who carry such diseases are not always content to spread them at the pace of persuasion. Sometimes the difficult differences between human beings do come down to a fight, and sometimes it isn’t obvious who is in the right.
So, the men and women of our military have defended our experiment, and what an honorable, noble calling that is! Throughout the ages, people have fought and died because they had no choice, or because life was short and brutal, even in peace, and battle at least brought clarity of purpose and adventure, or because they had been bred to war, or because they were caught up in some furor of popular pride, or because everything they held dear seemed under threat.
In the United States of America, everything we hold dear is protected by our respect for rights and for disagreement, by our Constitutional order. We fight among ourselves — or rather, we quote-unquote “fight” — with words and on the political battlefield.
The freedom to disagree in this way has come — and will continue to come — at the cost of diverse lives. Our freedom has been purchased and protected even by people with whom we would have shared almost no beliefs. Somewhere under those fields of stones are men and women who would have opposed this or that side in a local political dispute, and they deserve our bowed heads and respect no less than those who would have had different opinions.
And if our heads are bowed and if our attitude is one of somber respect, we should resist the urge to enlist our fallen soldiers in our wars — or rather, our “wars” — against each other.