Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Rep. Giffords assassination attempt reminds us that Constitutional rights bring responsibilities

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Here is what we know: someone has been charged with the assassination attempt of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). In the incident, 6 died and 14 were wounded outside a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday. And police have said that Rep. Giffords was the target of the assassination attempt.

And we won’t know for some time as to the extent of the long-term injuries that Rep. Giffords have suffered.

This story has guns, magazines, mental illness, gun references in politics, intense political rhetoric, and anger in our media.

We have this exaggerated impression about our first two amendments while the other amendments seems to go by with very little notice. True, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is paying attention to the 14th Amendment, even if he doesn’t quite get what it means.

And Sarah Palin has confused private business with government in the First Amendment on more than one occasion.

As the Fourth Amendment has been severely damaged and others have been knocked around, the prevailing mood is that the Second Amendment is so pure that a clearly disturbed person can purchase a magazine designed for no other purpose than to kill a bunch of people.

There was a special on former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey that noted his tenacity in helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Of course, this spotlighted the fact that we passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and didn’t enforce those Amendments for 100 years.

Rep. Giffords read the First Amendment as part of the political stunt of reading the Constitution before she went back home to Arizona. Yes, a political stunt not so much in reading the Constitution, but that Congressmen are already required to uphold and defend the Constitution, yet seem to have problems understanding what the words actually mean. Reading them out loud, especially by people who blew off the swearing-in process (where you have to swear to uphold and defend the Constitution), won’t make anyone smarter about what is in the document.

Ironically, we had a situation where the First Amendment — the peaceful right to assemble — was tragically undermined by a narrow take on the Second Amendment in an act designed to intimidate the right of the First Amendment in our society.

This takes us to the second conflict where the threat of the Second Amendment is designed to restrain use of the First Amendment. “Second Amendment remedies” and Congressmen shown as targets in cross hairs — these are examples where threats backed up by the Second Amendment was used to browbeat people into not voting or not voting for the person they wanted in office.

And the MSM, protected by the First Amendment, takes no significant notice of these Second Amendment threats against our democracy. They reward those who use these phrases with more attention and don’t have any sense of deploring little if any concern for violent imagery.

The event marred by the assassination attempt on Rep. Giffords was the truest example of the First Amendment — peacefully assembled to participate in democracy. In the United States, we have a representative democracy; they represent us in Washington. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was exercising that right, as were the people who came down to see her outside a grocery store on a Saturday morning. Some of those people died in the exchange, including a federal judge, a 9-year-old who was learning about politics, and at least one Republican who may have disagreed with Giffords’ stands, but liked the Congresswoman for who she was. Others were shot participating in democracy, but will likely live through the experience.

Constitutional rights bring responsibilities. We had an assault weapon ban, but Congress (under GOP rule) didn’t renew it. We have a MSM that doesn’t discourage violent imagery in political conversation and landscape. They have rights granted by the Constitution, but not the level of responsibility. In the reading of the Constitution, responsibility got left out of the debate.

For our country to be strong, we need to match Constitutional rights with democratic (small d) responsibilities. Saturday’s shooting proves we aren’t even close.

graphic courtesy of

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