A Self Evident Right

And somehow our conversation shifted. My wife, Charles, Judy and I were having a series of lovely discussions. They revolved around family, friends, careers and the lovely repast being served before us at this wonderful Paterson New Jersey Lebanese restaurant we had been so fortunate to unearth. Come to think of it, I believe it was Judy who had chanced upon this establishment. Now, my cousin Charles is possessed of an almost insatiable intellectual curiosity. And in the midst of his retirement he has decided to challenge himself further and enter the legal field. This is a decided left turn for him in that his previous exploits trod no ground remotely parallel to this particular endeavor. Tangentially, we discovered that his mother, may she rest in peace, also decided to enter the legal field after she had entered her retirement from her career as a New York City High School principal. This can be chalked up to coincidence however. In both the case of Charles and my aunt, Charles’ mother, the end goal was not to become a full-fledged attorney but, rather, a paralegal. To me, this is a wise end game. I had once practiced law and found the experience, on its best days, extremely distasteful. However, I found the study of law to be an immensely satisfying experience. The principals and logic of the legal discipline remain within me to this day. During our discussion I had incorrectly attributed the following quote to William Blackstone when it was, in fact Oscar Wilde. Mr. Wilde advised that “The study of law is sublime, and its practice vulgar.” This, of course, singularly explains Charles’ delight. And now we find Charles entrenched within the same enthusiastic embrace of legal study. I could not help but find myself caught up in his passionate discussions surrounding points of law and legal concepts over delicious offerings of falafel and kibbeh. I found my jaded sarcastic casts thrown off in the presence of his rabid enthusiasm for the torrents of otherwise new information passing through his newly opened floodgates. And as occurs to many who enter a new situation, the fresh pair of eyes discovers areas within which the more work-a-day amongst us overlook. As we discussed gun control, Charles raised what I considered an interesting point when he referenced the famous philosopher and physician, John Locke. Dr. Locke advised that the increased measure of the law should not be intended to limit individual freedoms but, in fact, to expand them. To this end, our discussion focused on law and the need for the increased governmental oversight of firearms, munitions and their respective dissemination and maintenance. It seems that the public’s recent focus on both sides of this issue has been that of the reduction of gun violence flying in the face of those that wish to indulge their fascination with firearms. On one side of the issue we find parents fearful for their children’s safety. They wish the authorities to exert greater control over the process by which guns are obtained. On the other side of the issue we have gun owners and lobbyists decrying government intrusion. Both sides of the issue are absolutely valid. And which side is right? Frankly, neither. Let us take a view surrounding the events involving the very formation of our country. In throwing off the shackles of English oppression the authors of the Declaration of Independence argued, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Let us take a look at another famous phrase forming the bedrock of our nation. The preamble of our Constitution advises as follows, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Neither of the above quotes are today topics of controversy. Within the Declaration of Independence the authors agreed that an unalienable right of the United States citizen is that of life. The Constitution declared that the people need to insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare of the citizenry. So what did John Locke mean by increasing laws and, thereby, enhancing freedom? At first blush, it would seem that more laws would logically translate into greater intrusion and repression. But a true government of the people would enact laws not to restrict freedoms but to enhance them I accordance with John Locke’s philosophy. And how does one do that? One does this by looking at the big picture. How can a government of the people secure the rights of individuals to securely go to school, or go to a movie or a museum while not depriving others of their pursuit of happiness by possessing firearms? A government does this by ensuring, to the best of that government’s ability, to those wishing to simply enjoy the freedom of life and liberty, that those possessing firearms are law abiding, have received appropriate training and sufficient licensure to retain such devices and, most importantly, have been determined to be of sufficient maturity and emotional and psychological stability to use these instruments. One might argue that a governmental entity or entities administering and assessing these conditions upon potential gun owners would be excessively invasive and, therefore, violative of the intent of both the Declaration of Independence as well as our Constitution. They are right, of course. But John Locke’s observation regarding enhanced laws and enhanced freedom would not be mutually exclusive if we look beyond the gun owner’s rights and towards the rights of those who simply want to walk amongst their fellow citizens in a worry free manner. Just as all speech is not free, not all privileges remain unrestricted. After all, without this, how could Charles, Judy, my wife and I enjoy our tabouli if we were more concerned about the next crazy to walk through the door?