The gun nuts–oh, I mean lovers of the Constitution–are at it again. The response to the latest mass murder included the comment, “SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.” Clearly the author thought this settled the matter.

I’m pretty passionate about the Constitution, myself. So let’s look at a different amendment, the First.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Pretty strong language. “No law . . . abridging.”

Have the courts determined that the First Amendment entirely prohibits any overlap between religion and state functions?

No. It is acceptable, for example, for the Congress to invite clergy to give an opening prayer. Some argue that this constitutes establishment of religion; the court finds that it doesn’t.

Have the courts determined that we the people have an absolute right to exercise our religion?

No. If our exercise of religion conflicts with other responsibilities of the state, such as the protection of children, it may be restricted. People have been convicted of child abuse for denying their children medicine on religious grounds, and the Supreme Court has concurred in this “abridgement” of their religious freedom.

Have the courts determined that the press may print absolutely anything?

No. Libel and pornography may be held illegal. Is that abridgement of the freedom of the press? Sure it is. And yet it seems to be acceptable. First Amendment activists believe in balancing freedom of the press with freedom from defamation, not dismissing the latter.

Have the courts determined that freedom of assembly is absolute? It says right here it can’t be abridged.

And yet a crowd may not walk down Market Street at midday without a permit, or even gather in a public park in large numbers without prior permission. It turns out that in consideration of other important principles, such as people being able to move freely around the city, the government may reasonably abridge a right, even one stated as baldly as those of the First Amendment. Even the ACLU doesn’t disagree. It will argue that parade fees can’t be excessive, and so on, but it doesn’t argue against fees per se.

So, what do you think? May the government put reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, or does the Second Amendment–

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

–mean that everyone must be able to buy any kind of arms, without any restrictions whatsoever? No background checks? No limit on what type of weapon or how many? For example, someone with diagnosed paranoia and a history of making threats cannot constitutionally be prevented from walking into a gun show and buying a weapon of war?

I would like someone to explain to me why not.

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