In the wake of tragedy, a search for (easy) answers

In the wake of tragedy, a search for (easy) answers
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Not long after last week's tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the calls came for politicians to “do something.” As is often the case following such a tragedy, that "something" essentially boils down to rolling back Americans’ constitutionally-protected rights: limit the types of guns people can own, circumscribe the rights of the mentally ill, make it harder for Americans to exercise their rights under the Second Amendment.

It is a peculiar American phenomenon, that there is almost a reflexive demand to roll back civil liberties in the wake of tragedy, be it gun violence or otherwise. The Constitution, however, should not be subject to the whims of trendy causes celebre, or tinkered with after a splashy news event. To do so makes for bad politics, and even worse law.

One need look no further than the aftermath of 9/11 for the consequences of rash disregard for the Constitution following a high-profile tragedy — consequences that resonate nearly two decades later. When people demanded that the Bush administration “do something” to prevent similar terrorist attacks, the government was only too happy to oblige through a significant expansion of state power at the expense of individual rights. Mass warrantless surveillance continues to erode citizens’ privacy rights.


The Fourth Amendment is chipped away around the edges in terrorism investigations. Innocent Americans are placed on a Kafkaesque No-Fly List, and the prostrations one must endure before the security theater that is TSA airport security remain an affront to the dignity of flyers of all nationalities.

That the “something” demanded following a mass shooting in the United States would be any different is the stuff of fantasy. A “No-Gun List” would prove as byzantine and opaque as its airline counterpart, and almost certainly weaponized by partisan bureaucrats into a confiscatory regime. With liberal TV talk show hosts speaking of Christianity as a “mental illness,” one wonders just how broad a pro-gun control politician or civil servant would interpret the mental health grounds for circumscribing a citizen’s Second Amendment rights.

Like the government excesses post-9/11, there is a fear of the unknown — bordering on ignorance — driving the calls to roll back Americans’ gun rights. News media spoke of “automatic” gunfire in Parkland, yet sales of automatic weapons manufactured after 1986 are banned under the National Firearms Act, and those few pre-ban models in existence sell for tens of thousands of dollars. “AR-15 style” weapons — known to induce PTSD in reporters — are treated as evil personified, but carry only a mid-calibre round.

The reflexive demand to roll back rights following tragedy — whether it be a terrorist attack, mass shooting or other such incident affecting the nation as a whole — speaks to a deeper problem. It is not necessarily a lack of respect for constitutional rights per se, but rather, a lack of respect for the constitutional rights of others. In that regard, Republicans and hawkish Democrats can support the post-9/11 expansion of the American national security apparatus because the targets will not be white farmers in Iowa, but Arabs and Muslims.

Likewise, progressives take no issue with gun control because the loss of rights largely impacts the vast swathe of Middle America residents whom they hold in contempt. So long as the Hollywood set is allowed to keep their armed security, there is no problem calling for a wholesale upending of the Second Amendment for the chattering masses.

This dynamic is sadly evident on the country’s college campuses. Left-wing activists see no problem with shutting down, disrupting or otherwise no-platforming “controversial” (aka conservative) guest speakers under the constitutionally-illiterate notion that “hate speech” — defined as anything to the right of Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Harris facilitates coin toss at Howard University football game Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE — is not protected speech. Were the shoe on the other foot, say, College Republicans storming the stage of a speech by a pro-choice or open-borders activist, one imagines progressives might reconsider their “free-speech-for-me-but-not-for-thee” attitude.

It is a troubling path to go down as a society. Everybody demands constitutional rights, but people are considerably more circumspect when it comes to defending the rights of others. The result is a sort of constitutional gainsaying whereupon conservatives and progressives simply chip away at the rights of each other — Democrats trying to restrict speech or gun rights, Republicans trying to roll back protections for abortion or privacy in the name of national security.

Respect for the constitution is key, but more importantly, so too is respecting the constitutional rights of others.

Allan Richarz is a privacy lawyer in Japan. Follow him on Twitter @AllanRicharz.