Denver Post Clueless about Bill of Rights

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Denver Post Clueless about Bill of Rights

by Ari Armstrong, January 26, 2000

The difference in quality between the editorials of The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post is astounding: turning to the pages of the Post is like returning to Junior High School. Though I often disagree with the editorials of the News, I can at least appreciate the reasoning behind the board's conclusions. Editorials from the Post, on the other hand, are frequently either silly or pathetic.

For example, on January 28 the Post claimed:

Not only has [Robyn] Anderson come forward to assure us that if she had had been required to give her name for an FBI background check, she wouldn't have bought the guns, but Eric Harris also said it himself from the grave. In the Columbine video tapes that Harris and Klebold made about their plans prior to the shootings, Harris said that if his father would have asked more questions when a gun shop called to say ammunition had arrived, the whole killing spree would have been canceled.

But what does Harris' concern about his father discovering his plans have to do with FBI background checks? The answer, clearly, is nothing. To find comparable examples of such specious "reasoning," one might turn to the pages of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

On February 24 the Post ran an editorial nearly as bad. The piece, entitled "Bigotry in Boulder," discusses prayer on the CU basketball team.

But of course the Post must find ways to insert its anti-gun message into even such a seemingly remote subject. The editorial begins:

How can you tell a gun nut from a civil libertarian? Easy. The gun nut will quote only part of the Second Amendment, claiming it confers an absolute "right of the people to keep and bear arms."

The actual Second Amendment is considerably more qualified, reading in full: "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."

However, the first clause of the Second Amendment is a rationale for the second, not a "qualification" of it, as the Post claims. To serve as a "qualification" or limitation of the right of the people to bear arms, the Amendment might have been worded, "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, only insofar as that right pertains to a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state." But that's not what the Second Amendment in fact says, and for good reason.

Those who contributed to the Bill of Rights did not consider the militia to be the sole purpose of the right to keep and bear arms. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers were fond of quoting Cesare Beccaria, widely regarded as the father of modern criminology. Jefferson quoted Beccaria's comments:

False is the idea of utility... that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it... The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity... will respect the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease and impunity, and which, if strictly obeyed, would put an end to personal liberty ... and subject innocent persons to all the vexations that the guilty alone ought to suffer? Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.

As Stephen Halbrook points out, even the complete denial of the first phrase "fails to imply the denial of the consequent in the conclusion" (That Every Man Be Armed, page 86). For a simple example illustrating the logic of the matter, if we consider the phrase, "Because green pigs fly to mars, two plus two equals four," we can see that the first phrase in no way "qualifies" or impacts the significance of the second phrase. Of course, it turns out that a well regulated militia is in fact necessary to the security of a free state, and that the militia is defined as all able-bodied adult men (and women should probably also be included as they have equal rights). But, while this is a very good reason in favor of the Amendment, it is by no means a limitation placed upon it.

For the Post to suggest that civil gun rights advocates somehow forget the first part of the Second Amendment just by failing to mention it formally is ridiculous. The only people I've ever heard quote only the conclusion of the Amendment (including myself) are also eager to quote it in full. I guess some of us still take it for granted that most people are actually familiar with the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and other primary documents. (Besides, the most adamant Second Amendment defenders place special emphasis on the first clause of the sentence, as it mentions both the militia and a free state.)

And if the Post is going to express its bias against activist gun owners by calling them "gun nuts," then I'll wear that label as a badge of pride, considering the source. I can readily counter that anti-gun-nuts such as those on the Post's editorial board wrongly claim that the first clause of the Second Amendment somehow invalidates or restricts the second.

* * *

But on to the main topic of the editorial. The Post claims that the ACLU's Judd Golden is "an anti-religious bigot" because he doesn't want Coach Ricardo Patton to lead Christian prayers on tax-subsidized property.

Now, I agree with the Post that Golden's actions are unnecessary, but for the Post to call him a "bigot" is rather much. Golden has a legitimate concern that Patton ought not advocate his religion with tax-subsidized property. The libertarian position is that schools shouldn't be tax-funded anyway, which dissolves the problem: private schools can pray or not pray as they see fit. But so long as schools are funded by taxes, there should be some kind of reasonable balance between religious freedoms and the separation of church and state. In my view, voluntary prayer fits in the reasonable tolerance zone, though I can see the point of Golden's objection.

But the Post also suggests that Golden's actions are a "violation of these young men's constitutional rights" (the ones who want to pray with their Coach). That's just ridiculous. Would the Post also consider it a "constitutional right" to promote, say, anti-Semitism or Satanism at a tax-subsidized basketball game? What the government funds, the government must regulate. Those regulations must include restrictions on the establishment of religion. Regardless of where those lines are drawn, no constitutional right is on the line. Now, when it comes to private institutions, I will defend passionately the right of each institution to promote or restrict any religion or idea it sees fit -- on its own property.

* * *

On February 25, the Post wrote again on firearms issues:

How do mandating safe storage of guns, making handgun purchasers be at least 21 years of age and requiring everyone who buys a gun to undergo a background check infringe on anyone's right to own a gun? They don't.

Well! With that astounding leap of logic, the Post has cleared the road for Governor Bill Owens' gun restriction package. It's so much easier to defend a position without having to worry about all those pesky points of intermediary reasoning. The Post can now just make God-like pronouncements and be done with it.

I wrote a reply to the Post which reads,

In an editorial, the Post asks, "How do mandating safe storage of guns, making handgun purchasers be at least 21 years of age and requiring everyone who buys a gun to undergo a background check infringe on anyone's right to own a gun?"

First, you might note that both the U.S. and the Colorado Constitutions refer to the right to "keep AND BEAR arms." It's pretty hard to bear arms against violent criminals if your gun is locked away in a safe.

Second, since when are 18-20 year olds not defined as "people" so far as their Constitutional rights are concerned? 18 year olds can vote, fight in war, and be held legally accountable as adults. They should also have the right to defend their families with a handgun.

Finally, the Colorado Constitution states, "The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property... shall be called in question." As the Post well knows, CBI checks have wrongfully denied permission to hundreds of law-abiding citizens in Colorado since August, forcing them to prove themselves innocent. In other words, their rights have been "called in question."

Owens took an oath to uphold the Colorado Constitution. He broke that oath, as did all the legislators who voted for SB-125 [the CBI background check bill].

In fairness to the Post, I should note that its editors were quite understanding of the recent pro-gun-owner rallies. In the same editorial, the Post wrote:

The planning session for the [Million Mom] march was held at the Foothills Unitarian Church. Outside, groups on both side of the debate let their agendas be known, which is wonderful. We're not saying gun advocates shouldn't be heard. They have every right to protest and make their feelings known...

Such a position was a refreshing alternative to the News' flagrant bias against the pro-gun-owner protesters. (See http://www.freecolorado.com/2000/02/retraction.html and http://www.freecolorado.com/2000/02/ftcollins.html.)

Even though it makes some good points sometimes, the editorial board of the Post has demonstrated that it has little understanding of either the First or the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com