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Letter: Limits on freedoms

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

This sounds unequivocal. Yet nearly 100 years ago, Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously declared that “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a theater and causing panic.”

In a recent guest column, Richard Teague recited 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.”



“What part of that is so difficult to understand?” he wonders. “It means what it says.”

Mr. Teague goes on to declare that guns only make us safer, even in schools and on airplanes.

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But are gun rights absolute? Or, as in the case of free speech, are there reasonable limits? Maybe it was no coincidence that the Post Independent ran a letter to the editor right next to Teague’s piece. Patrick Hunter quoted the pre-eminent conservative legal scholar of our time, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in the court’s affirmation of gun rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

Scalia argued that “… nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

If our rights under the Second Amendment were absolute, wouldn’t we have the right to own tanks, cruise missiles or even our own nuclear stockpile?

Most citizens agree that somewhere between a teenager shooting pop cans with a bolt-action .22, and a paranoid schizophrenic on the FBI terrorist watch list holed up with an AR-15 and 10,000 rounds, lies reasonable compromise. With patience and goodwill, maybe we can get there. In the meantime, absolutist rants like Mr. Teague’s don’t help.

Ed Colby

Peach Valley


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