Friday, June 8, 2012

"First among equals"

That's a phrase that I hear a lot, but it bothers me.  If things are "equal" how can one be first?  And yet it seems to apply, at least in some circles, to the Bill of Rights which comprises the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Surely the rights protected in all ten amendments are equal, yet one seems to gain special favor among politicians, especially conservative ones, seeking office.

If you are like me you are probably hard-pressed to recite the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, so let me (with the able assistance of Wikipedia) summarize them here:

  • First AmendmentEstablishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause; freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly; right to petition

  • 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.
    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.[58]
    No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
    In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
    • Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.
    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
    Well, clearly our forefathers had our best interests at heart and recognized the threat to individual liberties which a strong central government posed, and they sought to limit the infringement of government on those liberties - all well and good.  But I don't think they ever intended that any one of the protected rights should ascend to superiority over the others.

    So why is it, I wonder, that of those first ten amendments the only one you ever hear specifically mentioned by politicians, especially Republican politicians, is the second amendment which protects (do I even need to say this?) the right to bear arms?  Well. let me answer my own question.

    The reason that the second amendment is "first among equals" is, very simply, the National Rifle Association - or NRA.  They are a very organized, well financed and highly effective special interest group that represents an industry that makes billions of dollars from selling firearms and accessories - to them, the second amendment is like a gold mine.  The more people who buy guns and ammunition, the more profits they make.  So they invest a lot of money ginning up "the right to bear arms" and supporting candidates who support, or who can be bought to say they  support,  unlimited, unrestricted gun ownership.

    So the next time you hear a candidate say, "I am a strong supporter of the second amendment", please remember that what they are really saying is, "I really want the NRA to support me with their money and political clout".

    It's too bad that the other nine amendments of the Bill of Rights don't have well-heeled special interest group advocating for the rights they protect - I have a couple of personal favorites that I think could use a "sugar daddy" to plead their case.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment