America’s Constitution is dynamic, amended and modified to meet the demands of our changing society. The 21st Century has the seen change: technology, placing good and bad information at our fingertips, the 24-hour news cycle, identity theft, terrorism and mass shootings, and our values in America have changed at a remarkable pace. Any thesaurus description of “amendment” includes the word “improvement.” In this dense fog of rapid change, are the principles in our founding documents still valid?
The history of our Constitution demonstrates its dynamic flexibility. When written, slaves were three-fifths of a person and women couldn’t vote. As our knowledge and insight expanded, we now find it absurd that we counted three-fifths of a person or that women had no right to vote or serve on juries.
Do the principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution still represent our values? As Congress and our two-party system ebb and flow, and the barrage of media attention becomes overwhelming, we should revisit the principles of our foundational documents.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should not be dissected into individual values. One should not search for an individual right they hold dear and place that right above all others. These documents should be taken as whole cloth. The Declaration of Independence states “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and does not single out one right. It clearly states three values that are as important today as when penned by Thomas Jefferson.
If we chose one right over others, the right to life is consistently listed in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and is the fundamental right in which all others are based. No other right can be exercised without the right to life. The consistent rights in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the right to life and liberty. The right to bear arms is mentioned in the Second Amendment, while the right to life is boldly stated in the Declaration of Independence, listed in the Fifth Amendment and repeated in the 14th Amendment.
The Sandy Hook shooter took the right to life away from 20 children and six adults. These children will never exercise their constitutional rights because of our commitment to the Second Amendment, and their parents will have a tough time pursuing “happiness.”
In the 1960s, as a San Diego police officer, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and enforce the California Penal Code. Section 288(a) of the Penal Code made gay sex a felony. Our Constitution changed to meet the demands of both science and understanding, and gay relationships are now protected. Forty-nine people were killed in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. They lost their right to life because of our commitment to the Second Amendment permitting the shooter the right to an assault rifle, which contributed to 49 people, many from the LGBT community, losing their right to life.
Nine church members in Charleston, and 26 in Sutherland Springs, lost their right to life and their ability to exercise their First Amendment right – freedom of religion. Do we accept people being gunned down exercising their right to attend church? Is our commitment to the Second Amendment superseding the right to life in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?
Does the Second Amendment supersede the the First Amendment? Are the values of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” lost to the friends and families of victims? How do families pursue the right to “happiness” when a family member is a shooting victim? Are church shootings, nightclub shootings, work place shootings and the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the last straw? Mass shootings not prevented, but enhanced, by the Second Amendment.
The Las Vegas shooter, through the Second Amendment, purchased assault rifles, large-capacity magazines and bump stocks, and took the right to life from 59 people. They lost their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” because of the weight given to the Second Amendment.
Does the Second Amendment outweigh all other rights of the victims in Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Virginia Tech and the 33,000 Americans who have lost their right to life to gun violence last year. Have we lost the courage to protect the right to life? Don’t just shrug shoulders, wring your hands, and continue to ignore the reality that over 33,000 Americans will die from gun violence next year if we fail to act.
Robert C. Wadman is professor emeritus in the Criminal Justice Department at Weber State University.