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January 2014

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When I went shooting this weekend, I noticed quite a few posters and pamphlets discouraging people from voting for Democratic candidates, claiming about John Kerry that (among other things) "this dog don't hunt" in reference to his views on gun control.

I found that phrase to be an odd choice, given the fact that I know Mr. Kerry does indeed hunt. But no matter that, the point of all the literature is pretty clear - vote for a Democrat, and you're voting against the right to own firearms.

This is, of course, a gross misrepresentation of his position. Would Kerry outlaw hunting rifles, shotguns, and hand guns? No, certainly not. But would he require background checks and waiting periods on some guns, and possibly outlaw assault weapons? Most likely.

What we have here is a classic case of the "slippery slope" argument leading people to overreact.

The "slippery slope" is indeed a logical fallacy, though it's not always outright incorrect. It's the same line of thinking that prompts people to defend hate speech, naziism, and other worthless "unpopular" speech - it's brought on by a fear that legitimate and useful unpopular ideas may also be repressed in the process.

Likewise do some gun enthusiasts wince at the thought of waiting periods and bans on some weaponry, even if the former is a minor inconvenicence and the latter may never impact anything they do.

I've been trying to poke holes at this particular analogy, as I happen to be a strong supporter of unpopular speech, but I have no moral qualms about restricting the availability of some types of weapons. The Bill of Rights is certainly no help in drawing a sane line, telling us only that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" and that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." If you stick strictly to the letter of the document, then anybody can say anything and own any weapon.

The Constitution, as cool as it undeniably is, suffers from a couple of issues when read purely literally. All men are created equal - yet, the founding fathers kept slaves (are they not men?) The founding fathers could not have predicted African Americans would one day receive equal treatment under the law, any more than they could have predicted the staggering abilities of current weaponry to kill and maim large numbers of people in short amounts of time.

It should be clear that the Constitution could not predict every eventuality, which is why it exists as a living document, one which can be modified by the people. But we have never modified it to restrict anybody's rights, save for with one dramatic failure (prohibition).

So what's the real problem here? Should we read the Constitution flexibly? Should we ammend it? Should we just abide by the letter of the law?

Of course, the Constitution does only refer to Congress, not to state or local governments.

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