Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010
Remember when the only people afraid the government was going to start keeping Orwellian track of them were those dudes wearing cartridge belts and signs that read "You Can Have My AK-47 Semiautomatic 'Hunting-Rifle' When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead, Potentially Miracle Glue Coated Fingers"?
Come on, you remember, it was like . . . eight weeks ago, when strengthened federal gun restrictions were defeated. And you said, "How crazy do you have to be to think the federal government wants background checks for gun purchases so it can make a list of all the gun owners, and someday confiscate the guns?"
Well . . . how crazy do you have to be to think the federal government is wiretapping The Associated Press? To think the Internal Revenue Service would hassle right-wing advocacy groups based on the conservative buzzwords in their names? To think the feds would be granted access to information on every phone call made by every American?
Let us return to the crux of the adamant Second Amendment supporters' arguments. They contend that one of the reasons for the amendment, written by men who had recently overthrown a tyrannical government, was the belief that men sometimes need to overthrow tyrannical governments. And need firepower to do it.
Is our government tyrannical? By Founder standards, yes. We've lost the freedom to plan for our old age as we see fit: A huge chunk of our pay is confiscated by the government to be used to supply us (and others) with income and medical care in old age, as it sees fit. We've lost the right to choose when or how to be charitable to the less fortunate. Our money is taken to provide food, shelter, child care and a dozen other things to such people. The federal government is not granted the power to create such programs in the Constitution, and is expressly denied the right to exercise any powers not granted in that document.
You can argue that these programs were passed by duly elected representatives and that a majority of Americans support them, but the point of the Bill of Rights is to defy the majority, not bow to it. The point is that even if 60 percent of the people don't want me to have a gun, or be a Jew, or pick on the president, or make a dirty movie or hoard my money, I still get to. A lot of people who really support the right to own a gun don't support the right to build a mosque or protest on Wall Street. A lot of people who care about the right to march for peace don't think much of the Second Amendment.
Many folks don't care about a rabble-rousing press' right to be free of government oversight, or the right of any of us to make phone calls that are unmonitored. And most of us are now comfortable with Social Security and Medicare.
It can all be justified. Don't we want to foil terrorists? Find leakers? Stop the next Newtown? Save children, from violence, drugs, hunger, homelessness? Don't we want to care for our elderly and our sick?
Governments gather power unto themselves not by screaming, "We're taking your rights," but by trumpeting, "We're saving you from violence and terrorism," or, "We're guaranteeing no one starves or suffers."
The desire to live in a land free of negative consequences, free of violence and strife and terrorism, where hunger and illness and need are no more, is understandable. But it's also the very opposite of the desire to live in a truly free nation.
So you can have my Bill of Rights when you pry it from my cold, dead, possibly Miracle Glue-coated fingers. It's not doing much to constrain the government anymore, but it still makes damn fine reading.
LaneFiller is a member of the Newsday editorial board.