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An erosion of our rights

We continue to hear and read comments concerning gun control and ways to limit gun violence in the United States.

Arguments often turn to a discussion of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with every participant a constitutional scholar, each of us endowed with an inalienable right to interpret the document in a way that benefits our cause. For some, the document is inflexible, its words taken literally, without attention to any but an 18th century context. For others, it is a “living” document, one that must be understood and adjusted as conditions warrant.

What interests us most is not the swirl of opinions concerning the Second Amendment to the Constitution, but the relative inattention given to growing pressure on other rights — some of which we regard as equally important as maintaining a “well regulated militia” with the guarantee of the right to bear arms.

We wonder why there is not more outrage when it comes to erosion of rights defined in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments — with pressure riding a wave of fear caused by 9/11. It is a pressure that, at times, seems to counter a concept expressed in the preamble to the Bill of Rights: “The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

Assaults on notable declaratory and restrictive clauses by government (involving assent by representatives of both political parties) have been made since 9/11 in the name of deterring terrorist attacks on the U.S. Their scope is breathtaking and largely unexamined.

Amendment IV deals with the privacy of the person and a person’s possessions.

It reads: “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.”

The ongoing, warrant-less acquisition of personal information by government agencies (in particular phone calls and e-mail communications) is in violation of the amendment. Most Americans are blissfully unaware of the billions of bits of data taken in and analyzed on a daily basis — nearly all of it gathered without probable cause.

The Fifth Amendment deals with due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination and eminent domain. The Sixth Amendment deals with the right to a speedy and public trial, with a trial by impartial jury in cases of major offenses. There is evidence that arrests are being made counter to the one amendment and, further, that a guarantee of a speedy trial is not always observed. Once this door is open, where do we go?

While the Constitution in no place specifically deals with an express “right to privacy,” the first two amendments mentioned above touch on aspects of privacy that most of us assume are a key characteristic of our freedoms as Americans. There are some who claim a broad reading of the Ninth Amendment does the same.

While there is scant evidence the federal government has plans to confiscate firearms owned by law-abiding Americans, there is mounting evidence the fox is in the hen house relative to these other critical rights. Gun control takes center stage due to the emotional nature of the issue, but we believe activities threatening other fundamental rights should cause a conscientious American as much, or more, concern.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on January 24, 2013.