Letter: Constitutional rights aren’t absolute

Karl Duckworth’s letter of April 26 shows that his view of “the rule of law” is myopic at best. I think that it is vital that everyone understand a very basic constitutional concept that is apparently not widely taught. Here it is: there is no such thing as an absolute right. Our Constitution does not protect any action by anyone unconditionally.

Duckworth cites what he refers to as “eloquent” language in the Second Amendment that absolutely prevents the government from taking any action to stop anyone from having whatever weapon or ammunition they desire.

This view indicates a total lack of understanding of our Constitution, its history and its interpretation by our courts.

There is other “eloquent” language in our Bill of Rights that also sounds absolute. The First Amendment says that Congress shall pass “no law” abridging the freedom of speech, but there are all kinds of laws that prohibit or limit speech. You can’t defame someone. You can’t give a speech in a Wal-Mart parking lot without Wal-Mart’s permission. Even if you want to speak in a public place, you generally have to get a permit.

You can’t incite a riot. Judges place gag rules on trial participants every day. We all know that you can’t falsely yell “fire!” in a crowded theater.

Our courts decided long ago that, even though the First Amendment says “no law,” reasonable laws can be passed that regulate the time, place and manner of speech or that limit speech in order to protect other interests, such as public safety. The same is true of our Second Amendment rights. Laws can be passed that work to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and lunatics.

Although our courts have sometimes overturned broad weapon bans, background checks and other reasonable limits on the availability of weapons or ammunition are necessary, proper and undoubtedly constitutional.

Michael Hale

IT consultant

Baton Rouge