• Catherine White

Southern Tier Voices with Mary Joan Glanton

Updated: Jul 31

Balancing Rights and responsibilities Is the American Way


I attended one of the well-intentioned MARCH FOR OUR LIVES events held recently. Not long after my arrival, I began to believe that my time there was being irretrievably wasted and that this gathering, like many others, was just another futile, ineffective act that would give those attending a false sense of meaningful civic engagement leading to no tangible corrective action.


I left the event feeling despondent … really felt as if the wind were taken out of my sails. I was imagining the time when my now-adult children, Mike and Kate, were in elementary school and how I would have felt sending them into the danger that our school-age children now face. I was imagining the nightmares that they would likely have because of the active shooter drills.

Photo provided. Protesters at a recent community March For Our Lives rally.


I spent a good deal of time looking around my house for something that would snap me out of this funk…I was looking without seeing which just added to my despondence. Because I have recently decided to cut back on alcohol, my tried-and-true go-to wasn’t readily available.


I watched Steel Magnolias, thinking that by forcing tears out of myself, I could wash away my sense of uselessness. It turns out that I just poured salt in the wound.

During all of this, my wonderful wife quietly sat with me. At the end of the movie, she asked me to go outside with her and take a look at her vegetable garden. I really didn’t want to, but I put my sunglasses on to hide my red, bleary, mascara-smeared eyes and walked out the back door with her.


We looked for the swallowtail caterpillar that we saw the other day.


We are hoping she found a safe place to cocoon.


We pinched the basil.


We made plans for a salad to be made with her garden crop.


And then we saw the gypsy moths. Well, surprisingly, working with her to remove them seemed to move my spirit in the right direction.


Coincidentally, I recently purchased a small book with reprintings of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. This was the book that I picked up when I returned to the house. I read it … didn’t understand all of it, but I am committed to tucking in and doing just that.


In the meantime, two things stood out to me.


Our second amendment says in part, ” … the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” My understanding of this amendment is based upon the context of the time during which the Bill of Rights was passed. For me, that context was well laid out by David McCullough’s "John Adams". Without access to arms at that time, the United States would not have come to exist. The individual colonists were able to coordinate an armed opposition to the British forces. And to that, I say thank goodness.


Times have changed since then. Might there be an argument for an individual’s right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense? Certainly. This is where I believe it gets tricky. What arms?

As individuals we don’t own nuclear warheads. Please stay with me, here. We have had to trust that our government will maintain the weaponry to defend us collectively from threats to our union, welfare and liberty. So, I have to wonder, against what threats would an AK-47 or AR-15 protect an individual?

The Bill of Rights also includes the ninth amendment. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”


I understand from further reading that the authors of the constitution did not wish to allow the government to restrict any rights not mentioned in that document. This amendment also seems to say to me that we are responsible for exercising our rights in a way that does not diminish the rights of others.


We have an assortment of legal parameters around many of our rights intended to protect the welfare and liberty of the individual and society…take for instance the right of free speech and the crime of libel … or our right to peaceably assemble and the relatively widespread requirement to obtain a permit for marches, parades, etc.


With our rights, must come consideration for reason and responsibility. This is especially the case with respect to the second amendment and a citizen’s right to bear arms.


It is reasonable and responsible for a prospective gun-owner to meet specific milestones … age, safety training, renewable licensing, and registration.


It is reasonable and responsible to establish a legal process by which guns can be removed from individuals who are in crisis or who do not abide by the laws in place to ensure safe and responsible gun use.


It is reasonable and responsible to limit the access to assault weapons.


I believe that most of the gun owners I know would be able to exercise their second amendment rights uninterrupted even if these steps were taken. Results from a poll conducted by the Republican-aligned Common Sense Leadership Fund would indicate that 84% of the individuals in “gun-owning households” agree with most, if not all, of these reasonable and responsible measures.


Our rights as American citizens are precious. Our lives are more so. If enacting additional gun laws preserves American lives while ensuring reasonable and responsible gun ownership and use, I see no more reason to delay in crafting and passing those laws.

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