Gun rights threaten our civil rights

Filibuster for Gun Safety is one way to respond

WE HAVE A RIGHT to free speech. It is perhaps our most celebrated right as Americans. But no one has the right to cry “fire” in a crowded theater. Every right is subject to the tests of common sense, common decency, and a fair understanding of how the exercise of one right actually damages the exercise of another right.  Every right, it seems, except the right to bear arms.

The recent Supreme Court decision striking down a New York law requiring people to demonstrate “proper cause” for carrying concealed firearms in public is soon expected to bring legal challenges to Massachusetts gun laws. Americans are now dangerously close to having all of our other rights be essentially subjected to just one right – the right to have and use weapons of war against each other.

This concern is not hyperbolic, but a growing clear and present danger to our civil rights, our civic life, and in fact a daily threat to our lives.

The First Amendment protects our right to assemble. Yet, when concertgoers in Las Vegas assembled for an evening of entertainment, 58 people were murdered in a matter of minutes. What does it mean to have a right to assemble if we are shot down when we gather in a public space? 

The First Amendment also protects our right to worship as we choose. Yet, in Pittsburg 11 people were killed in their synagogue and in Charleston nine worshippers were killed in their church. What does it mean to have the right to worship as we choose if we can’t sit safely in our pews?

In America, every child has a right to an education. Yet, in Columbine and Marjory Stoneman Douglas high schools and in elementary schools in Sandy Hook and Uvalde — and too many others — our children have been massacred. What does it mean to have the right to an education, when our children no longer feel safe in school? 

The Framers of the Constitution certainly had no conception of the fire power that would be in the hands of Americans today — weapons of war that can kill enormous numbers of people in seconds with semi-automatic triggers and high-capacity magazines.

While it is promising that Congress passed significant bipartisan gun safety legislation, breaking the densest logjam of American politics, the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down New York’s concealed carry law continues to put the Second Amendment on a pedestal of hyper protection, threatening the safety of our neighborhoods, cities, and states.

This ruling and the attempt to undermine any effort to regulate firearms is out of touch with the American people, over 90 percent of whom support strengthening, not rolling back, gun safety measures. During the recent gun safety debate in Congress, I was riveted to my computer screen and often brought to tears watching a remarkable and diverse array of Americans share their authentic and deeply affecting testimony on a remarkable new platform, 24-7, The People’s Filibuster For Gun Safety.

The brainchild of Alan Khazei, a Democrat, and John Bridgeland, a Republican, 24-7 is a simple and powerful idea: let Americans from across divides speak from their hearts about the need for gun safety measures – around the clock, until Congress acts.

The nearly 200 hours of testimony included hundreds of people in over 30 states. Richard S., a Texan, NRA member, and veteran turned in his AR-15 and testified about the need for gun safety reforms.  Ginny R, a fourth grader, listed how she had meticulously planned her potential active shooter escape routes from every part of her school. Patience C., described her experience being shot with an automatic rifle and watching friends be murdered while celebrating a graduation at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Our generation’s task is to rebalance the rights of responsible gun ownership with all the other rights that we hold dear as Americans.  The voices of the American people are exactly what our country – especially our leaders in Congress and yes, our Supreme Court, who gain their seats through political processes – need to hear and heed. Especially when it comes to gun violence.

With Capitol Hill in near lock down because of the violence of January 6, people can no longer walk the halls of Congress and knock on doors, like generations of Americans have done. We have to find another way in, to talk to Congress and also to each other.  We have to find a way, like the 24-7 People’s Filibuster For Gun Safety, to show the unity, will, and resolve of the American people to come together and do hard things. This is how we will save our own, our children’s, and our grandchildren’s lives. It’s also how we will reclaim our democracy.

Michael Brown is principal of Public Purpose Strategies and co-founder of City Year.