Eighth-grade social studies class. A sea of gangly limbs, bad skin, and unfortunate haircuts attending a proto-law school. We spent weeks dissecting the Constitution, devoted particular attention to the First Amendment. Transfixed by the freedoms bestowed by our forefathers, we were giddy with the unlimited liberties that would await us in adulthood. Oh, the angst and naïveté of adolescents! Our teacher burst our bubble by demonstrating the boundaries of free speech. Unless the place is burning, one cannot scream “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, cause a stampede, and then escape with no liability to anyone hurt in the melee.
In our free country, the rights of the individual, though broad, are circumscribed by the rights of fellow citizens. Egocentric to an alarming degree, modern Americans seem to have forgotten that society is inherently a meld of personas, not a loose confederation of 325 million islands. We appear to have descended into a type of capitalistic anarchy, where we think we can do whatever we want as long as we have the means to do so.
Just as the First Amendment is not absolute, neither is the Second. Propaganda from powerful lobbies notwithstanding, when one’s right to a gun infringes on others’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, a conflict arises. That dispute is not resolved by the childish view that one side or the other can get exactly what they want: there is a middle ground. The center of this (literally) explosive Venn diagram contains words and actions of responsibility and reasonableness.
Dogs are awesome. Dogs that poop all over lawns and in rivers, that jump on others’ rafts, that slobber over the allergic, that bark incessantly in front of windows in the middle of the night are less than awesome. Panting pugs, lithe Weimaraners, indefatigable Australian Shepherds, and all breeds in between are an important part of many families. They are critical companions to the afflicted. The right to this canine bliss is counterbalanced by the mandate to enjoy it in a responsible fashion that does not unreasonably interfere with others’ rights to enjoy their own lives. Expecting good behavior from a pet is no more of a buzzkill than expecting the true “eggshell plaintiff” to not be ridiculously fragile.
Nothing is truly binary. An enthusiast of automatic weapons might also be deathly afraid of dogs. And yet, in line with our typical modern myopia, she may demand unlimited rights in connection with her guns while contradictorily demanding that dogs stay fifty feet away from her. She demands carte blanche while shackling the rights of others. This species of hypocrisy is becoming increasingly common.
This downward spiral can be reversed by a mutual recognition of the sanctity of the rights and feelings of the entire community. This is not socialism, it is reality. This is not communism, it is humanity. Caring about others should never be demonized. Respecting one’s neighbor is the bedrock of our democracy, not a sign of its downfall.
Typically reticent to tackle these types of provocative topics, I do so here in the spirit of cooperative discourse and not partisan ranting. If a hormone-addled preteen can internalize the lessons of legal relativism, we putative adults should be able to do so as well.