The Constitution and Public Health
February 27, 2018
Recently, I invited two members of our community – a faculty member and a staff member – to make a post on my blog regarding their views on the recent shootings in Parkland, Florida. The first guest post, which follows, comes from our colleague Professor Inge Corless (School of Nursing). Inge has chosen to focus on the topic of the United States Constitution and Public Health. I hope you will take a moment to read this contribution. Look for another post soon! – Alex Johnson, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
– Preamble to the United States Constitution (Archives.gov)
In the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, insuring domestic tranquility is mentioned as one of the reasons for the development of the Constitution for the United States. It may be argued as to the interpretation of the phrase “insure domestic tranquility”. For some it may refer to the relationships among the states that had been established at the time. It may also result in ensuring the enjoyment of the blessings of life and liberty. If such is the case, then tranquility and security in one’s home, workplace, or school are encompassed by this statement. Indeed, safety and happiness while referring to the 13 colonies are basic to the Declaration of Independence and to the people inhabiting the colonies.
It may be argued that these references are with regard to the relationship of communities and colonies to each other; that these statements refer to the conditions of the time. And they do, and they don’t. While inspired by the conditions obtaining at that time, changes have been made to the Constitution. Such changes include ensuring the right to vote for people of various races and ethnicities (Amendment XV) and “sex” (Amendment XIX).
The right to bear arms is enshrined in the second Amendment:
A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (Archives.gov)
There is an indication that the right to bear arms was meant to allow citizens to respond, as members of the militia, to a dictator, and at that time, King George III was perceived as such. The Declaration of Independence enunciated all of the infringements and transgressions that necessitated the rupture of relations between England and the 13 Colonies. The Constitution provided the basis of a new government that ensured the remedies to what was perceived as tyrannical government.
Just as the Bill of Rights modifies the Constitution and expands our understanding making it pertinent to current conditions, so too should our laws specify the right to bear arms. Notwithstanding a Supreme Court ruling (2008), which pertained to the District of Columbia and allowed the possession of a handgun in the home and reversed previous rulings, such a law must cover technology not available when the Bill of Rights was enshrined in our pantheon of founding documents. These technologies, applicable to firearms, include:
- The restriction of assault rifles, sawed-off shot guns, semi-automatic guns, and bump stocks.
Other issues that need to be addressed with regard to all weapons include:
- Increasing the age to 21 when a weapon may be purchased
- Restriction on the sale of products at gun shows
- Background checks
- Improved systems of identification of potential shooters through various technological linking systems
- Red Flag laws identifying individuals who have indicated they plan to commit violent acts
This is not a constitutional issue, although it has been framed as that. It is a public health issue! There have been 34 mass shootings in the U.S. since January 1, 2018 (Gun Violence Archive, 2018). Let us support and stand with the courageous and eloquent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who are expressing their sorrow by civic action demanding a public health intervention: gun law restrictions, restrictions that will save lives. There will be a “March for our Lives” at the Boston Common on Saturday, March 24, from Noon–5:00 p.m. March, speak-up, vote. The time for change was yesterday. Failing that, it is now. – Inge B. Corless