Original Intent, the Second Amendment and my nerdy love for James Madison

James Madison Memorial, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

James Madison Memorial, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

James Madison, father of the United States Constitution and co-author of the Federalist Papers, once said in a letter to Judge Roane (Virginia judge and member of the Virginia House of Delegates),

It could not but happen, and was foreseen at the birth of the Constitution, that difficulties and differences of opinion might occasionally arise in expounding terms and phrases necessarily used in such a charter . . . and that it might require a regular course of practice to liquidate and settle the meaning of some of them.

Or to put it in current, less founding father-y language: The US Constitution is necessarily vague and will need to be continuously interpreted throughout history.

Madison knew from the outset that anything that was written in the Constitution would have to be interpreted through the lens of the current period in history.  While I know better than to speak for the “founding fathers” as though they were of one unified opinion, in this they were mostly in agreement.  The Constitution would need to be a living document.

Of course, that idea is still the source of much debate.  (Interestingly similar to the debate about how literally we should take the Bible, really.)  But let’s assume for a moment that we SHOULD interpret the Constitution using original intent.  (We shouldn’t.  But let’s do it anyway.)

What was the original intent of the Second Amendment?

The text of the ratified version of the Second Amendment states,

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.

Most people understand this to mean that citizens should be permitted to arm themselves for their own protection.  We often think about the needs at the time of the ratification of the Constitution – protection against Native American attacks, protection against wildlife, the need to hunt for game, etc.  Many people understand, correctly, that this was also an intent to allow the citizens to protect themselves against tyranny, based on the phrase “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”

What is misunderstood, however, is that the original intent of the Second Amendment was to appease the groups of Americans who opposed any sort of “standing” army.  A very large contingent of Americans believed that the United States should have no permanent, regular army or armed force.  They believed that protection of the new nation should be in the hands only of state-based, primarily volunteer, militia.  To many, an army that was funded by the central government was the very core of tyranny.

Madison wasn’t totally on board with that.  He knew that a central military that was funded by federal tax revenues would be necessary for viable protection of the country against foreign enemies, but like most US citizens until WWI, foresaw a very small, centralized force supported by volunteer corps when needed.  But to appease those who feared the central military, he included in the drafted Bill of Rights the specific rights for militia to continue to exist.

If you are going to go with original intent, you have to know what the original intent actually was.

I often hear arguments against any revision of gun control policy that point to the “original intent” of the Second Amendment, citing a citizen’s right bear arms in protection against tyranny.  Maybe that was true, but the original intent of the Second Amendment has been invalidated, unless you also prefer to also abolish or drastically minimize the US military.  Of course you don’t.  That’s insane.  Few US citizens today would argue for a smaller military.

I’m not in favor of abolishing the Second Amendment.  I think it has value and I think citizens do have a right to bear arms for protection.  (Yes, even “protection against tyranny”.)  I also believe, as James Madison did, that the US Constitution is necessarily a living document, requiring re-interpretation as the world evolves and changes.

 The world has certainly evolved and changed, and it is time for re-interpretation.

Hope and Love Last Longer

rainbowhands

Some days the madness in this world takes my breath away.  And some days it simply breaks my heart.  After the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, to say that my heart is broken feels like an understatement.  But more than sadness, there is anger – and an almost desperate need to take action.  To create change.  To promote healing.

But I’ve struggled with what to say or if I should say anything at all.  There’s too much and anything that I have to say is not enough.

Do I focus on drawing attention to the victims?  Young men and women gunned down, many of whom were just at the beginning of their lives.  What could they have accomplished?  What have we missed out on because they were taken from us too soon?  Take a moment to listen to the names of those who were senselessly murdered.  (Anderson Cooper, CNN.)

Should I talk about the attack on the LGBT community?  A community that I feel so personally connected to and yet I sometimes forget how dangerous it is for my friends and loved ones.  I forget how brave you have to be, even in 2016, to be out, to be proud and to still choose love in the face of hate. (Kevin Chorlins, Facebook post)

Is now the time to remind everyone that your words matter?  Every time you marginalize the LGBT community, you feed the hate. Every time you sneer at affection between same sex couples.  Every time you insist that the Bible tells you that someone else’s love in invalid. Every time you use the words faggot or dyke.  Every time you equate homosexuals or transgender individuals with pedophiles and sexual predators.  Maybe you are just joking.  Maybe you are just uncomfortable.  Maybe you think you are doing the right thing.  You wouldn’t pick up a gun and shoot someone you don’t understand, so why are your words important? Your words are seeds that get planted in the fertile soil of someone looking for a reason to hate and to act on it.  Choose them carefully.

Do I get angry and lash out at those who insist on placing blame?  Was religion a factor?  Was the shooter a IS sympathizer?  Is right-wing Christianity as much to blame for the persecution of the LGBT community?  Was the gunman mentally ill? Does any of that even fucking matter?  Call it terrorism.  Call it a hate crime.  It is both.  Blame society, but we are all “society” and if we aren’t working to be a part of the solution, then we are, indeed, a part of the problem.

Is it too soon to pull out the soapbox and talk about gun control? I see the Facebook posts about how President Obama (the Democrats, the Liberals…whoever) want to take away the guns from law abiding citizens as a reaction to this violence.  That is complete bullshit and perpetuating that myth keeps us from making any real progress.  There’s a real debate to be had about reasonable gun control and how we protect the second amendment, but we can’t have it until the lies coming from special interest groups are taken out of the discourse.  (PBS Newshour, President Barack Obama to gun owners.)

Can I bring myself to put all of the negative aside and ask you to choose love?  Is it naive to have hope, even now, that that world can change for the better?  Now, more than ever, we need to remember that “hope and love last longer”. (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tonys acceptance sonnet)

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.*

 

(This blog post should be subtitled,  Holy shit, what have I done?)

About a month ago, I was talking with my therapist about risks.  I have always thought of myself as risk adverse, while she pointed out that some of my decisions could be thought of as risky to others.  On my recent weekend in Gettysburg, this came up again when a fellow traveller thought my solo travels, which are restorative for me, were brave and awesome.

My therapist and I landed on a theory about my perspective on risk: For me, putting together a plan, communicating and sharing that plan, and being held accountable for the execution of that plan is what I find to hold the most risk.  I’m not talking about a project plan at work or a planned vacation.  I’m talking about a life plan that requires me to communicate what I want to accomplish to other people, who could then potentially see me fail.  I have rarely furiously pursued things that I was passionate about because of a fear of failure.  Not that I haven’t failed.  I have.  Spectacularly.  But it’s easier to fail when you were pursuing something that didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

(Oy.  Stephenie B – as I wrote that I realized that you and I talked about the same damn thing the other day with perfectionists and exposure, and I just now made the connection.  Now I want to rethink everything I’m about to say, but I still need to just get it out there!)

prettyfastLast Tuesday, I was accepted to graduate school.  Not just to audit a history class that was never going to be my life’s work, but to get my master’s degree and ultimately be licensed as a mental health counselor.  To change the direction of the rest of my life. And I really want this.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to go to school full time and work full time.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to tell all of you about it, put myself out there, and risk the possibility that I might fail.  I don’t think that I will–this isn’t about pessimism versus optimism–but I could, and I’m still pursuing it.

Today, I bought a house.  My mom, my dad and I are moving in together, just a few doors down from my sister and her family.  Our houses aren’t even on the market yet, but the perfect house came up and I needed to take a risk, make a long term plan and commit. Sharing a house with my parents in shouting distance of my sister, brother-in-law and nieces?  If that isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.  But I’m all in and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it great.

What is the connection to Ferris Bueller?  I have jumped right into the deep-end of this risk stuff this week.  It’s happened so fast, but I want to stay present and aware of this moment and this shift that is happening in myself and in my life.  I think in two or three years, I’m going to look back on this period of eight days as the moment my storyline shifted.

 

* If you didn’t already know the origin of the quote, you haven’t watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enough times.  How many times is enough?  It’s never enough.  Watch it again.

We are all awesome ladies.

IMG_1060Last Friday, after a long week, I took myself away for a weekend.  Just a quick trip to Gettysburg – a bed and breakfast, a morning at the spa, and a day of historical tourism.  A perfect weekend.  There was much reading.  There was a fireplace.  There were freshly painted toenails.  It was a perfect weekend.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed breakfast with a couple of fellow travelers – and after explaining that I was, in fact, traveling alone and that I did so quite often,  one of my new friends remarked that I was an “awesome lady”.  It was brave, she thought, to travel on your own.

While I try to remind myself that I am an awesome lady as often as possible, I have not, generally, thought of traveling solo as a brave act.  For me, it is firmly within my comfort zone to make a last minute reservation, throw some stuff in my car and take off for a few days.  I can also acknowledge the immense amount of privilege in my life that allows me to do this without worry.

My intention with this short post is not to either shake off or lessen my own “awesome-ness”, nor is it an attempt at #humblebrag (although re-reading the paragraphs above, I’m afraid that’s how it has come across).  My point is that someone else looked at my actions as brave, because it was something that she wished to do.  I need to remember that things that I take for granted as easy and comfortable are, in fact, small acts of bravery that make me awesome.

But that is true in reverse, as well – those acts of bravery that I see others accomplishing that are awesome and courageous.  Taking a yoga class for the first time.  Raising children.  Being a volunteer fire fighter.  Standing up in front of a classroom of children or teenagers as a teacher. Driving a large truck.  Performing on stage. Tiling your own kitchen backsplash. Eating exotic food. Running a 5K. Wearing white pants.

There are a million brave acts – some large and some small – that I observe with awe.  Every single one of you has done something that I think is unbelievably brave, possibly without even a second thought.  So you, too, are awesome ladies (and gentlemen).  Embrace your unique brand of bravery!

 

Oh, Wendy.

For my non-Pittsburgh area friends, this blog post probably requires a little back story.

FB_WendyBellWendy Bell is (or was, until very recently) a very popular local news anchor.  Everyone knows Wendy, and through the magic of social media, we all know about her kids, her husband, and her take on family values. Lots of people love her, because they can relate to her.  And everything points to Wendy Bell being a Pittsburgh mom who loves her city, loves her family and genuinely cares about the people around her.

Wendy Bell is almost certainly not a Racist.

Recently, after a devastating mass shooting that killed five people and an unborn child at a backyard BBQ, Wendy took to Facebook to try to make sense of the tragedy.  Read the original post here, along with more context.  A lot of people read her original post and did not think there was anything wrong with it.  (In fairness, even many Wendy supporters could easily see where she went wrong in that original post.)  If you are one of those who didn’t see any issue, though, let me try to summarize:

1.) Making an assumption (particularly one so firmly stated as fact) that the perpetrator of a crime was a young black man is a racist conclusion.  You’ll say that it is based on statistics and history, but that’s the thing about racism.  If we continue to allow it, it is self-perpetuating.  That’s what leads to the systemic nature of racism.

2.) Taking that a step further and making assumptions about that fictional young black man’s upbringing and back story – that he has siblings from multiple fathers, for example – is even more glaringly racist.

3.) Ending with an uplifting story about the young black man working at the restaurant and making something good of his life is not just generally condescending, but blatantly racist.  That young black man might have an IQ of 150, be a student at Carnegie Mellon, and the son of two wealthy professional parents.  Using one young black man as a comparison to another (let’s remember, fictional) young black man is racism.

This isn’t the first time that she’s posted something to Facebook or said something in a public forum that exposed her white privilege.  Her comments on the University of Missouri’s racial tensions made me cringe several months ago (and unfortunately her social media accounts are disabled and I was unable to find the text online).

Again, I don’t think Wendy Bell is a Racist, with a capital “R”.  However, I do think that she is a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege.  I am also a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege.  Sometimes I make assumptions and jump to conclusions in my mind that I’m ashamed of.  But I work hard with every thought, word and action to fight against that ingrained racism and white privilege, and I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my days.  Based on Wendy’s readiness to share her thoughts with her immense audience via social media, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t recognize how that white privilege and ingrained racism impacts the way she sees the world.

I am happy to see that most Pittsburghers agree that her original post displayed (at the very least) an insensitivity to the subject of race.  The division now is – Should Wendy Bell have been fired from her job at WTAE?  Given that it isn’t the first time that she was forced to apologize and that this particular incident was related to one of the most horrific crimes that Pittsburgh has endured in recent memory, I don’t think the station had any other choice.  She’s become too divisive to remain on the air.

I wish the best for Wendy Bell.  My sincere hope is that she finds a project on race relations in Pittsburgh to which she can devote her admirable energy and share lessons on tolerance that are sorely needed in our city.

Even if you can’t relate to my challenges, perhaps you might relate to the struggle.

I'm still here!I haven’t written a real blog post in over six months. It isn’t that there hasn’t been anything going on with me. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say. Figuring out how to say it, however, has been a challenge that I’m only just now even attempting to meet.

I recently wrote something for another venue where I talked about my passion for creating safe space for others to share their personal challenges and triumphs. While I think that this safe space is often something very intimate – one-on-one conversations with a friend – I also believe that sharing my own imperfect journey via social media is a way of opening up some safe space, albeit in a far less intimate way. Even if you can’t relate to my specific challenges, perhaps you might be able to relate to the idea of struggle.

After having to say goodbye to the most amazing therapist (due to her move to another state), I am happy to say that I have found another, similarly wonderful person with whom I can continue to learn. With her, I am addressing two of my personal addictions – shopping and food – in a way that I have never done before, and quite frankly, with mixed success. Now very conscious of my previously unconscious thoughts, I find myself putting an extraordinary amount of energy into recognizing, acknowledging and redirecting my thoughts. It is exhausting and has made me more irritable and difficult than normal. But I’m noticing changes in my thought patterns already, which is just enough to keep me going forward.

I am also trying to understand and address some lost relationships that I’ve experienced over the past year. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t understand why these ties dissolved, but what I don’t understand is why I allowed it to happen. Some of the most important relationships in my life have been frozen this year, and I have not taken the steps that would be necessary to restore them. It’s a failure that I am deeply ashamed of, but I do still feel stuck in inactivity.

And while those things are addressing the negative energy, there is a lot of positive, as well.   I believe that I’ve finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m pursuing a path that feels right in a way that nothing really has before. And while I’m not yet ready to discuss the details, I will be sharing more in months to come.

I swore I would never move again.

I swore I would never move again.

With all of that happening, I am also preparing to sell my house and buy a house with my parents. I am certain that this will spawn many blog posts to come, as preparing to live together again is challenging, exciting and a tiny bit terrifying. We’re still six months away from any actual move, but preparing two houses for sale, planning to consolidate into a single house again, and mentally preparing for everything involved in selling, buying and moving… The stress of such a move starts early.

I do plan and hope to return to blogging more often in the months to come. I suspect that my posts may become more personal—more about myself and less about the world at large. I have no doubt that I will return to social activism from time to time, and hopefully in a bigger way in the future, but for now, I am giving myself permission to focus on my own world.