One of the most ludicrous positions in the US constitutional debate is the notion that one must remain wedded to intent of the original framers of the Constitution. In other words, it should not be a living document. I may start to sound like a broken record on this one, but this reflects a wholly Protestant approach, secularized sola scriptura. Catholics, of course, appeal to the unwritten natural law and try to discern what is right from basic principals. Everything stems from the fact that the Word of God is a person, Jesus, and not a mere text. It follows that the starting point is the recognition that every human being is endowed with God-given human dignity that must always be respected.
Now, if this is in accord with written law, fine. If not, then an effort should be made to change the law. The founders accepted slavery. We don't. We have learned that torture is gravely evil. We have come to the realization that the death penalty debases humanity, and should be used only when there are no further options. We continue to declare that abortion is wrong, even though we accept the equality of women because it is an attack on innocent human life. The natural law does not change. We just understand it better.
Today, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, the old debate over gun control has rekindled. Those favoring guns offer a literalist reading of the constitution. Others note that the "right to bear arms" refers only to state militias. But who really cares? Does it make any difference what a group of 18th century Americans thought? The issue before us should be: what best protects the common good, the free availability of guns, or some gun control? The answer seems easy. As I've discussed numerous times before, the gun death rate in the United States is off the charts. Why this is the case is open to debate. Some point to the legacy of popular revolution and the frontier culture, others to the acceptability of violence as a response to problems, others to a popular culture that glorifies violence, and others still to the greater diversity that breeds tensions. But one thing is certain. The free availability of guns is bound to lead to further bloodshed.
Think of the recent tragedy. The young perpetrator of the massacre was clearly mentally ill, seriously so. He was paranoid and delusional, and possessed violent fantasies. These unfortunate souls exist in every country in the world. But in most other countries in the world, they could not so easily come across such deadly weapons that could cause such carnage. Sure, there are other ways to commit mass murder, but they are a lot harder. The counter argument is always some bizarre definition of "freedom", as if freedom is a primary virtue that can never be compromised. In fact, freedom is compromised every day in the service of the common good, and this is equally true in the United States as elsewhere. Examples abound. The freedom to drive a vehicle at any speed, or under the influence of alcohol, is curtailed, and for good reason. Certain drugs are made illegal, again for good reason. On the topic of alcohol, most citizens of the world would regard the ludicrously high drinking age in the United States as an undue restriction on freedom. All but the most extreme libertarians accept the role of the government in regulating behavior in the interest of the common good. Of course, there can be legitimate debate over boundaries. (Hint: the common good encompasses all, not just subgroups such as fellow countrymen. It is separate from the promotion of personal morality).
After the recent tragedy, the world press was united in condemning the liberal gun laws in the United States. The standard reaction of the right was a firm "butt out", tinged with a smug sense of superiority. For America is "free", more "free" than any other country, indeed, the "leader of the free world". Sorry, Europeans are no less "free" than Americans, and certainly do not see themselves so, but they are safer. No, the old "freedom" excuse for scorning gun control is based on an outdated mode of thinking, one that supposes that citizens with guns are the best protection against a coercive state that may abuse its power. Which brings me back to my original point: George Washington and his friends may have good reason for holding such views. We certainly don't. It's high time to adopt a Catholic approach to the natural law, rather than fealty to a dead text.