Who is really attacking the US constitution?
Many years ago I visited Washington and paid a visit to the Capitol while the US Senate was sitting. Despite being a visitor rather than a US citizen - a fact about which I was completely open - I was rapidly shown to a place in the public gallery where I was able to observe a debate. I was also given a card which quoted a section of the US constitution guaranteeing the public the right to know what their elected representatives were doing.
The experience filled me with nothing but respect for the American system of democracy, and one aspect of this was how much that system respected the views and opinions of everyone in the country, visitors as well as citizens.
No country has a perfect system of democracy but that in the US works as well as any. It was a Frenchman, Voltaire, to whom is usually attributed the saying
"I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
but America is one of the places where that principle is most applied. (I would like to see it applied more thoroughly in Britain - witness section 5 of the public order act - see previous posts).
I don't often comment on matters outside Britain in this blog - I don't want to appear more ready to tell other people how to run their countries than to address the issues in my own. And I certainly don't want readers of this blog from the states - of whom there are as many as there are from Britain - to think that I'm criticising the USA for anything in which Britain is far from perfect without being aware of the beams in our own eye.
This post is in defence of one of the parts of the American constitution which I most admire, one of the sections quoted on the card I was given when I visited the U.S. Senate - the First Amendment.
The first amendment to the United States constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression.
And, irony of ironies, there has recently been an attempt to trample all over the first amendment by 65,000 people who imagine that they are defending the US constitution.
That's the number of signatures to date on a petition on the White House website calling for British journalist Piers Morgan to be sent back back here because he is supposedly "engaged in a hostile attack against the US Constitution."
The second amendment to the US constitution is the one which, in order to support an armed militia, guarantees the right to bear arms. The signatories appear to think that Morgan's view that America should "Ban assault weapons & high-capacity magazines, and enforce background checks on 100% of gun sales." and "Do it now." would breach the second amendment.
Now, I would not describe myself as a great admirer of Piers Morgan. I roared with laughter today on reading a post on Yahoo which appeared to be pointing out that he had been editor of a British national newspaper at the time of the hacking scandal and humorously suggesting we set up a petition not to have him sent back, telling him that "the British people can easily beat a measly 60,000 signatures after the hacking abomination that you claim you were totally in the dark about, so please stay put."
Nor would I disagree that Mr Morgan's views about gun control could have been far more tactfully and constructively put.
People all around the world will have been horrified by the two recent shooting atrocities in America and will have felt for the communities devastated by those events.
I have some idea how those communities must feel today because we have had gun outrages in Britain too, including one in my own community of West Cumbria in 2010 when a man called Derrick Bird shot twenty-three people, twelve of whom died, before turning his gun on himself. It was right and proper that we reviewed our gun laws after that tragic event and other similar ones. It is right and proper that people in America have a debate about their gun laws now.
Both sides of that debate have a right to be heard. I would not encourage either side to express their views by saying things like "You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?" and neither would I encourage either side to try to have those who disagree with them deported. There is a problem: a debate is needed on how to deal with that. The First Amendment to the US constitution guarantees all sides a voice on how to so, and that is a very good thing.
One final thought which might provide a message of hope in response to the terrible tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Webster, New York state. Sixteen years ago, a massacre similar to the one at Sandy Hook took place in a primary school in Dunblane, when sixteen children aged five or six, and their teacher, were murdered.
This year one of the children who had to take cover at Dunblane, but survived, became the first Brit for decades to reach the men's singles final at Wimbledon, and the Olympic men's tennis champion, and the US Open tennis champion. I hope that all the surviving children at Sandy Hook school make a full recovery and I hope that each of them will have the opportunities to make as big a success of his or her life as Andy Murray has.