Suffering from constitutional selectivity
By Bob Confer

 

It’s a real treat when our citizens come out in numbers and with passion in the defense of one of our rights, just as they did – and still do – with the SAFE Act. The backlash didn’t stop in the weeks that followed the act’s passage in January of 2013. A year and a half later, rallies are still being held and a more personal and intimate brand of activism – the Anti-SAFE Act lawn sign – still remains undeniably common throughout Western New York.

 

Despite all of those efforts, the activists may not be as sincere as they put on. All of them to a man consistently highlight the importance of the Constitution; our formative document takes center stage in all debates associated with the SAFE Act. Even those folks with just a passing interest in the Constitution can cite verbatim the entire Second Amendment. But that is where their constitutionalism seems to begin and end.

 

If the Constitution is really that important to tens of thousands of New Yorkers, then where is the uproar when our other rights are infringed?

 

I’ve heard nary a peep and not seen one lawn sign or bumper sticker expressing disdain – and there should be lots of it – over the federal government’s elaborate domestic spying programs that were brought to light by Edward Snowden. It sometimes seem that no one, other than the press, cares about high-volume eavesdropping on cell phones, maintenance of phone records, scanning of email messages, and other surveillance endeavors against suspected terrorists and innocent Americans alike, tactics that are all in defiance of the Fourth Amendment and could be argued are far worse transgressions than anything that the SAFE Act has done (and that’s saying a lot).

 

To see this constitutional selectivity perfectly played out in the form of one high-profile individual just look south across the county border.

 

Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard has gained notoriety and accolades for his stance against the SAFE Act and its un-constitutionalism. Last year, he went so far as to say his officers won’t enforce that law.

 

Despite his care for the Second Amendment, his obviously doesn’t give a hoot about the Fourth.  For years his department has utilized cell phone spying devices known as Stingray and Kingfish. The equipment indiscriminately intercepts cell phone transmissions and can capture and eavesdrop on conversations and text exchanges. These are activities that need a warrant (which the Sheriff’s Department lacks) and pinpoint accuracy (Howard has admitted to the press that they tune across multiple transmissions to find the one they want). 

 

Despite this patently obvious abuse of the Fourth Amendment, Howard still remains something of a constitutional folk hero.

 

Taking into consideration what’s happening at the federal and local levels, Americans should be storming the Bastille over such transgressions. But we’re not. We’re not even raising a minor stink. Most of us might not even care.

 

And that’s what makes America so easily manipulated by the politicians. The politicians know that most folks are single-issue voters and if they can tug at something near and dear to them – guns for example – they can turn that focused passion into a vote.

 

We shouldn’t be that way. We should be fighting for every part of the Constitution, not just one. No part is more important than another. The entire document carries meaning, weight and importance: The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were devised as a set of laws to recognize and protect some of the most basic of natural rights while creating a framework for just governance.

      

If we spend too much time and effort focusing on just one part of the Bill of Rights, we could lose our rights to free speech, self defense, privacy, due process of law and self government just by being too selective or self-centered in our needs.

 

Continue to fight for our rights…but fight for all of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at thenewamerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer


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This column originally ran in the 26 May 2014 Greater Niagara Newspapers

 

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