Questioning Our Laws: ‘We,’ as in The People, and Common Sense

My daughter was asked by her fourth-grade teacher to write about the importance of rules. She cleverly opened with, “A teacher calls for her students to come in from the playground, no one answers her.” It’s an interesting intro that raises a good question. If no one respects authority, where does that leave us? We have laws to organize ourselves, to fence out the chaos of anarchy, and most importantly, to elevate ourselves to our highest form: civilized society. But what happens when our designated authority figures have made laws that do not have all of our best interests at heart? What if said authoritarians are corrupted or, less nefarious, are just misguided?

Our Constitutional forefathers kept this in mind as they drafted our own rulebook, allowing for amendments. They knew that laws are generally made during the time they are needed. Likewise, they knew that times change, ideals change, society evolves and laws need to be re-examined and, possibly, corrected, amended or abolished.

Going back to my daughter and her playground, a few principals back, a rule was established that had a lot of the parents, myself included, scratching our heads — no running on the playground during recess. It should be noted that her school’s playground is almost entirely pavement. From this principal’s perspective, pavement and children’s delicate skin and bones shouldn’t collide at high speeds. On the contrary, from my parental perspective, children are meant to have bumps, scars, scabs and, gasp!, broken bones. Our pediatrician looked at my daughter’s legs during a routine exam and said, “Good! I see lots of scratches and scars. Children are supposed to be banging themselves up. It’s how they explore the world!” So which authority figure is right? The principal who runs the school? The parent? The doctor? You tell me, and by you, I mean a committee of We the People. Isn’t that how democracy works? We all get together and decide, hey, this is stupid. Let’s change it. We agree to agree using our common sense. Key word being common, something we all share.

More often than not, that’s easier said than done. In late February, my daughter came home and said she wanted to go to the March for Our Lives Rally in DC. I am a teacher. It terrifies me that someday I may be faced with the hard decision to sacrifice my own life for those of my students, or, if the Cheeto in Chief gets his way, I might have to decide if I want to keep a gun in my desk next to my Sharpies and unicorn rainbow tape dispenser. So when she asked if we could go to the rally, I had some thinking to do. How are a bunch of angry liberals, myself included, going to change anything? Why do I even need to be asking these questions? And, oh my left-wing goddess, what if things go sideways in a crowd, with my only child? My husband, known among our peers as the righter-of-wrongs, stoically told me that we needed to go. He is a cautious man, a gentle man (until pushed), so I sighed, then agreed.

As we, and another family we know, moved through the crowd that was bigger than any gathering I have ever experienced, I saw all these people — young, old, male, female — amassed for the same reason: change. I listened, tearfully, as Emma Gonzalez said nothing. During the same span of time when her young peers were violently ripped from this world, we stood, together, in silence, honoring their short lives. The odds that all of us would walk away unchanged, unwilling to make a difference, were minimal. I stood, ironically in front of the heavily guarded and barricaded Pennsylvania Avenue Trump Hotel, and watched democracy swell like a powerful tidal wave.

When it was over, and we realized how hungry we all were, we found ourselves at a counter-service burrito place. Weary, we dumped our signs and backpacks at a table and glanced bleary-eyed at one another. As I looked at my friend, I saw her eyes widen and her jaw drop. I followed her gaze. Behind us sat a different group of friends, also weary and sharing a meal together. They all wore matching sweatshirts that said, Patriot Picketers, a pro-gun Second Amendment group. “Don’t,” I said to my friend. I could see her outgoing, outspoken, liberal mind grinding its gears. “Let them be,” I said. And we did. They ate their burritos, we ate ours. Other protesters walked in and stopped short at seeing them, all dressed identically except for one man in head-to-toe camouflage.

I wanted to ask them their opinion. I wanted them to know that I would never want them to stop hunting for sport, or going to the gun range, or have them turn in all their non-military-grade weapons. I wanted to ask them how we could make the world safer for everyone. Did they agree that longer wait periods, better background checks, better mental health care would improve our safety without sacrificing their vibrant American spirit? But I didn’t get the chance to ask these questions and, in a way, I wish I had because the law affects them, just like it affects me.

Together, as a society, we need to have these important conversations in a calm and civilized way, and when that happens, we need to really listen to one another, put our biases aside and use our common sense. We need to be vigilant and aware of lobbyists and their self-interests who may sidetrack our common sense goals. Together, we should all want to move forward and leave behind something decent for the next generation because they are watching us. And, as the Parkland students have demonstrated, they are highly motivated to make changes for the common good.

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