Politicians in the state of New York want to cap the number of bullets in a clip or magazine, by law, from 10 to 7. Such a law would immediately transform all sorts of legally owned handguns into illegal firearms, and the owners into felons. Think the criminals will care about that cap, or will they just use an illegally modified clip to ensure they have enough to shoot as many innocent people as they want? How's that cap going to stop criminals? And what clause in the Constitution and Bill of Rights gives politicians the power to do that to us?
It's as unworkable an idea as mandating a cap on the number and type of words a blogger or journalist can use in a post or article. As one attorney put it recently, "Would you have the right of freedom of speech if that speech were limited to a certain vocabulary - say 500 words? Or even 350,000 words?.. If one is artificially limited in the words you can speak, then how does one have true freedom of speech?"
Too many Americans who claim to base their political decisions on the Constitution and Bill of Rights fold like a paper airplane when push comes to shove. Too many of us pick our founding documents apart to choose which of the limits on power in the Constitution, or which of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights, we back at any given moment.
On no issue is that conflict more obvious than proposals to cap civil damages for medical malpractice or for broader health care-related lawsuits. First and Second Amendment absolutists ignore the right to a jury trial for civil suits, protected under the Seventh Amendment, at a moment's notice. Some politicians are so inconsistent that they back civil suits for all types of causes, such as excessive eminent domain actions or to protect religious liberty, but flip on a dime to close courthouse doors to Americans injured or killed by medical negligence.
Who made doctors, hospitals, drug companies, nursing homes and insurance companies so special? Certainly not the Founding Fathers. Not many Supreme Court Justices, or state Supreme Court justices, or modern constitutional conservatives and libertarians.
But some Missouri Republicans don't get it. Even though their own state Constitution makes the right to a civil jury trial "inviolate," a term used in many state constitutions, some there want to reinstate caps after the state Supreme Court ruled a Missouri cap law unconstitutional. Apparently, "inviolate" means one thing when it comes to freedom of religion and the right to bear arms, and something less when it comes to jury trials in Missouri.
Pro-cap legislators claim that only caps will prevent increases in health care costs. But the state caps haven't stopped health care costs from rising in Missouri, any more than caps in Texas have held down costs there. According to the Center for Medicare Services at H.H.S., health care spending per capita rose at an average of 5.1 percent each year from 2004 through 2009, during which caps were in effect.
First and Second Amendment advocates who want to strip us of the right to a civil jury trial should remember that a jury of peers is the Founding Fathers' way of protecting those other cherished rights. Or, as Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation puts it, we need to use the Seventh Amendment to save the Second Amendment.