Friday, Oct 21, 2016
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Keith Burris


‘Joe’ shows how far we’ve strayed from civilized rule



I am grateful to Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber,” for laying it on the line and putting it as starkly as it can be put.

Just about everyone has heard his money quote by now: “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”

The statement wasn’t a “whoops,” like so many statements that get people in trouble these days. He put it out himself, just after last weekend’s mass shootings in California, which left seven dead.

He wanted everyone to hear it.

Joe the Plumber is a franchise. He has a Web site, a speakers’ bureau, and soon, a gun business.

In my lifetime, this has to be the all-time low in marketing.

Indeed, in an Orwellian twist you could not invent, Mr. Wurzelbacher warns against anti-gun activists trying to capitalize on this tragedy. And he explains, in classic double-speak, that although he cares more about his right to bear arms than someone else’s dead children, that really shows he cares more about their deaths than the people who say human life counts for more than guns.

Say what?

Count me clearly, Lord, on the other side.

I care more about someone’s murdered children than Joe’s right to bear arms.

For, whatever else that right is, it is not absolute, as Joe seems to think.

In the Gospel of the lunatic fringe, the right to weapons is the one absolute. It is what this country stands for. And all it stands for.

Not free speech, worship, or thought. Just guns.

That’s not the Founding Fathers’ America.

The wonder is that the fringe has become the center right in this country and paralyzed the Congress.

Under the real Constitution, the one the Founders wrote, Joe the Plumber has a right to arms in the armed forces.

Under recent Supreme Court rulings, he even has a private, limited right to bear arms.

I think most Americans and most Ohioans who grew up with or around guns and hunting, as I did, think American citizens should have access to guns as both a means of self defense and for sport.

But, as every single Founding Father would say if he were here, and most Americans know: No right is absolute or unlimited. And limiting access to the most destructive weapons that exist, especially for those who are insane, is a modest limit on the freedom of those who are sane.

What is the point of law, including constitutional law? It is to bind us together in a reasonable working agreement. The sum of constitutional law is a rule book for how we shall live together, observing and respecting each other’s rights.

I asked Joe the Plumber for an interview. He declined. But when a citizen says his right to anything trumps another’s right to existence itself, he makes a statement that is not only nihilistic and uncivilized, but unconstitutional. The Constitution is about balancing rights, so we can co-exist in society.

A friend sent me some computer wallpaper with a gun superimposed over a Bible. The gun, and then the rulebook. That’s exactly the opposite of what we Americans set out to be.

Keith Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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