Rights, responsibilities and Iowa Amendment 1

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To the Editor:
The proposed Iowa Amendment 1, the “Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment,” presents Iowa’s Catholic voters with a decision to uphold or abandon the connection between rights and responsibilities. This principle is fundamental to Catholic social ethics, yet the proposed amendment would define an individual right to gun ownership without any related responsibilities. Requiring “strict scrutiny” would also create a constitutional barrier to legally clarifying any related responsibilities.

As St. John XXIII stated clearly in his 1963 encyclical letter, “Pacem in Terris,” the law that is written on all human hearts (the natural law), is the point of origin and ongoing support for all of our rights and responsibilities. Rights are based in the same source and given to us together and can be clarified in terms of the responsibilities they allow us to fulfill. For example, the right to speak the truth includes a responsibility to seek the truth.

Unfortunately, claiming “our rights are under attack” is a common and effective rallying cry for partisan purposes. Taking time to think about how to balance rights and responsibilities is a poor method for stoking political divisions but it is an essential practice of informed citizens.

Catholics need to think more carefully about the balance between rights and responsibilities in many other areas as well. On Nov. 8, one ballot measure will present us with the opportunity to either support or deny this principle. A right detached from responsibility is foreign to Catholic morality as well as plain reason, while restricting future Iowans from more clearly defining responsible gun ownership is simply reckless. Amendment 1 should not win the support of informed Catholic voters.
Jacob Kohlhaas
Dubuque, Iowa


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