Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: Republican form of government protects Bill of Rights

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There's a reason the U.S. Constitution says that the federal government must guarantee that states have a republican form of government.

That's because the Unites States of America is a republic, not a democracy. The Founding Fathers were wise to choose a republican form of government, and nothing better illustrates that than the current debate over gun control in the U.S. Senate.

President Obama and the Democrats tried to make the emotional appeal for gun control legislation, bringing in family members of the Newtown massacre.

Some Republicans threatened to filibuster and not let the proposed bill get an up or down vote. Democrats cried foul, claiming the Newtown victims and their families deserve an up or down vote.

Now it occurs to me that, after a tragedy on the magnitude of Newtown, the emotional appeal can be made not only for gun control, but also to repeal virtually the entire Bill of Rights.

Wouldn't we be a much safer society if we scuttled the Fourth Amendment, which forbids police and the government from making unreasonable searches and seizures?

Wouldn't gun control -- or banning guns entirely -- be easier without the Second Amendment?

Suspects don't really need a trial by jury, do they? That takes care of the Sixth Amendment.

The objective -- the purpose of the appeal to emotions -- is a safer society you see. We'd be doing it for the children.

Fortunately, the U.S. Senate isn't a democratic body. It is, rather, a classic feature of a republic.

A rehash of the definition of democracy and republic might be in order. Here they are, from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:

Democracy: A government in which supreme power is invested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

Republic: A government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.

With senators from sparsely populated states having an equal vote with senators from densely populated states, the U.S. Senate isn't even close to being democratic.

Those senators are elected for six-year terms. The U.S. Senate is supposed to be the government body where reason and deliberation prevail.

Those that whined about how Republican senators were thwarting democracy by threatening a filibuster don't realize those senators were doing the job they were supposed to be doing in a republic.

They're supposed to block legislation driven by the emotional rather than the rational appeal. That will prevent scenarios like the one I described above, where the Senate will be called upon to scrap the Bill of Rights -- for our safety -- or to pass law after law that cumulatively has the same effect.

That's the advantage of a republican form of government over a democratic one. When tragedies like Newtown occur, that is not the time for legislators to take the emotional approach to such incidents.

Lawmakers have to take the rational approach, no matter how horrible the tragedy. The mandatory minimum drug laws that some Democrats now think are so terrible were passed after the tragedy of the 1986 drug overdose death of Len Bias, a star basketball player at the University of Maryland.

Those laws were passed based on the understandable emotional reaction to Bias' death. But, in retrospect, passing them was the wrong thing to do, some of those same lawmakers are now telling us.

In a democracy, the emotional approach usually works. But in a democracy, the Bill of Rights would have been dead in the water a long time ago.

Washington Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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Gregory Kane

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The Washington Examiner