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Edwin M. Yoder Jr.’s reasoning in his March 5 Commentary column, “Bearing arms and verbal harms,” is questionable.

His view of rights given to “the people” as being rights given to the community, which could in turn confer those rights on specific individuals (e.g., granting only militia members the right to bear arms) is contrary to the generally accepted meaning of the Constitution.

If we followed this line of reasoning, the “right of people to peaceably assemble” would apply only in regard to issues authorized by the community, to be exercised only by those to whom the community granted the right to assemble. This clearly is inimical to the views of the framers.

Another problem with Mr. Yoder’s view: Exactly what constitutes a “community,” and what level of authority does it have? The 10th Amendment to the Constitution makes a clear distinction between the individual “States” and “the people,” so the “community” is not the state.

Under his interpretation, the Constitution grants gun rights not to the state or to individuals but to some entity in between, a community. However, that would mean that the Constitution empowers a community to override the laws of the state in which it is located on how and to whom certain constitutional rights should be conferred. Again, this is inconsistent with the intent of the Framers.

Also, for Mr. Yoder’s argument to hold would mean that the framers had discarded the previously prevailing right of the individual to keep and bear arms as enshrined in the 1688 Rights of Englishmen.

In the early days of the republic, guns were essential for self-defense against criminals, wild animals and hostile Indian tribes. Any proposal to eliminate such a cherished fundamental right surely would have provoked a major debate. But there is no evidence of such a debate.

Finally, Mr. Yoder’s argument that supporters of gun rights are akin to those who would eliminate all rules on automobile operation and ownership is misguided. In the automobile analogy, the supporters of gun rights advocate reasonable restrictions such as stop signs and rules of the road. The opponents of gun rights are the ones who would allow you to own a car but require that it be disassembled and locked in your garage.


Washington, D.C.

Olympic boycotts

According to Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican (“Wolf’s crusade,” Inside Politics, Friday), President Bush’s appearance at the forthcoming Beijing Olympics “would be akin to President Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting in the same stands as Germany’s Adolf Hitler in 1936.”

Roosevelt did not attend the Berlin Olympics, but he refused to do anything to discourage American athletes from taking part. The United States Olympic Committee favored participating in the games despite the Nazis’ persecution of German Jewry, and the Roosevelt administration, which at that time was still interested in maintaining friendly relations with Germany, claimed it could not “interfere with the freedom of decision” of the USOC. (The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics later vividly demonstrated the lengths to which a president in fact can go in this regard.) Nor did Roosevelt later regret his stance. After the games, he told Rabbi Stephen S. Wise that Americans who attended the Olympics “tell me that they saw that the synagogues were crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong.”

Mr. Wolf is correct when he suggests that by not only supporting U.S. participation but also accepting China’s invitation to personally attend the 2008 Olympics, Mr. Bush is stepping into a controversy that carries disturbing reminders of 1936. What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Bush will learn from Roosevelt’s mistake and speak out against Beijing’s human-rights abuses, its supply of advanced weapons to rogue regimes and its support for the genocidal government of Sudan.

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