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Susan Estrich
5 Feb 2016
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The Promise and the Pontificators


My eyes filled with tears as I listened to the parents of the victims of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., speak out, many for the first time. They gathered to announce the founding of a nonprofit group, Sandy Hook Promise. Their purpose was to engage in the public dialogue about what they called "gun responsibility." They want something positive to come from their children's deaths.

They did not endorse a specific proposal. They said they needed more time to do that; they lost their children a month ago. They said that before they speak out, they want to educate themselves more. They also said that the discussion must not be limited to gun control, that it must include issues relating to mental health.

On the same day, freshman Rep. Steve Stockman announced in a statement that if President Barack Obama were to use executive orders to control access to guns, he would file articles of impeachment against him because the orders would "infringe on our constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms." For her part, conservative columnist (and law school graduate) Ann Coulter urged Republicans to shut down abortion clinics if the president or congressional Democrats impose limits on guns.

If it weren't for the fact that they spoke out on the same day as the mourning parents, I'd ignore the noise from Stockman and Coulter altogether. But the dignity of the parents stands in such contrast to the indignity of those who should know better that it deserves to be addressed.

What this country needs, as the Sandy Hook parents recognize and the loudmouths don't, is a dialogue, not a collection of threats that, if carried out, would themselves be unconstitutional.

Even high-school students know about Marbury v. Madison, the famous decision in which Chief Justice John Marshall established the rule that the Supreme Court determines the unconstitutionality of laws, not a congressman or a columnist. If Stockman is of the view that the president's executive orders or bills that might be passed by Congress are unconstitutional, then he and his friends in the National Rifle Association can (and, no matter how reasonable the actions, most surely will) challenge them in the court.

If Coulter objects on Second Amendment grounds, she is free as a lawyer to participate in the briefing of the case, to organize an "amicus" brief to make her arguments clear, and of course to write about it. You don't deprive one group of its constitutional rights because you think a law or executive order on an entirely different subject is unconstitutional.

Reading the pained, determined, sober statements of the grieving families of Newtown against the loudmouthed rantings of attention getters (and yes, I know, there are attention getters on both sides who are equally uninterested in facts) demonstrates with painful clarity exactly what is wrong with public discourse in America. With few exceptions — Sandy Hook Promise being one of the very few — the people who scream the most loudly get all the attention. No wonder we are divided into politicized and partisan corners — or at least no wonder it seems that way.

On the same day that the Newtown families were standing up for civility and those in the Stockman/Coulter crowd were screaming through their megaphones and getting plenty of attention for their extremism, a new study from the Pew Research Center revealed that in fact, there is more consensus on gun regulation than it sounds like from all the noise. According to the Pew study, conducted earlier this month, 85 percent of Americans support closing the "gun show loophole" and making private and gun show sales subject to background checks, and 80 percent are in favor of laws preventing mentally ill people from purchasing guns. Support is strong from both parties. As for a federal database to track gun purchases, 49 percent of Republicans support the idea, and 67 percent of the public (including 84 percent of Democrats) is in favor.

I don't understand why half the Republicans surveyed would be against a database. Law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear. But it's precisely the sort of conversation we need to have, the kind of public dialogue that needs to take place, the sort of discourse that the Stockmans and Coulters would drown out if they had their way.

I don't know that there is anything — anything — we might accomplish that would ease the pain of losing a first-grader. But at the very least, the rest of us owe it to the courageous parents of Sandy Hook to join in their promise — and make good on it — no matter how many people, on either side, are screaming in the background.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



11 Comments | Post Comment
"I don't understand why half the Republicans surveyed would be against a database."

I would like to take the time to respond to your comment. The United States has gone through many changes over the years and so has many others. We dont know exactly what the United States will look like in 10, 25, 50 or 100 years, but what we do know is history. Germany previous to Hitler's Nazi Germany was a free country and a Democracy where Jewish people felt comfortable living. The United States at one time had imprisoned Japanese American people for no particular reason but because they had thought they were a threat. Slavery was legal in the United States at one time, there have been quite a few depressions in the last 200 years, crosses burning on lawns etc. I could go on and on.

My point Susan is that things change. Today it makes sense for gun control and for there to be detailed databases of gun owners, but we really do not know what tomorrow will bring or what they will do next. Did you ever imagine the United States imprisoning Japanese people for no particular reason? Did you ever think it was possible for a nation to commit genocide against millions of its citizens? If you look back throughout the history of America you see a lot of disturbing and nutty things and keep in mind we all don't live in a nice urban area where police services are plentiful. There are parts of the United State which are quite remote and rural and where you need a rifle to live from day to day. I own a farm and it takes a half hour for the police just to get here if we are lucky. Sometimes they take an hour.

So yes, some of us feel safe with a good rifle and Im sure you would want one if you lived out one of these farms. Its not like the Al Qaeda is going to invade my farm. I know that wont happen. However, when you are sitting here all alone and there is no police for a good 50 miles you tend to feel more comfortable having one. So please Susan do not take my rifle away.
Comment: #1
Posted by: John Snead
Tue Jan 15, 2013 6:22 PM
Typical lawyer view - do something questionable and then tie it up in the courts for years.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Oldtimer
Wed Jan 16, 2013 4:52 AM
Perhaps opposition to this database stems from the fact that it woulden't prevent these types of crimes. None of your proposed changes would. Having a knee-jerk reaction to these events is never a good idea and neither is passing legislation just for the sake of passing something. Its actually doing us a disservice. The worst attack on a school in history didn't even involve any guns. And in Japan, where guns are outlawed, a killer attacked a school with swords. You can't stop evil by taking away mere tools. Evil will always find a way to propogate its message.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:28 AM
Ms. Estrich wrote: "What this country needs, as the Sandy Hook parents recognize and the loudmouths don't, is a dialogue..."

This may be true, but there is no evidence that what the "Progressives" want is a dialogue. That would require presenting a logic argument backed up by facts. Lets examine the facts concerning this 'public health' crisis.

I've tried in last few posts to inject a little logic into this discussion, apparently with little success (not that I believe Ms. Estrich has read my comments). As the statistics show, the 'gun problem' in this country is primarily the result of young males killing one another during criminal activity. In rare cases (like Sandy Hook), mentally ill people, who are no longer confined to institutions, have committed dramatic atrocities. The city of Chicago, an area with this country's strictest gun control laws, had over 520 murders (~3.7% of the US total) last year. When I grew up in Chicago 40 years ago, the murder rates were much lower and these atrocities almost never occurred. Why is this happening now?

Simply put, this is primarily due to societies unwillingness/inability to control the culprits. Thanks to the Progressives (e.g., The ACLU), these people are now out on the street and their uncontrolled behavior is bearing fruit. The Progressive solution is more gun control. Yet, anyone with any sense at all has to realize that if this was a solution, Chicago (with its strict gun contol laws) would have the countries lowest murder rates, not the highest rates.

Rather than deal with the consequences of their own failed policies, Progressives now demand actions (i.e., Gun control laws) that demonstrably don't work. This is Einstein's definition of insanity, doing the same things over and over and demanding different results.

Dialog requires a rational debating partner. In this case, the side demanding the dialog is bordering on the non-rational.

Further, Ms. Estrich wrote: "You don't deprive one group of its constitutional rights because you think a law or executive order on an entirely different subject is unconstitutional."

This may be true, but it only further serves to point out the irrationality of some of the parties in the 'national discussion'. This 'constitutional right' is, of course, abortion. Luckily for one side, they are 'smart' enough to understand that killing a 'fetus' isn't a murder. If it was, the homicide rate in this country due to abortion would be 125 times that from guns. Fortunately these intelligent individuals have realized that a mere 'fetus', like 'Kulaks' or 'Juden' in some more totalitarian societies, is not human. (No need to worry about this issue, let us move forward!) In fact, these mavens want to make the dissenters (obviously of far less intelligence than the smart class) behave like 'good Germans' and pay for other peoples 'constitutional rights'. The poor schmucks will get over it eventually and see the wisdom of it all.

The cognitive dissonance here is astounding. A dialog requires a rational debating partner who respects the intelligence of the opposing side. I'm afraid we lack that in the US at this point. Is it any wonder some individuals are beginning to get a bit excited about the outcome of this 'debate'?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Old Navy
Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:04 AM

28 day waiting period to get a gun buyers permit. Plenty of time for most background checks and does not infringe on any legitimate person's Second Amendment rights.............!
Comment: #5
Posted by: robert lipka
Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:20 AM
Only does that solve any real problems? Nope. Any laws passed like that would not stop the bad guys, just annoy the good guys.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Wed Jan 16, 2013 11:23 AM
Estrich misstates the rule of Marbury v. Madison. In fact a Congressman or columnist certainly is allowed to decide what is constitutional, just as any citizen is. If I decide that it is constitutional and lawful to write "Pay your taxes" in icing on a birthday cake, I may go ahead and do it. That is what freedom is all about. If Coulter decides it is constitutional and lawful to shut down abortion clinics she may go ahead and try it. However, if some human being working under color of authority tries to stop her actions, then the matter may be haled into court for judicial review. Ultimately, if it works its way up far enough, the US Supreme Court will have final say. But typically it doesn't get that far. We are free until restrained by a proper law. It is a citizen's duty to know the law; which law includes the Constitution.

Marbury v. Madison declares that the US Supreme Court has a duty to state what the law is; which law includes the Constitution. Before Marbury it was unclear that the Court had final say; each branch was free to interpret the Constitution without review. Even today the US Supreme Court will abstain from rendering opinions based on various doctrines, such a "political question". In such cases the parties must decide what is constitutional and lawful without the prospect of relying on an opinion from the Court. Estrich misunderstands the Constitution: we are not restrained until the Court declares us free: rather, we are free until the Court declares the law valid. Before that the courts may give the particular law force or not until a final judgment is reached. Reasonable people may disagree as to its constitutionality up to that point. In short, Congressman is free to take a deep breath, or pick his nose, without waiting for a decision from the US Supreme Court. Or even to buy a gun.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Cowboy Jay
Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:38 PM
Ann Coulter's next "moment of dignity" will be her first.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Bruce Strickland
Wed Jan 16, 2013 4:31 PM
So, Susan screams through her microphone...

It's pretty disgusting to see democrats use the deaths of these children to advance their own agenda with laws that will do nothing to prevent another one.

We've been having a "discussion" on this for some time. Supreme Court cases, too. The second amendment is an individual right.

Why wouldn't people mind putting together a list/database? Why wouldn't Jews mind registration in the 30s and 40s? Why wouldn't Japanese Americans mind being forcibly being relocated during World War Two?

I mean, if it can same just one life...
Comment: #9
Posted by: pb1222
Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:59 PM
Hitler used children as a prop, Stalin used children as a prop, and now Obama stands on the graves of dead children and uses other children as a prop for gun control and all to subvert the Constitution, to rob us of liberty and to further pursue the liberal goals of enslavement.
Comment: #10
Posted by: joseph wright
Wed Jan 16, 2013 7:39 PM
"But the dignity of the parents stands in such contrast to the indignity of those who should know better that it deserves to be addressed."
The "those" of course also including likes of Piers Morgan, Dianne Feinstein, Chucky Schumer, Bloomberg, Obama, and those calling for the deaths and beheading of gun owners and those publishing gun owners names and addresses et al who all immediately seized upon and selfishly misappropriated the deaths of the children and misappropriated the grief of the parents in order to fully politicize each and to so purely in pursuit of a longstanding agenda of limitation of freedom.
I know, I know, you would have made the point you just did not have enough column space.
" First they came for......
One would think that a Jew would, if anyone would, understand the dangers of registration and identification and classification. The tyrants Hitler, Stalin, Mao, all understood the benefits to their enslavement of the populace of lists, secret lists, enemies lists, and their current successor Obama understands the same.
Remember this the next time you see a smoking chimney.
Comment: #11
Posted by: joseph wright
Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:03 AM
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