Two stories in the news shared common themes: Senator Toomey's failed attempt to pass universal background checks for gun sales, and the Boy Scouts' announcement that they might no longer ban homosexual youths under 18 from scouting.
On the surface, both issues appear to be about a majority (the 90 percent of citizens who favor expanded background checks, Scouting officials) wanting to infringe upon or restrict the rights of a minority. In both cases, it is debatable whether or not "the right to be a Boy Scout" or "the right of a person who would fail a background check to purchase a gun" are fundamental rights.
But more importantly, both issues also appear to be driven by fear, founded and unfounded. In the case of Boy Scouting, there is fear of the unknown: Scouting officials fear that admitting gay youths and adults into their organization will somehow degrade it. While they are entitled to that opinion, history has seldom been kind to those who would persecute, segregate or divide.
In the case of background checks, the minority fears that society will start "taking away their guns" while the majority fears the 11,000 firearm murders per year in the U.S., looks at the success (but incompleteness) of our current background-check system, and concludes that eliminating the "gun show loophole" would be help keep more guns away from those who are not supposed to have them.
Sadly, the two stories both ended in empty gestures that have satisfied no one. Instead of fully lifting their ban, the Scouts' decision is basically to adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for scouts while continuing to ban gay troop leaders. Instead of courageously fighting on, Pat Toomey briefly raised the ire of local conservatives but has basically shrugged and said there's nothing more he can do.
Both the Scouts and Toomey are probably hoping the public will lose interest in these issues and let them off the hook. I hope that both the public and the newspapers will prove them wrong.
Jove Graham, Lewisburg