Journal of the San Juan Islands


'Rights' and 'privileges'; like apples and oranges | Letters

January 3, 2013 · Updated 6:23 PM

As a licensed school psychologist and clinical mental health professional in two states, I read with amusement the recent article in the Journal, “Priorities Misplaced in Background Checks”, (Dec. 26, pg.7), authored by a local man seeking to be recognized as an attorney in Washington state via admission to the Washington Bar Association.

I must say, “Brother, I feel your pain!”

Mr. Power is incredulous regarding the requirement of references and fees for a background investigation process, which to the Washington Bar Association somehow provides an assurance of competence and public safety in the practice of law. The Washington Bar Association and Mr. Power are struggling to accommodate and understand the similarities and differences between a privilege and a right.

First, the concept that a background check for possession of a firearm is much less cumbersome and expedient from that of a license to practice law in this state is based on the fact that the privilege of practicing law is not a constitutionally protected right (thank God). That important fact is very significant.

Competency in professional or occupation practices regulated by state law is purposefully cumbersome and designed to be so whether you are a plumber, psychologist, physician or lawyer. Occupational licensing is not a right – it is a privilege granted by the state.

A right is something we already possess – a privilege is something granted us by another. As such, the sanctioning by proper authority of citizens to exercise rights and privileges will differ.

The process and costs to Mr. Power in pursuit of his license to practice law and the background check conducted when he purchased his gun are both designed for a similar purpose – to provide some assurance to the public that the person practicing law or possessing a firearm is forever safe to do so under both circumstances. Sadly and clearly, neither accomplishes that goal.

The Second Amendment is the only constitutional right requiring a background check and waiting period (in some situations) in order to exercise in the name of national public safety. Likewise, I would not expect the Washington Bar Association to do less.

Gary Waters/Friday Harbor


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