The hearings to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the supreme court have turned many people’s minds toward key and elementary questions about the constitution and the rule of law. So while you may be considering these questions, consider the second and first amendments.
Every year, America collectively joins in the discussion as to whether we should restrict the bounds of the 2nd Amendment. The right to bear arms in this country is both famously free and famously restrictive, depending on which side of the debate you talk to. Neither side is happy with the current situation, with gun critics vociferously attacking the institution of the 2nd Amendment with regularity. A common argument levied against guns-rights advocates is that times have changed, and technology has changed as well. The Founding Fathers could never have imagined the powers of modern weaponry, and as such the 2nd Amendment shouldn’t apply to it. As modern weapons have laid low thousands of lives, their use should be curtailed, shouldn’t it?
But what is not up for debate, at least in the public sphere, is the importance of the 1st Amendment. Freedom of religion, speech, the press, and of the people to assemble are liberties which are unassailable for the Left and the Right. But should this be the case? After all, words are formed from ideas and then work to plant those ideas in the minds of others. Why don’t we restrict those ideas which have led to the most dangerous outcomes?
For the purposes of this article, let’s restrict our focus on the 1st Amendment to the freedom of speech. Speech is a powerful thing. A good rhetorician can bring peace to an angry mob, or incite that same mob to riot. Words, when artfully crafted, infect the minds of others with the ideas of your own.
When a skillful speaker can bring mass amounts of people to his or her point of view and potentially call them to action, there is danger present. Any rally or convention is a dormant wildfire which only needs the right fuel and a spark to come alive. Throughout history there are instances of speech and leadership combining to create horrific events. We mustn’t forget that Hitler was democratically elected. His election led to the deaths of millions of innocent people and ransacked the livelihoods of humans across the globe. What if the speech that he had been spewing had been restricted?
In America today one can find Nazis, communists, fascists, and worse. These ideologies have contributed to the deaths and impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people. Why do we allow these ideas to continue to be heralded on national television, newspapers, and magazines? Surely we’ve learned our lesson by now?
The fact is, despite the danger inherent in free speech, it is still an important right that must be respected regardless of the ideas being represented. Without allowing dangerous ideas to be debated upon we will forget what made the ideas dangerous in the first place, and forget the well-reasoned arguments against them as well.
The Founding Fathers surely never could have imagined the technological advances in speech. The internet, cell phones, and other modes of communication were so far ahead of the Founding Fathers’ time that they could not have been considered when they drafted the Bill of Rights. People today have access to all sorts of crazy and despicable ideas, all able to be reached at the speed of light. Perhaps if the Founding Fathers had predicted such a state of affairs, they would have thought twice about letting people loose upon it. This is not true, however. Despite technological advance, the underlying reason for freedom of speech still stands. Freedom of speech, though dangerous, is a right which cannot be denied to Americans regardless of platform and ideology.
Just as the reasoning behind freedom of speech fails to be invalidated by changing times and technological change, so the reasoning behind the right to bear arms remains unhampered by changing times and technological change. As we require free speech to protect ourselves from the most villainous of ideas and indirectly our personal safety, we require the right to bear arms to protect ourselves from immediate and direct threats to our personal safety. Even in modern times there stand threats to personal safety. Whether those threats are from other civilians or from tyranny, it matters little. The Founding Fathers clearly believed that the right to self-defense through the medium of firearms was crucial to a free society.
I’m not saying there is no room for change. In fact, there may be a case for a constitutional amendment, but the wording of the Constitution on the right to bear arms, and the reasoning behind it, is clear and cares little about the modern era.