2012-12-17 – The massacre in the Sandy Hook elementary school has people clamoring for action. Ban guns! Change the way stories are covered! And there is merit in both.
But the Constitution stands in the way. Or so we are told. Restrictions on news coverage violate the first amendment. Restrictions on guns violate the first.
Or so we are told. But is it really true? Is our Constitution evil? Or are there societal values so great emerging from these interpretations of the first and second amendments that make these massacres a worthwhile price to pay?
Let’s look at the first amendment first (a very good place to start). The claim is that news coverage of these massacre shooters merely encourages the crazies of the world to grab their guns and start shooting. There is some evidence that this is true (with the evidence on the word “some”). We’ve all heard of copycat killings. It’s very plausible.
Does the first amendment require the news media to report on the identity of these shooters? The first amendment doesn’t require the media to report on anything. Accused criminals who are minors are regularly kept out of the news. Their crimes are reported. Their names are not.
Would it be a violation of the first amendment to treat mass killers in the same way? I don’t know. It sure wouldn’t be a violation if the news media would adopt this rule voluntarily. Keep the crazy’s name out of the story. No more instant fame. Report on the crime, not the personality. (And since there is a real story about mental illness or the forces that make someone shoot up children at a school, make the news embargo temporary. Keep the shooters name out of the news for 90 days or a year, when the reporting would no longer create a celebrity, but would still create a public discussion on important issues.)
Would the first amendment be in jeopardy? You be the judge.
What about the second amendment? The right to bear arms?
Well, I believe in the right to bear arms, but I never understood the second amendment as requiring zero regulation. Good grief! The text of the amendment even talks about regulation as a component of “the security of a free state.” Admittedly, the text is pretty unclear. But zero regulation is not the mandate. Presumably we are protecting the right of the people to protect themselves and (possibly) to rise up in revolution. Zero regulation is not required.
People, even gun enthusiasts, are fairly okay with age restrictions on guns. Age restrictions don’t burden the purpose of the second amendment. They are meant to balance a citizen’s right to bear arms against the danger guns pose in immature hands.
But what about crazy hands or criminal hands and what about accidents? I don’t really get the resistance to regulation in this area.
Or yes, I get it, but it’s quite paranoid.
A restriction based on age is fairly easy to enforce. We have birth certificates, drivers licenses, passports. All sorts of documentation of a person’s age. Even without documentation, ambiguity pretty much goes away when a person reaches, say, thirty. They look old enough.
But how do you look sane enough? Or law abiding enough? Or careful enough to own a gun?
We already have the beginnings of procedures. In my state you buy a firearm owner’s identification card that asks you questions about convictions, mental illness, citizenship, and so on. But it’s not much. Gun rights activists are not happy with this. They see this type of effort as providing the authorities with information to facilitate gun confiscation.
And what about types of guns? Can the government restrict ownership of automatic weapons? Gun rights activists say no to this as well?
But when the Constitution speaks of regulation in this area, wouldn’t you think that regulation should foster (in the words of the Constitution) the “security of a free state”?
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