When Guns Trample Speech, Do We Have a Democracy?


Upon learning of the Utah law, Sarkeesian chose not to go ahead with her talk. No responsible person could have done otherwise. And that’s surely what the gamer twerp who sent the email had anticipated. After all, Utah’s gun laws could not have been more precisely designed to compel the cancellation, and to encourage more such threats and cancellations the next time a talk is scheduled that upsets some unbalanced or merely sinister figure.

What happened at Utah State was that the right to bear arms, taken to the kind of loony lengths that the National Rifle Association pressures legislators to enact, plainly infringed upon the right to free speech and assembly. While there is considerable question whether the Second Amendment was meant to ensure a universal right to own and carry guns or merely to establish state militias, there’s greater consensus that the First Amendment was intended to protect speech from the momentary (or enduring) prejudices of lawmakers. Historically, guns and the threat of guns have curtailed as least as much speech as they’ve protected, but in this country, fortunately, such episodes are commonly against the law. In Utah last week, though, free speech was curtailed not in violation of a law but entirely because of one.

The problem with the kind of Second Amendment absolutism stoked by the NRA and made into law by legislators and judges is that gun rights taken to extremes inherently imperil other rights. The raisons d’être of guns not used for hunting are self-defense and intimidation. A society where guns are unregulated and the threat of gun violence cannot be legally checked is a society where intimidation becomes the norm and freedom of speech can be easily abridged.

The Constitution is not frictionless machine in which all the parts move harmoniously together. Some of the rights it guarantees collide with other rights it guarantees. The elevation of the Second Amendment into a super-right has now diminished others—including those that the founders quite deliberately put first.

Interesting conflict.  I’m sure that once the Muslims start toting guns a quite different interpretation of the second amendment will apply.