Thursday, January 17, 2013

Making no amends

I’m lucky.

As a writer and journalist, I hear that a lot. I’m lucky to live in these United States of America, where freedom of speech is enshrined right there in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Also, I’ve been admonished, I’m even luckier for the Second Amendment. Because freedom of speech wouldn’t survive without the firepower to back it up. So I’d better back off with the anti-gun criticism, buddy, because I’m looking a gift horse in the barrel!

Sorry to break it to you.


Granted, the U.S. armed forces have defended the nation effectively for the past 200-plus years, and they’ve done so in no small part due to firearms. The military has done its job so well, in fact, that the idea of a domestic invasion — the greatest outside threat to our rights — is virtually nil. Wars fought these days involve oil, politics and policing the world; freedom and the flag are low on the list. Still, I’ll grant that military weapons play a part in protecting free speech in a broad and abstract sense.

But I don’t need a bevy of vigilantes surrounding my home on 24-hour watch to say something in America. Never in my life have I thought, “Thanks, Weird Weapons Guy down the street, for allowing me to spout my mouth off.” If anything, I worry about pissing off that guy. And getting shot over speech isn’t something we’re supposed to worry about here.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been bullied online and sometimes threatened in person. I’ve been the subject of harassment on several websites based on articles I’ve written. After writing a column about bigotry in college, I was called a “race traitor” and had a pile of white supremacist literature left on my vehicle.

Despite that, I’ve never owned, nor ever considered owning, a gun. Hell, I’ve only used a gun a few times in my life — fewer if you don’t count squirt guns and the Nintendo Zapper, and never if you also don’t count BBs and blanks. Furthermore, no newspaper or magazine where I’ve worked has posted sentries.

Your gun has nothing to do with my free speech.

I can think of several nations where such is the case, but none of those places could remotely be considered beacons of freedom. This is America, where the Constitution and Bill of Rights rule the day.

Even if you love guns, you should be on board with this. After all, one of the tenets of America is that we are a free people. Free people feel comfortable to live as they wish so long as they are not infringing upon anyone else. That goes as surely for a sportsman as for an opinion writer.

But freedom is under attack right now. Not from supposed gun-grabbers, or the “liberal” media, but from gun nuts themselves. You gun nuts so actively cloak your obsession in patriotism that you’re able to casually dismiss astonishing amounts of carnage. And you call for more guns! Many more guns. Because that is your answer to everything. You apparently truly envision yourselves as the marshals of our country, which is constantly a hairbreadth away from apocalyptic looting at any given moment, on any given street corner. Oh, how you underestimate your brethren in what you consider the greatest country in the world.

Your gun has nothing to do with my free speech.

The Second Amendment doesn’t guard the First Amendment. Each amendment is lateral, a course in a complete meal. That said, the First Amendment holds a particular importance because the Constitution itself is the ultimate act of free speech. It (along with its attendant Bill of Rights) is an audacious document written to combat tyranny and protect inherent rights, including the right of defense. I’m not up on the metric system, but I’m sure the Constitution is not a bullet. If weapons were all we needed to form and protect a nation, then pieces of paper would be moot. But the Founding Fathers were interested in establishing something far more solid than an armed anarchy.

If you need any proof that the Second Amendment wasn’t intended to be the end-all be-all of this nation, skip all the way to the Third Amendment. It disallows soldiers from forcibly quartering in American homes in peacetime. Apparently, the Founders thought that such a rule needed stronger backing than the metaphorical handshake that is an armed citizen.

If firearms equaled freedom, would we even need a Second Amendment? Indeed, a Constitution? Gun nuts often say you can’t rely on the police or other established institutions to save you. But they’re the first to duck behind a withered old piece of paper every time someone talks gun control. Because even they know that brute force isn’t enough.

Whether it’s the media, the government, the business world, public works or anything else in America, nothing gets done through guns. Things get done through laws, regulations, beneficial mutual agreements, legal channels, etc. Even the police conduct most of their duties without ever drawing from their holster. And even most American corruption goes through more binding, and clever, channels. The only place where guns rule is the criminal underworld — not exactly our most flattering side.

Attempting to institute democracy at the point of a gun failed in Iraq, and has always failed in Afghanistan. On the other hand, once the barrier of free speech breaches, such as in Egypt and Libya, not even the world’s deadliest artillery can stem the tide.

Your gun has nothing to do with my free speech. But free speech has everything to do with your ability to carry a gun. 

We’re both lucky. Let’s keep it that way.

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