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Time for Some Common-Sense Publishing Controls

What would Second Amendment bloviators say if we applied their logic to the First Amendment?

Rand Simberg


December 25, 2012 - 12:21 am
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Yes, that musty old document is, as Ezra Klein says, over a hundred years old. How could any modern person understand it, and why should we pay any attention to it?

Bob Owens has pulverized the notion, of course. The Second Amendment isn’t (just) about hunting or even (just) about self-defense, though the former was a new right that the Founders had expanded from the gentry to the common man, and the latter was perhaps viewed by them as the most fundamental human right of all. No, they wrote that amendment because they recalled the manner in which the War for Independence had begun less than a decade and a half earlier. As Owens notes, the battles of Lexington and Concord were still recent history and fresh in their minds. They had been set off by a British attempt to seize an armory consisting of weapons that could be used against them in a revolt. That is to say, militarily effective weapons.

But since actual history seems lost on these people, I’ve decided to take a different tack, and ask them why (ignoring Ed Schultz’s less-than-compelling ad hominem argument that the entire racist/sexist/intolerant Constitution is ignorable) the Second Amendment is technology dependent, but the others not. A decade or so ago, when Fox New’s Bill O’Reilly was ranting about this terrible new-fangled Internet thing, that allowed people to write whatever they want and insult wise and esteemed talk-show hosts, and have it read by other people, I decided to take on opponents of both the First and Second Amendments with a little satire, which was apparently lost on some people at the time:

When the Founders wrote the First Amendment, they could never have conceived a technology that would allow anyone to publish anything at any time, at almost no cost, and have it readable by millions instantaneously.

…But surely the Founders never intended for every single citizen to be able to exercise such a right–in their wisdom, they would have known it would lead to chaos and unfettered thought. They couldn’t possibly have imagined the rapid-fire distribution of dangerous ideas made possible by twenty-first-century technology. Why, some people might have even put forth the absurd notion that free speech is the right of everyone.

…Let’s be reasonable–of course it’s fine to let people have typewriters, and copiers, as long as they don’t have a paper magazine of more than a quarter-ream capacity, and can’t print more than two pages per minute in high-density color. There are legitimate uses for such things–printing up book reports for school, making PTA meeting notices and party invitations, and the like. We respect the rights of those who wish to indulge in such innocuous, if pointless activities, long a part of the American cultural tradition (though it would certainly make sense to register such devices, in case they’re stolen, or lest they’re used to express some untoward or scandalous thought).

…But the Founders would realize also, just as Bill O’Reilly and I do today, that no one, other than the police and politicians, needs the kind of “idea assault” publishing capability offered by word processors, blogging software, and even fifteen-page-per-minute ink-jet printers, which really have no legitimate use–they only propagate calumny and wrong-headed notions, tragically damaging innocent celebrities’ egos, sometimes permanently.

…Yet, when people propose sensible regulations over this, we hear hysterical cries about “freedom of expression,” and “from my cold, dead fingers.” But surely the far-fringe First Amendment absolutists are misreading it–there is a hint of a shadow of an umbra of a penumbra in there, easily accessed by referencing the Second Amendment. Bearing this in mind, it is more properly read with the following implicit preface: “A well-regulated press being necessary for the security of the State and self-important talk-show hosts, Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”

Clearly, viewed in the light of that implicit purpose clause, these were not intended to be individual rights, any more than they were in the Second Amendment, because obviously, the Founders wouldn’t have meant one thing by the words “the right of the people” in the one case, and a different thing in the other, particularly in two adjacent amendments.

There’s a lot more at the link, but clearly, and particularly in light of all of the irresponsible reporting and pontificating on what the Founders intended, by CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and others, it’s time to rein in this out-of-control media. How could the Founders have foreseen cable television, or television at all, in which irresponsible, uneducated, ignorant people could fill Americans’ heads with rapid-fire historical nonsense? I say we restrict Ed Schultz to only two hundred ignorant words per hour. If it saves just one life, it’s worth it. Maybe we should consider a thirty-day waiting period after a tragic event for Whoopi to shoot off her mouth it. We should interdict at the border weapons of mass distraction and misinformation like Piers Morgan...."

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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