Free speech versus the right to bear firearms – The NRA has opted to blame free speech and expression rather than firearms as cause for the recent apparent surge in shooting sprees as that in Newtown at Sandy Hook School. NRA VP and spokesperson Wayne LaPierre fired a barrage of charges, and certainly at least some have resonance both in the US and globally: “In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year. A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. And throughout it all, too many in our national media … their corporate owners … and their stockholders … act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.”

The NRA is more than suggesting though that controlling media, art and almost any form of expression is a better option than gun control to confront America’s epidemic of violence. I have no difficulty in giving at least some weight to the argument that violence projected via various outlets, from traditional media to video games may contribute to a lack of sensitivity and/or dislocation from reality at least for some. However, as in the case of guns most such speech/expression is part of our collective freedom even when offensive or perhaps crude to some or most tastes via America’s most critical First Amendment. Are we willing to go down the road of giving the Government greater control over freedom of speech and expression in order to save unrestrained access to all types of guns? Is this the inevitable end of the road destination of the NRA’s argument?

Not only pointless violence but purposefully offensive characterizations of ethnic, racial and/or religious groups can incite violence. From Nazi era propaganda directed at Jews and the unfit to “hate-radio” to demeaning characterizations of the Prophet Mohamed, it is difficult to draw the line between incitement and legitimate debate and freedom of expression. Is not the most legitimate response to offensive hate-speech our own freedom of speech – law enforcement only becoming engaged when the risk to life is imminent? Further, if we examine some societies where freedom of speech/expression does not readily thrive we can see that nonetheless violence does persist, (as with the Taliban and their guns or China’s recent spate of attacks upon schoolchildren by apparently deranged adults). Rather, from Central America to Afghanistan, the common denominator does appear to be guns and easy access to such by gangs or terror organizations.

Most Americans do not recognize that the Second Amendment was not designed to insure access to firearms for sporting or hunting purposes. Rather, in view of the successful rebellion of American colonialists against British rule, the Second Amendment was to codify the right and threat of citizens standing up to a potentially future authoritarian US Government. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Realistically though US citizens have long ago lost the opportunity to confront their Government with weapons – the US Government has both weapons and intelligence within the country that would make revolution futile as well as criminalized. The purpose of the Second Amendment has been both functionally and in right made irrelevant. When George Mason and the Founding Fathers who insisted upon the Bill of Rights, (the first 10 Amendments, before they would agree to the US Constitution as a new framework for governance), they were cognizant of the potential tyranny of Government authority and ignorance. The right to know as well as to speak and express views regardless of how unfavorable engrained in the First Amendment is our most realistic protection, and even more relevant today in view of the evolution of new media and communication as a whole. Undoubtedly we all will find some speech offensive even hateful or even inciting violence, but it all can be countered by the same rights incorporated in the First Amendment. Words can injure but guns simply kill. Our most effective weapon in defending our freedoms and fending off an overzealous Government or authority is not a gun but the First Amendment.

Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey

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