Jared Loughner

Jared Loughner

PHOTO: © Airzona Daily Star/Pima County Sheriff's Department/ZUMApress.com 

When rights go wrong

Free speech may not have played a role in the Tucson shooting, but the Second Amendment sure did

By Barry Gordon 01/27/2011

Like it? Tweet it! SHARE IT!

Americans love their rights. We talk about them incessantly and have an especially sensitive radar to sniff out any early warnings that our rights are about to be infringed. But the recent tragic events in Tucson have me thinking about two rights in particular — those embodied in the First and Second Amendments of our Constitution.
The First Amendment right to free speech has never really been absolute. There are libel laws restricting a person’s right to say anything about anybody they please (although in the case of public officials, the effect of these laws is almost meaningless). There are truth-in-advertising laws governing commercial speech. Community standards are relevant in determining whether speech is obscene and unprotected by the First Amendment. And “incitement” is an exception to the free speech protection if, but only if, the speaker is inciting others to take imminent unlawful action.
No one, to my knowledge, has made a direct connection between some of the vitriol that passes for political debate and Jared Loughner’s actions in front of that supermarket. Loughner’s political beliefs seem to defy the usual categorizations. But we do know that there was an exceptionally virulent anti-government strain infecting those beliefs. His hatred of the Federal Reserve and his desire to return to a hard currency (a favorite of Ron Paul’s), his position that income taxes were unconstitutional notwithstanding the 16th Amendment, and his tendency to see government conspiracies around every corner have all been well-documented. Some have suggested that he was influenced by the “sovereign citizen” movement, an anarchic ideology that he may have shared with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. 
It is also beyond dispute that Loughner, and others like him, exist in an atmosphere that resounds with talk about a “second American revolution,” the use of “Second Amendment remedies” and with an almost irrational mistrust of government. Are the ramblings of a deranged conspiracy nut that much different than the largely incoherent meta-theories Glenn Beck puts up on his blackboard every day? If anyone is looking for validation for his crackpot ideas, he can now find it on commercial television or talk radio or, sometimes, in the halls of Congress.
The absolutism of the First Amendment protects such speech and, on balance, that’s probably a good thing. But such speech doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Even if it did not affect this particular case, it could directly affect another Jared Loughner in the future. There is a difference between arguing about policy and suggesting that the president is the anti-Christ. At least some discretion may be in order.
While political speech may not have been a factor, we know that our Second Amendment right to bear arms was. Loughner walked into a store, legally purchased an extended-clip automatic weapon, and bought at least some of the ammunition at Wal-Mart. He concealed the weapon legally. In fact, the only time he violated the law was when he fired into the crowd.
I admit that I’m not a fan of guns. Guns may not kill people, but they certainly make it far easier for people to kill people. And the whole hunting argument doesn’t hold any weight with me. People used to hunt for survival. Today, hunting is just killing other living creatures for recreation. “Hey, let’s go out on the weekend and shoot some birds out of the sky or kill a defenseless animal!
Doesn’t that sound like fun?” Not to me. And if you need to hit a target, I know this great archery range in the Arroyo. I don’t believe there’s been a political assassination attempt with a bow and arrow since the Sheriff of Nottingham.
As for the self-protection argument, home invasions are statistically rare, especially when compared to incidences of gun murder by a family member or friend. The presence of a gun in the home has turned many a domestic dispute into a violent tragedy.
But even assuming that the US Supreme Court is correct in finding an individual, constitutionally protected right to own guns, why must that right be “absolute” any more than our First Amendment right is? What we need is a little less absolutism and a lot more common sense. 
If we had reasonable gun laws, Loughner might have had to register the weapon like we have to register an automobile (as they do in Canada). He may not have been able to purchase an automatic weapon, at least one with an extended clip. He may not have been able legally to carry a concealed weapon to a public event. In other words, at any point prior to the shooting, he would have had to violate the law numerous times in order to carry out his plans, giving law enforcement far greater opportunity to prevent this horrifying act from happening.
The chances of any of the above getting passed by Congress are nil, we are told. Even the Democrats have given up the fight. Our constitutional rights under either amendment are sacred. But there’s a difference we ignore at our peril. Words alone don’t kill anybody. Guns can and do … every day.

Barry Gordon teaches at Cal State LA and is the co-host of “City Beat” on KPAS. Contact him at barry@barrytalk.com.

DIGG | del.icio.us | REDDIT

Like it? Tweet it!

Other Stories by Barry Gordon

Related Articles


I consider it quite likely that Loughner's rampage might well boil-down to being a psychotically conceived, extremely elaborate suicide.
(All on his subconscious:) by his rampage, and its consequences, he "removes responsibility" for suicide from self, and "delegates responsibility" for his being executed to the legal process.
Sort of like the well-known "cops suicide," whereby someone who wants to end-themselves approaches a policeman in a threatening manner, thus hoping to precipitate the policeman to slay him.
Loughner's case might be seen as a hyper-elaborate version of that suicidal intent.

posted by Elfstone on 1/27/11 @ 08:05 a.m.

A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which described alcohol consumption as the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States after tobacco smoke and obesity but ahead of seventh place firearms, has me thinking about the Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution.

The Twenty-first Amendment repeal of alcohol prohibition has never really been absolute. A permit is still required from the Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau to manufacture distilled alcohol in addition to other federal laws.

No one, to my knowledge, has made a direct connection between political debate and the latest alcohol fueled tragedy. But we know that the revolutionary Benjamin Franklin once said, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

It is almost beyond dispute that alcohol drinkers, and other substance users like them, exist in an atmosphere that resounds with talk about a second American revolution. There is an almost irrational distrust of government stemming from isolated incidents such as the no-knock warrant shooting death of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston or the shooting down of Roni Bowers and her seven-month-old daughter over Peru.

While not every drinker is thinking of revolution, we know that our Twenty-first Amendment right to consume alcohol brings deranged individuals into stores were they buy extended-drink 40oz bottles before violating the law with acts of violence.

I admit that I’m not a fan of alcohol. Alcohol may not kill people, but it makes it far easier for people to kill people. And the whole recreation argument doesn’t hold any weight either. Today drinking often precedes bad singing. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Not to me. If you need to sing, I know a great church where the hymns are delightful and Ephesians 6:5 is regularly included in the sermon.

As for being free to do as you wish in your own home, the presence of alcohol in the home has turned many a domestic dispute into a violent tragedy. But even assuming that the Twenty-first Amendment overturned the Eighteenth Amendment prohibition of alcohol, why must we assume that amendment is the only way to change the Constitution? No amendment was required to prohibit marijuana.

If we had reasonable alcohol laws, only certain individuals would be permitted a registration in order to drink. People may not be able to purchase 40oz bottles. People may not be able to drink at public events. In other words, people would have to commit several pre-crimes en route to actually harming another individual, giving law enforcement several opportunities to stop them with tasers and guns.

The chances of any of the above getting passed by Congress are nil, we are told. How many more people must be killed by alcohol before we re-interpret the Constitution without amendment again?

posted by yoikes on 1/27/11 @ 09:35 a.m.

Nicely done, Yoikes. You have a gift for satire.

However...as you well know, no one has anything close to an absolute right to drink alcohol. I'm sure you've heard of a breathalizer test. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible to get any reasonable gun safety legislation on either a state or federal level without the NRA breathing down legislators' necks.

Happy hunting!

posted by Barry Gordon on 1/28/11 @ 09:16 a.m.

I am well aware of the breathalyzer. It is a device used to detect the pre-crime of impaired driving, which may get one incarcerated or at least restricted from driving, unless one is a foreign diplomat or perhaps a powerful senator.

It's virtually impossible to get any federal gun regulation, meaning it is possible, meaning there is no absolute right to bear arms. Well, maybe in the Secret Service one still has an absolute right to bring a gun to school.

Opinions vary on what constitutes reasonable. Would it be reasonable to conclude that the right to bear arms extends only to bows and arrows? For you and me of course, the Secret Service wasn't created equal.

Was it reasonable to stretch the Commerce Clause to restrict people from growing a plant and smoking it on their own property, in order to keep them safe from reefer madness? Is it reasonable that the authorities show up in the dead of night, without knocking, guns most unsafely drawn, to enforce drug prohibitions? Is it reasonable that the "land of the free" has the highest incarceration rate in the world?

Does the Constiutional amendment process constitute safety legislation designed to keep us safe from reasonableness? And do you have any reasonable legislation to suggest that would limit the NRA from breathing free speech down legislators' necks?

posted by yoikes on 1/28/11 @ 06:13 p.m.



There ain't no easy answers.

Nowadays in this assaulted land, ANYBODY who claims a Constitutional right is treated like a perp! In the meantime (if you believe FOX Noose), all of America's true patriots "understand" our government's need to impoverish us for our own safety. On the flip side, if you control a corporate identity, you are Superman.

Mostly, it's in the statistics. The circumstance encopassing gun crime on America's border with Mexico will be different than what happens in Nebraska. Hawaii gun crime will be different from Biloxi Mississippi. And yes, the United States is appreciably different from the rest of the world.

When the U.S. Congress passed the Patriot(not) Act without even reading it, America's national government declared itself an enemy of the people. Basically, it proclaimed that the "Rule of Law" only applies to the (non-incorporated) rubes.

Gun ownership is a right that so many people just love to proclaim so wrong. Meanwhile, only institutions may practice legal sovereignty.

Wolves just love sheep that don't fight back. And what of the ones that do fight back? They'll still get slaughtered, and that's because they're all unarmed.

If it arms itself, it ain't a sheep.


posted by DanD on 1/30/11 @ 08:48 a.m.
Post A Comment

Requires free registration.

(Forgotten your password?")