Tread Lightly On The Constitution

Published 1:57 pm Thursday, January 10, 2013

Editor, The Herald:

I was overseas last month when the tragic massacre at Newtown, CT occurred. Still, in less than a day the horrible details became known around the world and in the ensuing days and weeks we would all be reminded of the loss of 20 children and their 6 adult guardian angels who did all they could to prevent more loss of life. We also learned about the perpetrator of this mass murder in minute detail. His name and image join the litany of criminals who have been enshrined in infamy for their horrible deeds at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Aurora Movie Theater, Virginia Tech and Columbine High School, to name just a few horrible examples.

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about one of the weapons that all of these deranged criminals used in perpetrating their murders. In each instance they used the same weapon to propel themselves onto the public stage. In every case they used the identical weapon of assault to guarantee maximum impact and effect. They wanted to ensure that their names and their horrible deeds would not simply be remembered, but broadcast around the globe, thus ensuring that they would become famous or infamous, no matter. Yes, this same weapon was deployed by each of these murderers to exploit their innocent victims so that they could achieve their selfish, devious, deadly, unthinkable goals. I have come to the unavoidable conclusion that it is indeed time to begin a national conversation about how to bring this weapon under control and in so doing protect future innocent victims of other deranged people with murderous intent.

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I am, of course, calling for a national conversation on how to control the free Press and media machines in this country. The above-mentioned murderers have achieved a sort of fame that would have been unthinkable to our Founding Fathers. In their time a free Press was simply that; a person or persons with an actual printing press who printed news stories and circulated them within their town or region. The Founding Fathers could hardly have conceived of the technologies today that allow for news to be broadcast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week around the globe into our televisions, radios and computers. With such awesome media firepower any deranged person with murderous intent can absolutely count on gaining international notoriety through his or her dastardly acts, secure in the knowledge that CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the Associated Press, and thousands of other sources will eagerly give them the world stage. The Press is, for the most part, a for-profit enterprise. The more gory the news and higher the circulation or ratings, the higher the profits become. The 24-hour news cycle demands that the Press not simply report the news but sensationalize it, repackage it with more gruesome details and sell it again. Every fiber of human decency is strained to the limit by a free Press that invades the privacy of the victims and their families to get the scoop on another facet of any given tragedy in the runaway race for ratings and profits.

In today's world one editor, reporter, or other person has more media firepower in their computer and the internet than all of the Press outlets in the entire United States at the time the First Amendment was written. Surely, our Founding Fathers would have no difficulty with us having a conversation about implementing certain restrictions on the free Press and its unprecedented power to become not just unwitting pawns of these murderers, but outright accomplices in helping them to achieve the kind of notoriety that has become all too familiar. Without the vast exposure provided by the Press, these killers may have simply gone into the woods and ended their own lives quietly.

In making the case for limiting the free Press I am, of course, being totally and unequivocally facetious. I have no intention of seeking to limit the free Press. The irony is not lost on me though, that a number of people are using the free speech and freedom of the Press guaranteed in the First Amendment, to advocate placing limitations on the freedoms guaranteed in the Second Amendment.

It is true that today's firearms are more powerful than anything that the Founding Fathers could have imagined. I think their shock would not be that such firepower should be in the hands of individuals, but that such firepower should be in the hands of the government and not, at the same time, in the hands of the citizens. Indeed, the Second Amendment must be understood in the context of the time in which it was written. The flintlocks that were around at the time the Second Amendment was written were the state-of-the art small arm of war. The Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that citizens were as well armed as the government that served them so as to keep the power balance in the hands of the people, thus the Second Amendment.

I do not presently own a so-called assault weapon and I do not think that anyone who knows me would think me to be anything other than a pragmatic, reasonable person. Yet, I fear that the same logic that can be applied to the limiting of one of our Constitutionally-guaranteed rights can easily be applied to others. Our history as a nation is replete with examples of the fallibility of the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court when it comes to limiting our Constitutional freedoms. The Founding Fathers believed that it was a self-evident, universal truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…” The Bill of Rights does not grant us these rights. Rather, it acknowledges basic rights that we have been given by our Creator and provides the means for maintaining them. How, then, can we go about limiting that which was not granted by the government or any person? Limiting free speech, the freedom of the Press, the right to keep and bear arms or any other of the basic rights granted to us by Nature and our Creator is dangerous ground to tread upon. Tread lightly.

Brian Bates