G&H: Can the First Amendment and the Second Amendment co-exist? They have for centuries, but there is a historic tension between the first two points listed in the Bill of Rights.
The brevity of the Bill of Rights belies its complexity. Written by James Madison, the document safeguards individual liberties by describing specific prohibitions on the power wielded by the federal government.
The bill includes 10 amendments, but it is the first two that are creating the most controversy in the news today.
Just as there is friction between 1A and 2A, there is conflict between the First and the Sixth when it comes to fair trials.
Madison’s bill is open to interpretation, of course. Some people cherry pick its points to use in their own self-interest.
Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, hundreds of thousands of protesters have employed their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly to attack the National Rifle Association and question the Second Amendment’s guarantee that Americans can own guns.
The stakes were raised Tuesday when The New York Times published an opinion piece by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in which Stevens argued that the students who lobbied for gun control at March for Our Lives this past weekend should seek a repeal of the Second Amendment.
President Trump responded Wednesday with an all-caps tweet, combining his First Amendment rights with his bully pulpit to defend the Second Amendment:
THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED! As much as Democrats would like to see this happen, and despite the words yesterday of former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, NO WAY. We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018
This should be obvious, but it must be pointed out here that neither of these rights is absolute.
Consider this analogy, which we first saw posted on social media earlier this week by former newspaper publisher Bruce McIntyre, a retired military officer who says he owns a gun but quit the NRA. The First Amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law …” yet we recognize that there are many rules that restrict free speech and the free press.
Libel laws limit freedom of speech. Copyright laws restrict freedom of the press. Publishing child pornography is outlawed despite Madison’s assurance that “Congress shall make no law …”
In our view, weapons capable of mass killing such as the AR 15 are to the Second Amendment what libel and obscenity are to the First Amendment.
In fact, Congress and the courts have ruled that Second Amendment rights are subject to reasonable regulation. One of the more famous examples of highly restrictive gun laws is federal regulation of fully automatic weapons or machine guns.
Machines guns aren’t banned in the U.S. But they are subject to intense regulation. Under the National Firearms Act, prospective owners must apply to the U.S. Treasury Department for special permission to own machine guns.
Prominent past presidents recognized this. Ronald Reagan in 1991 wrote a New York Times op-ed that supported an assault weapons ban.
Bottom line: The Second Amendment does not say, “Congress shall make no law …” regarding gun ownership. It leaves room for restrictions.
We believe the conversation started by these young people is long overdue. And we’re not alone. Gallup polling shows a majority of Americans are dissatisfied with current gun laws.
It’s just common sense.