In the wake of the tragedy at Newtown, Conn., many are calling to curb our Second Amendment rights in the name of security. Some are asking whether the cost of freedom may be too high. Maybe if we were less free, we’d be more safe.
The public has been focused on the Second Amendment. But, new gun control laws are not going to stop mad men like Adam Lanza or James Eagan Holmes (the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting). Both are/were highly intelligent, evil beyond comprehension, and willing to plan their deeds months in advance. If these monsters couldn’t get their hands on a semi-automatic weapon, they could build a bomb like Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma City, killing 149 adults and 19 children.
The worst school massacre in this nation’s history was carried out using dynamite in 1927, in Michigan. Andrew Kehoe, the school board treasurer, surreptitiously wired the school with explosives over the course of several months. The north wing of the school was destroyed, killing 38 elementary school children and 6 adults. Dozens more would have been killed, but hundreds of pounds of dynamite left under the south wing failed to detonate as planned.
Many legislators are clamoring to reinstate the federal “assault weapons” ban. Remarkably, Connecticut had an “assault weapons” ban in place at the time of the Newtown shooting. The weapon used by Lanza was not banned.
If legislators are willing to curb our rights in the name of security, perhaps they should take a look at the rest of the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment seems like a good place to start. Turns out Adam Lanza enjoyed playing violent video games. So did Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who massacred 70 people in July of 2011. Censoring violent video games might reduce the likelihood that some particularly unstable people will carry out their evil deeds.
In the fall of this year, an anti-Muslim YouTube video was blamed for unrest and bloodshed throughout the Middle East. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi requested that the U.S. government punish the filmmaker, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula. According to the father of a Navy SEAL killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were going to have the filmmaker arrested and prosecuted. Soon after, Nakoula, was in fact arrested and held without bail. He remains in jail today, but the charges purportedly have nothing to do with the content of his video.
Should the government have to contrive trumped-up charges to hold those who exercise speech in a manner which leads to violence? Maybe the government should have the power to censor speech which might lead to violence in the unstable among us. An Ivy League professor made this point in a recent USA Today editorial. If speech leads to violence, the speaker should bear the consequences and go directly to jail. This might serve to dissuade others from doing the same in the future.
The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. Undoubtedly, countless people, including children, could be saved every year if only we did away with this protection. Terrorist attacks such as 9/11, and other mass murders, may have been prevented if our government had the power to randomly search our bank accounts, computer activity and homes.
The Fifth and Sixth Amendments afford us the rights to due process and trial by jury, respectively. These protections also make it more difficult to lock up those who might cause us harm. Nidal Hassan, the accused Fort Hood shooter, had demonstrated a growing interest in violent Islamic extremism and communicated with suspected terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki, prior to the attack. This was well known to his superiors on the military base. Yet, he was left to wander the base without restriction. Had he been arrested and held indefinitely based upon this suspicious activity, more than a dozen Americans would still be among the living.
Notably, the same suspected terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was killed by a drone attack in Yemen in 2011. No trial was needed; just an order from the president. The “most transparent administration in history” has refused to release the Justice Department legal opinion on al-Awlaki’s killing under the Freedom of Information Act and is in court opposing efforts to have it made public.
The Eighth Amendment protects us from cruel and unusual punishment. But what if that cruel and unusual punishment serves to dissuade other would be murderers? What if torturing witnesses would lead to information saving thousands of Americans? Again, eliminating this privilege would give law enforcement much greater latitude to protect us from those who might bring us harm.
In sum, if we’re willing to curb our own freedom to prevent the next mass murder, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments might all be better starting points than the Second Amendment. But is that the kind of country we want to live in? A place where the government censors our speech, detains or assassinates us without trial, listens in on our private conversations and randomly searches our homes.
Over the last several years, the federal government has chipped away at our natural rights in the name of security. In times of tragedy and civil tumult, it’s not uncommon for man to voluntarily cede his own liberty in the name of security. But before clamoring to give up more, consider the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”