Firing In A Crowded Theater

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sadly, the death of two people last week in a shooting at a Louisiana movie theater will not do anything to start a meaningful dialog about gun control in our country. If the 13 people in Binghamton, 13 people in Ft. Hood, three people in Huntsville, eight people in Manchester, six people in Tucson, eight people in Seal Beach, seven people in Oakland, 12 people in Aurora, six people in Oak Creek, six people in Minneapolis, three people in Brookfield, 27 people in Newtown, five people in Santa Monica, 13 people in Washington, D. C., three people in Ft. Hood, seven people in Isla Vista and nine people in Charleston were not enough to spark a discussion about who has access to guns, why should another two lives matter to our politicians? When Obama initially ran for president, the NRA warned that we have never “faced a presidential candidate...with such a deep-rooted hatred of firearm freedoms,” but as President, Obama has only expanded the rights of gun owners. And the carnage continues…

Proving that his glasses are not actually making him smarter, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry says that the solution to the problem is allowing people “to take their firearms to the movies.” After all, what could go wrong with multiple people firing in a chaotic, darkened theater? He also dismissed the need for new laws stating that “we have the laws in place” and that “somewhere, somebody didn’t do their job in the standpoint of enforcing the laws.” This conclusion defies logic. Whether the problem is enforcement or loopholes,  when a person who has “made violent threats in attempt to stop his daughter’s wedding,” had been involuntarily committed as “a danger to himself and others” and has publicly “encouraged violence against people involved in abortions” is able to legally obtain a gun, existing laws are not working. A politician who was not cowing to the NRA, and the money they inject into our electoral system, would readily admit that this is proof that our existing laws need to be revisited.

The Second Amendment does not give our government an excuse to bypass the issue of gun control. Our First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from making a law “abridging the freedom of speech,” is not treated the same way. We are still protected from libel; child pornography is still a crime. We recognize that if you falsely “yell ‘fire,’ it is going to cause chaos and will probably get someone hurt. In that situation, you aren’t being punished for your speech; but for creating a commotion that violated the rights of other people.” As technology has expanded to give us the internet, laws have been introduced to provide protections against revenge porn.

The same common sense interpretation should be applied to the Second Amendment. Surely, there is enough room in the Constitution to recognize that we should be allowed to prevent those with mental illness from obtaining weapons. Assault rifles, which did not exist during colonial times, certainly deserve a more critical eye than the muskets used by our founding fathers. The Supreme Court may have separated the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” from the need for “a well regulated militia,” but they have have not prohibited the use of all gun regulation. Our leaders should at least recognize that their obligation to protect the lives of citizens through common sense regulation is at least important as protecting the rights of gun owners.