If The First, Why not the Second?

If we can ban these...
It's (alas!) rare these days when politicians set aside ideological differences, transgress party lines, and make moral decisions in the public interest, but one must give credit where it's due. Though Northern skeptics may scoff, it took political courage for South Carolina's Republican-saturated government to buck 154 years of inert tradition and declare the Confederate battle flag what it is: a symbol of racism, division, and white folks behaving badly. That bloody old rag is headed for Palmetto State museums—where it belongs– and it appears that even Alabama and Mississippi will soon follow suit. Dylann Roof, the little monster whose church killing spree precipitated this brush with reality, must be stewing in his racist bile as news of the anti-Confederate backlash filters into his cell.  

It is tragic that it took the loss of nine noble lives in Charleston's Emmanuel AME Church for South Carolinians to admit that the old Stars and Bars have always been nothing more than an enabler for hate–a wall behind which past monsters such as Roof hid behind whilst declaiming "Heritage! Heritage!" I would gladly re-raise that putrid banderole if it could bring back those nine lives but, like most people with a conscience and an IQ over 60, I must content myself with the small good that has come out of this enormous tragedy.

We should also consider the larger implications of the reversal we see unfurling before us. The decision to ban the Confederate battle flag from official sites is another de facto recognition that the First Amendment has limits, especially when the public good is endangered by so-called individual rights. Alarmists—or are they monsters in disguise?–are busy blaming Obama, Political Correctness, the NAACP, and wimpy pols for this alleged "shocking assault" on "freedom," but pay no attention. U.S. law has always applied a modified common-sense standard to the First Amendment. Call it the you-can't-yell-fire-in-a-crowded-theater standard, but there are lots of limits to the First Amendment:  you can't advocate lawlessness in an already-dangerous situation, commit libel or slander, distribute child pornography, plagiarize, advocate treason, spew obscenities on the airwaves, sexually harass someone, or violate community standards of decency. (Ask Janet Jackson about the last one!) Lots of communities, schools, agencies, and businesses have "fighting words" ordinances. I'd be the first to admit that some of the restrictions on free speech and expression are dodgy, but the greater point is that freedom is not a synonym for absolute liberty to do as one pleases. Insofar as the First Amendment is concerned, there are limits.

...why not ban these?
If we can limit the First Amendment, why not the Second? I am heartened by the speed in which morality trumped hatred in South Carolina. Roof's hate-filled rampage took place on June 17 and the flag left South Carolina's State House on July 9–warp speed for politics. Contrast this with what did not happen after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013. Or after any of a number of other school shootings; for heaven's sake, American school shootings have their own Wikipedia page! In most cases, meaningful gun control laws were discussed, but dismissed with the speed of an Uzi discharging its rounds. Now consider the gut-wrenching slaughter of 16 kids and a teacher in Dunblane, Scotland. Thomas Hamilton committed his heinous deed on March 13, 1996 and by February 27, 1997 two new laws were in place that effectively banned most handguns from the United Kingdom.

As in the United States, anti-gun control advocates cried that Dunblane was the action   of a single deranged individual and that collectors, hunters, sportsmen, and self-defense advocates should not be penalized for Hamilton's behavior. They lost, and guess what? Hunters still hunt and collectors still collect in the UK; they simply face restrictions on what they can legally buy and are held accountable for the ammunition they can (legally) purchase. British laws are not a panacea; they only restrict handguns and it's still possible to shoot up a school, as was tragically seen in a 2010 incident in Cumbria, England, in which rifle-wielding Derrick Bird killed 12 people before offing himself. Still, the firearm homicide rate in the U.K. is .05 per 100,00; in the U.S. it's 3.55, a level surpassed only by lawless and failed states. Nor has Britain seen increases in home invasions or attacks on unarmed citizens. Mind, this is because only some kinds of handguns were banned.

The bigger issue here is similar to that of the Confederate flag flap. If we can place restrictions on the First Amendment in the name of the public good, isn't it time to do so with the Second? As in the case of those alarmists who for years defended the Stars and Bars, legislators need to ignore shrill and selfish voices and act morally in the name of a more sane and civil society.   

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