UPDATED – Today’s editorial page in the Seattle Times effectively puts the lie to any claim from the gun prohibition lobby – for which an alarming number of newspaper editorial boards now serve as cheerleaders – that “nobody wants to take your guns” by demanding that the state ban “assault-style weapons” and magazines that hold more than ten cartridges.
After the editorial appeared online late yesterday afternoon, almost 200 responses were logged overnight, and they’re still coming. Some critics note that the editorial is loaded with anti-gun buzzwords, and allegedly ignorant of facts, most notably that rifles of any kind are used in a fraction of homicides, and that the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that more people are now opposed to banning semi-auto rifles, a fact that the equally anti-gun Big Apple newspaper carefully danced around yesterday.
The newspaper apparently could only bring itself to report, “And 44 percent of Americans in this month’s poll said they would favor a nationwide ban on assault weapons, the lowest figure in the 20 years that The Times and CBS News have been asking the question.” That poll, discussed by this column days ago, revealed that 50 percent of the respondents oppose such a ban.
The Times editorial goes a step farther than seeking to ban just so-called “assault weapons.” They also want to ban “tactical” assault-style weapons, whatever those are. The newspaper doesn’t define such firearms.
Writing Wednesday in the Washington Post, Prof. Eugene Volokh, who explained why Second Amendment advocates worry about such bans. It might be prudent for the members of the Seattle Times editorial board to read Volokh’s essay. Volokh teaches free speech and religious freedom law and a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic at the UCLA School of Law.
Volokh puts it bluntly, noting that “some supporters of gun bans have argued in favor of assault weapons bans precisely because they can help lead to broader bans (such as bans on handguns). If some of your opponents think a restriction is good because it will lead to something much broader, you might be forgiven for taking them at their word.”
As syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer famously noted a few years ago – and was quoted again the other day by Volokh – “Passing a law like the assault weapons ban is a symbolic — purely symbolic — move in [the direction of disarming the citizenry]. Its only real justification is not to reduce crime but to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons in preparation for their ultimate confiscation.”
Earlier this week, House Democrats launched a new effort to ban so-called “assault weapons” at the federal level. So far, more than 120 Democrats have jumped on that bandwagon, and while some gun rights chest thumpers are smugly arguing on social media that it could never happen, all one needs to refute that argument is a landslide election putting Democrats in control on Capitol Hill and the Oval Office. Bill Clinton nearly did it during his second year in office, which led to a Republican sweep in Congress, but no repeal of either the Brady Handgun Law or the ten-year semi-auto ban.
What is alarming to many in the Second Amendment community is that when a newspaper uses the First Amendment to advocate erosion of the Second, it suggests that editorial writers do not look too far over the horizon. How long do any of these opinion leaders think their free speech liberties would remain as they are today if a hostile Congress learned it could get away with turning another civil right into a government-regulated privilege?
In its editorial, the newspaper recalled, “An assault-weapon ban was floated in Olympia in 2013, after the Newtown, Conn., shooting, but it was “fumbled by proponents” who since left the Legislature.” That was more than a fumble, because the legislation included a provision that would have allowed warrantless searches of gun owner residences.
It is telling that the prime sponsor of that measure was then-Sen. Ed Murray, now Seattle’s mayor. At the time he acknowledged to a Seattle Times columnist that the search provision was probably unconstitutional, and both he and co-sponsor, former Sen. Adam Kline, further acknowledged they hadn’t really vetted the legislation closely.
But that story didn’t pass the smell test when it was subsequently revealed by this column (see links below) that this was at least the third time the same legislation had been submitted, and all three times that provision had been included.
Liberty and freedom are delicate, and a people only give them up once. It begins by allowing, much less advocating for, someone else’s cherished right to be eroded one concession at a time. Why do Second Amendment activists recognize this while First Amendment professionals seem blind to it?
The Times alludes to the “bullying of the gun lobby” that has prevented what anti-gunners maintain are “common sense” gun laws. Banning whole classes of firearms – and thus making criminals of people who own them – isn’t common sense. It’s actually perceived as a form of tyranny by Second Amendment activists, especially the millions of law-abiding citizens who own the guns that the Seattle Times doesn’t want them to have.
This raises an interesting dilemma. Suppose these guns are banned. Millions of people already have them. How does the Times think they’re going to take away those guns? Does the newspaper think gun owners will just turn in their firearms? Good luck with that. An army of civil rights attorneys will find gainful employment for many years to come, fighting such a ban all the way to the Supreme Court.
Therein lays the rub. When the Seattle Times or any other newspaper takes a position against another civil right they may not agree with, it only strengthens the resolve of people on the other side to make sure that doesn’t happen. Like it or not, gun owners have rights, too, including the right to own firearms that may be offensive to some people. There is no right to not be offended. If there were, it would put every editor and cartoonist out of business.
All individual civil rights protected by the Constitution are equal in importance, and just as the most disagreeable or repugnant editorials deserve First Amendment protection, so also do those nasty-looking black guns that today’s left would be rid of. That a newspaper editorial board doesn’t get that is disappointing to the gun rights crowd, which shows its distaste by dropping subscriptions, boycotting advertisers and getting its news elsewhere until the newspaper becomes irrelevant.
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