I don’t tend to describe things as “sacred,” but for me the First Amendment comes close. When I contemplate it, I feel a flutter of awe and respect. I think enshrining citizens’ freedom to believe, speak, report, and associate as they see fit is a monumental achievement in history. I consider it a key component of both patriotism and freedom, and I don’t take infringements of it lightly.
Yet after Friday, I’m willing to consider some further restrictions on the press. That’s not something to take flippantly – it’s a potential threat to the foundations of our society to consider legislating against free dissemination of information. But I think it might be worth it. We need to openly investigate whether breathless, lurid, 24/7 coverage of mass killings leads to more mass killings. And if there is a reasonable indication that it does, we need to try to craft careful, narrow, reasonable limitations that might prevent fame and notoriety from inspiring carnage. The press can never rein itself in on this subject, because there will always be worry that competing media outlets will embrace “if it bleeds it leads,” ad-grabbing sensationalism. It may be that it’s worth government intervention to mitigate that pressure.
Please know that I’m only talking about talking about it. I’m not calling for sweeping legislation or doing away with freedom of the press. I’m saying that we need to discuss the issue, to investigate whether there might be a significant risk created by the way media covers this subject, and if so, to see if there is anything we can reasonably, Constitutionally do to address it. If we ask these questions, it may well turn out that there’s not enough evidence of causation, or that there is, but there is no rational way we can ameliorate it without infringing too far on basic rights. But we must ask the questions. What happened in Newtown means you have to have the conversation before you decide it’s a no-go.
And so, I’m also asking my fellow Americans who cherish the Second Amendment to join me. Please, please be willing to have this conversation! Don’t shut down any discussion that has a whiff of gun control by saying, “Criminals will get guns anyway, discussion OVER,” or declaring that the only relevant subject is mental health. The relevant subject is how to prevent mentally ill people from using guns to make headlines. And that involves mental illness, guns, and headlines. Again, it may be in the end that we can’t make things significantly better through gun safety laws. It may be that we could, but not in a way that complies with the Constitution. But we need to investigate and discuss these issues before coming to that conclusion.
Until now, I’ve viewed mass shootings as akin to lightning strikes – random, something that may be lethal and horrifying, but nothing I can do much about. I have insulated myself from the details of the massacres because “I can’t do anything, so there’s no point in worrying about it.” But I just can’t do that anymore. Maybe it’s because my child is in school, or because I grew up 15 miles from Newtown, or maybe it’s just because finally the weight of accumulated incidents has become too much. I may find in the end that I really can’t do anything, but I have to at least ask the question first.
I am willing to engage in some creativity and openness, some brainstorming in which even impractical, ridiculous, “unthinkable” ideas get put up on the blackboard to be pruned away later. Even when those ideas make me feel profoundly uncomfortable; even when they could threaten the foundational ideals of our culture. I’m begging you to do the same.