Saying Just About Anything
By Pierre Lemieux
Yesterday, I pointed out the flimsiness of President Joe Biden’s economics as expressed in his speech of last week before Congress. What he said in the same speech comparing the First and the Second Amendments does not make more sense. It confirms one conclusion of the economics of politics: for a politician, the cost of saying just about anything or of plain lying is low.
In arguing for still more gun controls, he explicitly invited a comparison between the limits of the First Amendment with those he wants for the Second Amendment:
This [gun control reform] shouldn’t be a red or blue issue. And no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
If there is no fire in a theater, one does not have a First Amendment right to yell “Fire!” any more than one has the right to start shooting around if nobody is shooting at the patrons. But if there is a fire, somebody certainly has a right to shout a warning, just as an armed patron is or should be at liberty to engage and shoot anybody who starts shooting around.
Imagine that the First Amendment were submitted to the same limits as the Second Amendment in the most liberal (in the sense of permissive) states. Such restrictions would mean the following:
- Before getting a tool to use his First Amendment rights—say buying a speaker, a pen, or a computer—an individual would have to pass the National Instant Criminal Background Check with the FBI. In fact, purchasing any new such tool would require another similar permission. (Whether the use of one’s own throat would be possible without the FBI’s permission remains an open question.)
- An individual once convicted of whatever sort of felony would be barred for life from purchasing any free-speech tool (and perhaps using his voice or his writing hand too?). Just being “in possession of” such a tool, meaning being in immediate control of it (in his girlfriend’s unlocked closet, for example), would constitute a new felony.
- An individual convicted of misdemeanor of domestic violence, even just for the “attempted use of physical force,” or against whom a protective order has been obtained, would also lose his free-speech rights, sometimes forever.
In more restrictive states and in DC, the following restrictions on the First Amendment would be added:
- To be allowed to purchase free-speech tools or just to keep a tool he already owns, a person would be legally required to first obtain a personal free-speech license.
- A free-speech tool would have to remain in one’s own home and never be carried outside. The only exception would be to travel back and forth to a local “speaking range.”
- The capacity of your speech would be limited to a certain number of decibels or pages (as gun magazines are limited to 10 cartridges in some restrictive states) as well as by the prohibition of scary, government-style free-speech tools (say, a top-of-the-line photocopier painted in camo). Politicians would still have “mindguards” who would not be subject to these restrictions: the First Amendment would just be restricted for ordinary people.
Biden would want, at least for now, to further add three new national limits on the First Amendment:
- The capacity and military-style restrictions mentioned in #3 of the preceding list would apply nationally.
- It would be forbidden to buy any used free-speech tool in a private transaction or at a “Speech Show” without passing the Instant Background Check.
- Any violator of the new federal restrictions would be committing felony speech, and be forever forbidden to speak, write, or otherwise express his opinions.
The three lists above are illustrative and only mention the most obvious restrictions that would apply to the First Amendment if it were as restricted as Second Amendment currently is.