Debunking gun control – “fire” in a crowded movie theater

How many times have you heard this argument:

  • (Crazy American Extremist) “The 2nd Amendment is pretty clear – it says ‘shall not be infringed.’  So you can’t just start infringing whenever you want.”
  • (Anti-American Socialist) “Of course I can.  We put limits on all parts of the Constitution every day.  For example, you can’t just yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater.  It’s common sense.”

That seems to be the entire gun control argument these days – the philosophy that because we’ve already accepted constraints on our liberty, that accepting a little more is perfectly fine.  Anyone heard of the Overton Window?

But what the socialists have done with the movie theater argument is trick you into accepting a false premise: that stopping an immoral act covered by the 1st Amendment right free speech (yelling “fire”) is the same as stopping the 1st Amendment in its entirety.  Clearly there are immoral activities that a person could undertake with a gun.  And as far as I know, all of those activities are already illegal.

But here’s the important distinction between taking away your 2nd Amendment right and yelling fire in a crowded movie theater (and also how you win that argument):

  • “Yelling ‘fire’ in a movie theater is illegal and immoral.  You’re right that none of us can do that today, nor should we want to.  However, what you’re suggesting would be to make ALL SPEECH illegal inside a movie theater, no matter how normal or harmless, on the outside chance that someone *could* violate the don’t-yell-fire law.  Yelling ‘fire’ is already illegal.  If you violate that law, we’ll hunt you down and throw you in jail (or whatever the penalty is); but by removing the 1st Amendment right of free speech of all law-abiding citizens in that theater, you’ve pre-emptively removed liberty from those people least likely to abuse it – those already abiding by the law.  Your “no speech” law now neither dissuades criminals from violating it, nor helps the common good in any way. All you’ve done is remove liberty in an effort to better control your subjects.”
  • Translation: we should always first assume liberty.  When a person displays an obvious lack of personal responsibility, that person is punished.  But you can’t pre-preemptively punish ALL people for what one criminal *might* do.  A few people have tried that in the past (Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Che…) and all have failed miserably.  Trust the people to do the right thing, then punish them later if they don’t.
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One comment on “Debunking gun control – “fire” in a crowded movie theater

  1. rmactsc says:

    Haven’t thought about the Overton Window in a while. Thanks for the refresher 🙂

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