A recent article in the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom by Chris Cox criticizes a perceived lack of reporting from The New York Times about Merrick Garland’s record on the Second Amendment. I’ve discussed Garland as a nominee before, but here I’ll consider the question of balance in reporting and opinions.
It’s understandable why the NRA would have something to say here. One of the group’s key jobs is defending gun rights. But how should this be balanced with other matters of importance, for a general news organization and for American voters? Calling guns our first freedom is a predictable choice for the NRA, but is this something that dispassionate observers can find persuasive?
If this is in reference to the American Revolution, it’s an excessively reductionist claim. The idea that the battles of Lexington and Concord were in response to the British attempt to disarm the residents of the Boston area has become accepted widely enough that Lev Raphael, a self-acknowledged supporter of gun control and writer for The Huffington Post, acknowledges it, but that moment was one of many woven together with taxes, the English Reformation, and many other subjects of contention. Disarming the colonists was one of the final steps in a long series of errors on both sides, not a central cause.
In rhetorical terms, the label, first freedom, is meant to advance gun rights, protected by the Second Amendment, into higher prominence with regard to the Constitution. The order of amendments in the Bill of Rights may create a subconscious impression of a ranking of importance, but practically speaking, any list will have an order, whether that is significant or not. If the order of enumeration does matter, we’re reminded that the rights protected by the First Amendment were the ones that struck the framers as the ones most endangered by government, and history supports that view. Religious freedom and the separation of religion and state were at the heart of wars in Europe for several centuries prior to our own revolution. The Stamp Act, regardless of the reasons it was imposed, struck at our ability to express ourselves freely. The rights to gather together in groups of common interest and to compel the government to be responsive to grievances were also ones that had been violated in living memory.
But then, the right to a fair trial that follows due process, the right to privacy, and others in the Bill of Rights had also been attacked by the British, and those show up farther along in the list. This leads me to conclude that the ten amendments cover rights that the framers regarded as requiring particular protection, given their experience with overbearing governments. It’s a list of equals with no right either more or less important.
Many supporters of gun rights say that the importance of gun rights is to be found in the fact that they defend all other rights. This is difficult to test, since taking up arms against a tyrannical government isn’t something we’ve had to do since the Revolution—the Battle of Athens is cited as an exception, and it shows the rarity of such things. We can say that American gun owners represent a powerful force for sustaining freedom if that were ever to be seriously challenged and hope that this possibility remains theoretical. In everyday terms, I speak my mind and write my opinions while having firearms in easy reach, and I see each right as reinforcing and defending all others.
Criticism of content and emphasis in the news is a common hobby among the readers, hearers, and producers, and people who exercise a given right can come to see that one as the most important, but a measure of perspective is necessary. Rights are the foundation of a free society. If we allow any to be chipped away, either denying that they exist or by inattention to the ones we’re not immediately concerned with, the whole structure will come down on top of us. This isn’t a message to the NRA. That group has a job to do. Americans generally have to stand for all rights, no one of them to the exclusion of any others.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.