First Amendment vs. Second Amendment

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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If there was ever any question that the Second Amendment has a chilling effect on the First Amendment, consider, briefly, the thought process that went into deciding whether or not to discuss gun policy in this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

For every op-ed, email, television interview, or blog post about gun rights, we are berated in comment boards and social media platforms and even personal emails. Though the comments are rarely in support of the positions we take, most are reasonable and thoughtful. But then there are the comments or personal emails that make us wonder if our safety is secure–which is to say nothing of the comments on an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune that don’t make it past the censors.

So every time I sit down to right about gun policy, I have to ask myself: Do I put myself or my family at risk by participating in this conversation?

I understand that the unstable threaten violence on either side of the aisle–anyone who has been a target of hate mail, whether liberal or conservative, can attest to how unsettling it is. But angry gun owners are one of the few groups of people who can back up their threats.

Despite this potential chilling effect, we continue to speak out–even when it seems futile, even when it seems dangerous. Extreme advocates of the Second Amendment are fond of saying that you can’t have the First Amendment without the Second. That the Second protects the First. We’ve found that just isn’t true. You don’t see First Amendment advocates mowing down innocent people.

We value the First Amendment just as much as the Second. Ultimately, our position is to favor reasoned discussions about gun policies that make public safety a priority. We believe it is possible to prevent gun crimes and violence while still upholding and protecting the Constitutional rights of gun owners. It is possible, we believe, to have balanced conversations about gun policy.

One innovative approach to curbing gun violence was started right here in Utah. The program, called Bulletproof Kids, was started by Utah Parents Against Gun Violence and the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is a public education campaign that asks parents to safely store their guns so that children can’t access them. It is a perfect example of an approach that preserves the Second Amendment while also decreasing gun violence.

Conversations like those being started by Bulletproof Kids are crucial to ensuring balance in the debate over gun policy. But that debate can only occur if speakers on all sides can freely speak their positions without fear of harm or injury. That can’t happen when the constitutional right to own a gun overtakes the constitutional right to speak freely. Free speech, not the barrel of a gun, ensures a strong democracy.

[Image credit: Mike Flippo via Salon]

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