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Opinion: Free speech and guns – a winning combination

Let’s talk about the First and Second Amendments.

Not those two – the original ones.

The original First Amendment created a formula to determine the size of the House of Representatives based on the population of the United States in 1789.

It didn’t pass.

The original Second Amendment set out to define when Congress can change its pay.

That didn’t pass either.

What we know today as the First Amendment prohibits the government from depriving us of certain freedoms – religion, speech, the press, peaceful assembly, and it allows a path to redress grievances with the government.

It begins “Congress shall make no law…”

Pretty clear.

In his distinguished 34-year career on the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Hugo Black said as much.

He was the driving force behind the 1964 Times v. Sullivan decision that declared freedom of speech protections in the First Amendment restrict public officials from suing for defamation.

Black also sat solidly behind the press in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case in which The New York Times published damaging evidence about the government's involvement in Vietnam.

Black wrote: “…Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”

I’ve made my living, raised a family, paid my mortgage thanks to the First Amendment. I get edgy whenever someone tries to mess with it. I don’t like it.

And yet…

People have messed with it – a lot.

There are libel laws sometimes used to intimidate reporters from pursuing stories. Libel laws ostensibly restrict the press from unjustly defaming individuals and organizations.

Also, newspapers cannot copy information verbatim or run a photo from a published work without facing a suit over copywrite infringement.

What gives?

The Constitution says “Congress shall make no laws…”

Well, I’m willing to discuss it. Pretty much everyone in the newspaper business loves discussing it.

The “press” is the only profession, by the way, specifically cited for protection in the Constitution.

One of the best expressions of that distinction came from Justice Potter Stewart in his dissent opinion in a 1971 case involving police searches of newsrooms.

“Perhaps as a matter of abstract policy a newspaper office should receive no more protection from unannounced police searches than, say, the office of a doctor or the office of a bank. But we are here to uphold a Constitution. And our Constitution does not explicitly protect the practice of medicine or the business of banking from all abridgement by government. It does explicitly protect the freedom of the press.

I love that.

On the other hand, should I be able to pick out of the air some local businessman and publish an article saying he is a shady no-goodnik who parks in handicapped stalls?

I’m willing to discuss that or any other matter relating to the First Amendment and the press. Let’s hold a town hall.

Now, concerning the Second Amendment…

I don’t like anyone messing around with the Constitution – not the First, Second, Third or any other amendments.

I grew up in the rural Midwest and spent a lot of my youth hunting, so I’m familiar with guns. Many of my friends own one. We want to keep them, too, for a variety of reasons.

We all came by our firearms legally, and we all took safety courses on their proper use.

By golly, we’d probably be willing to talk to other people about our guns, maybe discuss safety and care, whether we’d ever loan one to a high school senior or whether we’d give one to a certified manic depressive.

There are some people who won’t talk about these sorts of things, though. Sixty of them are in the U.S. Senate. There are a lot more in the Georgia Legislature.

They won’t discuss it.

Pat Fox is the Managing Editor of Appen Media Group. Originally from Kansas, Pat covered North Fulton for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Appen Media.