I wrote this a bit ago, but it keeps coming up. Today is the anniversary of the passage of the Bill of Rights. So, in honour of that most august occasion, I present you my thoughts on what maintains our freedom.
I have no intention of removing guns out of American culture. I own several myself, not out of fear of home invasion — either by a would-be criminal or an oppressive government — but because I choose to use them occasionally to hunt. However, what we must do is to delegitimize the praise given it as the primary means of protecting our grand experiment.
We have glorified the gun as the means, the only means, of defending ourselves against a corrupt government; yet, the gun was not the first line of offense or defense for the Founding Fathers.
The American people are flooded with propaganda that the Government will soon come for our guns. Equally, we are told that this thing we brandish when we are fearful is the only way to fight the government, just in case we experience an outbreak of tyranny. People bereft of moral decency and holding a tangential grasp of history tell us guns would have protected the Jews during the Holocaust. Further, the question of what good this small violent body can do against weapons aimed not from down the corner, but from space, or 3000 miles away, is answered by abject silence.
Rather, if we are to insure ourselves the true blessings of liberty — life being the primary one — we must once against turn to what the Founder Fathers saw as the greatest weapon against tyranny, the freedom of the press.
The Freedom of the Press is very much an “elegant weapon, of a more civilized age.” In a letter to the citizens of Quebec, the Continental Congress listed five rights denied the American colonies. The last is the freedom of the press. In their words, real liberty is protected not by the gun, but by the newspaper.
The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honourable and just modes of conducting affairs.
John Adams would pen into the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts these words, “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this commonwealth.” He was echoing the development of English civil and legal philosophy, built in the halls of academia, and discussed rather publicly in print rather than on a shooting range.
Adams was not alone, as Jefferson would write of the need to conduct the occasional martyrdom so as to preserve the freedom of the press. He would write, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Further, Jefferson would argue, “This formidable censor of the public functionaries, by arraigning them at the tribunal of public opinion, produces reform peaceably, which must otherwise be done by revolution.” In regards to this peaceful reform, he again writes, “But the only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”
We have presidential candidates who defend dead bodies while attacking the press. We have citizens of the United States who defend the owning of high powered guns, while supporting police overreach, and NSA data collection while cheering the closing down of the local newspaper. We have students decrying the Press, suggesting they are the antagonists.
There is no doubt that the occasional journalist will slip, venturing from their ethics into something more agenda driven. Or, they may in fact get a story wrong. Yet, we owe much of the progress of our country to the Press as a whole, because they have told the stories, some even giving their lives to do so, that needed telling. I am grieved with the amount of cynicism devoted to actual journalism, with more and more confusing the pundits and infotainment news outlets as actual Press. Granted, these must be protected as well — as well as bloggers and other citizen journalists. However, Americans must realize that the Press (the good and the bad), rather than the gun, is the foundation of our continued freedom.
We cherish the fantasy that an individual armed with a limited amount of ammunition is better than an educated populace armed with knowledge, and that this armed individual can more easily defend against tyranny than one light-shedding story.
If we truly want to defend this country against suspected tyranny, we will not rely upon the gun, but will stand with the Founders, who rather than shrink to whispering in dark allies about suspected tyrannical plots, chose to promote — and then defend — liberty with but one simple thing, the newspaper.