The First Amendment problem with Dianne Feinstein's assault-weapon ban

One in the (echo) chamber

Posted by Chris Haire on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 7:10 AM

When I was editing Jack Hunter’s column this week on U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her latest assault weapon bill, I took issue with Jack’s assertion that the California senator once claimed that she would take away all guns if given the chance.

That assertion was based on a 1994 interview with Feinstein on 60 Minutes. The subject: the recently passed bill banning assault weapons, which she had sponsored. In the interview, she said, “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them — Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ’em all in — I would have done it.”

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During our debate, Jack even sent me a link to the clip to prove his claim. But the video — a tiny 45-second snippet — didn’t prove his assertion. In fact, it did the opposite.

Although I had read several articles written at the time of Feinstein’s 1995 bill, doing so wasn't necessary to determine that Jack and other Right-wing spinners and bloggers were shamelessly misinterpreting the senator's statement. It’s clear from the brief 60 Minutes clip that Feinstein didn’t want to force all Americans to turn in their guns. She only wished that she had been able to introduce a bill requiring the owners of all soon-to-be banned assault weapons — the folks that any new ban would grandfather in — to turn in the banned guns in their possession. Feinstein also acknowledged that such a bill would never pass, and so she wrote one that she thought would. And it did.

Of course, this hasn't stopped the right-wing echo-chamber from spin-shatting this smelly piece of bullshit again and again and again. And in nearly every single case, they link back to the very same 45-second video.

Now, that's not the only Feinstein video that's being widely circulated among the rabid right. There's another much more damning video and it involves Feinstein admitting that she once carried a concealed weapon. The reason: a group of terrorist yahoos had planted a bomb in her house and later shot out the windows in her home.

During the clip, which was taken from a Senate hearing on terrorism in America following the Oklahoma City Bombing, Feinstein admitted that she regrets having once carried a handgun. I don't have a problem with that. She's free to change her mind, not that I agree with her. You can be damned sure that I'd be armed at all times under those same circumstances. What's more interesting to me is what Feinstein later says in the video.

During the hearing, she asks then-FBI Director Louis Freeh if an American citizen had the First Amendment right to tell another person how to build a bomb. Freeh then, more or less, said yes, to which Feinstein replied, "I don't think we have a right to teach others how to build a bomb because bombs are only used for one purpose, to blow people up."

She then added, "I think we ought to try to legislate that."

I responded by giving her the bird and telling her to go fuck herself. And then I muttered something about the Founding Fathers, yada yada yada, and capped it off with an even more profane tirade, a rant that involved baluts, bare asses, and American Horror Story's Bloody Face.

See, I'm a hardline supporter of the First Amendment. I believe in shouting theater in a crowded fire. I believe pole dancing is the most sacred form of free speech. I believe that every Super Bowl commercial should end with a picture of Goatse. I believe that Glenn Beck has the right to dip as many Obama bobbleheads in piss as his half-hearted heart desires.

In this great nation of ours, we are free to say, think, and write whatever we want. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words, they can never hurt us — and neither can the collected works of Robert Mapplethorpe, the Marquis de Sade, and William Shatner, although the latter certainly comes close.

When it comes to passing along instructions on how to make a bomb, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a fundamental free speech right. Knowledge itself is harmless. Fonts don’t kill. People do.

Just as importantly, there is no way that Dianne Feinstein or Uncle Sam could ever rid the world of the Anarchist Cookbook or any of the countless websites that show their readers how to build a bomb or make LSD or phone phreak. The cat is out of the bag.

And that's exactly where we are with guns. There is no reset button. We can't make assault weapons disappear. We can't make online instructionals on how to turn your semiautomatic into an automatic go away. We can't stop the businesses that will find a way to sell do-it-yourself high-capacity kits legally.

So what do we do?

Well, the same thing we have always done: Sift through the rubble, count the bodies, and cry. Gun violence will never go away because information wants to be free. The Second Amendment exists because of the First Amendment, and without the First Amendment, what would the point of America be?

Comments (41)

Showing 1-25 of 41

First! Hey Chris, good article and way to speak your mind. That said, I hope we do more as a nation than point fingers and debate about whether or not we should place CPL's in every building across the nation. This kind of choice we have to make has been brewing for decades. But obviously, it reaches a head when it affects the most innocent of our kind. I've ran across all types on this issue. Hell, I just had to leave a comment on Yahoo for two enlisted men who want to be the first in line to protect kids at school full time. I bet they would get really good benefits too. The problem with this attitude and other statements surrounding it, is that it's inflammatory. Actually, it's not inflammatory, it's just a downright, awful thing to think about. Everyone that reads this should really contemplate for more than 2 seconds about what it would be like to be surrounded by guns while you're trying to get an education. Just do it for more than 2 seconds please. The jerking of knees has to stop.

I don't have kids yet, but my heart goes out to not only those who lost loved ones not only in CT but also in every other instance like this (VaTech, Wisconsin, Tuscon, Columbine, Chicago "numerous times") and now Alabama. If you really want some insight into the "gun culture" and attitude that follows many people that own more guns than they need, pay attention to the interview Jon Stewart had with Bob Costas the other night. Costas was on point about the "gun culture" surrounding athletes and others with the same priorities. Namely, if someone has a gun, that means everybody else needs to have eight so that will make them safer. F-ing ludicrous. It's 2013....not 1776, not 1812, not 1865, not 1917, not 1939, not 1945, not 1953, not 1972, and definitely not 2001. The gov't is not made up of the tyranny of evil men. Get out of your paranoid, pre-apocalyptic worlds and join this one to find common ground!! Seacrest....OUT!!!!

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Posted by Cutler Hamilton on January 31, 2013 at 3:25 PM

I think one of the problems is that a lot of folks purchase guns to feel safe and protected, but then they devolve into paranoid, easily frightened people. Look at the study that was released last year by Purdue and Notre Dame - it gained media attention after Trayvon Martin was murdered, and found that people who are carrying a weapon are more likely to perceive others as carrying one as well, and thus create false threats in their mind. These are not people who need to be armed in public.

People who want to restrict themselves to a rigid interpretation of the Constitution out of some twisted idealistic reverence are ironically disregarding one of the document's most basic intentions: to be a dynamic, malleable guide as the nation progresses. Hell, the goddamn things are called amendments, which implies additions and changes. If it were not for these changes throughout history, then an incredibly large segment of our nation would not be afforded basic freedoms. People want to talk about the Founders' intent when it comes to gun control. What about the Founders' intent when it came to civil liberties for all genders and races?

So yes, the Second Amendment needs to evolve. We no longer live on wild west frontier towns where we're at war with the indigenous population and our former oppressers keep kicking in our doors to help themselves to our food, beds and women. People evolve. Society evolves. And so must the laws which bind them.

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Posted by Ron Liberte on January 31, 2013 at 4:56 PM

@Cutler: "Everyone that reads this should really contemplate for more than 2 seconds about what it would be like to be surrounded by guns while you're trying to get an education."

I guess it would be a little like Israel. They don't seem to be churning out students that didn't learn because they saw an armed guard at school. Also, you're being a bit dramatic. Surrounded by guns? Is that how you'd feel if you passed one guard or cop with a gun on your way into school in the morning?

@Ron: Would you agree that the proper way of evolving the 2nd Amendment is the amendment process itself? That taking action through legislation that would weaken the 2nd (or any other part of the Constitution for that matter) seems like cheating by ignoring the rules?

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Posted by Paulius on January 31, 2013 at 7:14 PM

Interesting article. I appreciate it.

While I will admit there are wackos out there of every political bent, I don't know of many who buy guns and then become paranoid as a result. I know of several people who were vicitimized and chose to carry, some without the ability to do so legally in their state, using the maxim "better tried by twelve than carried by six".

One of the reasons the implementation of concealed carry often helps in the reduction of violent crime is because the bad guys cannot tell who has a gun and who does not. Thus even the folks who choose not to carry benefit from the unknown quantity that is a lawfully armed citizen.

And just for the record, one doesn't need to be carrying a gun to pose a threat of death or great bodily harm to a potential victim.

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Posted by Dominick Ahrens on January 31, 2013 at 8:45 PM

"Well, the same thing we have always done: Sift through the rubble, count the bodies, and cry. Gun violence will never go away because information wants to be free. The Second Amendment exists because of the First Amendment, and without the First Amendment, what would the point of America be?"

This is fucking stupid Chris. Plenty of other countries have MUCH lower violent crime and homicide rates than the US. We should find out why. Saying we have to shrug live with current levels of violence as the price of the internet and free speech isn't being a realist, it's denying reality.

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Posted by Sark on January 31, 2013 at 9:01 PM

Why is it that there are so many instances that "They" are doing what is best for "US" or "They" know what is best for "US" but "They" exempt themselves from what is best for "US"? Such wonderful people "They" are for not wanting for themselves, their families and staff what is best for "US"!

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Posted by truthrus on February 1, 2013 at 1:25 PM

DiFi's ignorance is on display with this quote from the article:

"I don't think we have a right to teach others how to build a bomb because bombs are only used for one purpose, to blow people up."

That statement is either ignorant of the facts or an outright lie.

Bombs are not used for only one purpose. A bomb is an explosive device. Explosive devices have built the world we live in. How do you think they cut an interstate highway through a mountain pass? Drill holes in granite. Fill holes in granite with explosives. Run like hell and set off explosives.

Panama Canal. Hoover Dam. Interstate highway system. Mount Rushmore. None would have been possible without explosives.

The Nobel peace prize's namesake, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, lamented that his creation, intended for use in mining, demolition and construction, was adapted to make lethal weapons of war. As Chris opines - the genie is out of the bottle. The same is true with guns. As long as steel pipe, sulfur, salt peter, charcoal and projectiles are available, guns will be available to those with the skills to make one. Dynamite can be employed to create art like Mount Rushmore, or to kill other human beings. Guns can provide pleasure for competitive target shooters, food for a family's table or protection from assailants. They can also be used to kill other human beings.

Banning instruments used to do evil will not eliminate evil.

After guns and bombs, what next, Di Fi? Perhaps AC/DC can fill out your list:

Dirty deeds and they're done dirt cheap
Concrete shoes
Cyanide
T.N.T
Done dirt cheap
Ooo, neckties
Contracts
High voltage
Done dirt cheap, eah

Haire does occasionally have his lucid moments.....

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Posted by I P Yuengling on February 1, 2013 at 3:10 PM

Send Dianne Feinstein and the extreme left a shock wave. Repeal Senate Bill SBX211.
When the entire Los Angeles Superior Court judges face felony charges for accepting money that was NOT authorized by LAW. That should cool their jets for a while.

Sign petition to repeal SBX211

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Posted by Daniel Cooper on February 1, 2013 at 4:01 PM

How is Dianne Feinstein saying "if i could have banned all guns, i would have done it" not the same thing as "Dianne Feinstein wants to ban all guns" in your eyes? that just makes you look incompetent trying to say that isn't what she wants because she couldn't get everyone else on board.

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Posted by Boggled on February 1, 2013 at 7:42 PM

She states that she wanted to turn lawful citizens into criminals for exercising a Constitutional right and coniscate their property. America, fuck yeah!

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Posted by Cid95 on February 2, 2013 at 5:35 AM

Protip: Rights change.

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Posted by mat catastrophe on February 2, 2013 at 9:40 AM

"Protip: Rights change."

Disagree. Governments' and society's respect of rights change.

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Posted by Paulius on February 2, 2013 at 3:05 PM

And where is this list of universal unchanging rights kept? In the Bible? The Q'uran? The Declaration of Independence is pretty short on details. The Constitution doesn't count, because it's merely a list of "rights" the government has agreed to respect (plus, the whole 17 amendments added since the Bill of Rights makes the idea that rights are timeless seem silly).

Does the virtually unlimited right to free speech exist in China? Not only does the government recognize no such thing, but most Chinese (which perhaps disagreeing on the details) are perfectly fine with that (see the surveys which show that they value social stability/cohesion over an individual's right to say whatever they want). To assert that they have the 'right' to American-style free speech *whether they like it or not* seems more than a little arrogant.

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Posted by Sark on February 2, 2013 at 3:24 PM

interesting that Mr Blum, Feinsteins husband( mega rich) has holdings in both weapon and ammo companies, those company earnings have shot thru the roof. Wake up folks

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Posted by Jorge Shackelford Sr. on February 2, 2013 at 4:15 PM

Semantics, Paulius.

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Posted by mat catastrophe on February 2, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Sark, the rights are inherent just from being a human being. Whether someone wants to say they're from god or nature or whatever else doesn't really matter. I think you have the right to do whatever you want so long as you don't directly harm someone else. (Unless that person agrees to you harming them.)

You ask if the right to free speech exists in China. I say that yes it does. People there have the same inherent rights as people here. But, unfortunately, they live under a government that doesn't respect that right. Or, as you assert, their society doesn't want that right. That the right isn't exercised doesn't mean it does not exist.

And then you speak of arrogance, seemingly as if I want to force someone to exercise a right (which, of course, I have no right to do). Well, I think the height of arrogance is you or anyone else, or any government telling someone they can't do something non-violent that shouldn't bother anyone minding their own business. All that is peaceful should be tolerated.

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Posted by Paulius on February 2, 2013 at 8:38 PM

According to Eric Holder, you do not need an ID to vote because it is a right,,,,, so why do you need one to exercise other rights,,,,the 2nd amendment for one,,,,,gee I love the hypocrits!!!

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Posted by truthrus on February 3, 2013 at 4:57 PM

...foo.

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Posted by mat catastrophe on February 3, 2013 at 5:04 PM

Sorry Paulius, I don't accept the "Non-Aggression Principle" as a basis for governance.

My definition of "peaceful" is a probably a little different from yours anyway. I consider it an act of aggression/violence to deny a hungry child access to food because they don't have money, or to kick a homeless person out of an otherwise empty house. The "right" to a home or food trumps the "right" to property.

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Posted by Sark on February 4, 2013 at 9:23 AM

The right to bear arms was not given to us so that we could go duck hunting.
The right to bear arms was given to us so that we would have the ability to rise up and take back our constitutional rights when the Government became corrupt and was acting outside of the powers that were given to them. The writers of the Constitution said it was our duty to do so.

There are many examples of Corruption. I will give you 1 example for arguments sake.

We were given the freedom of information act. When Dr Shirley Moore and Richard Fine discovered and exposed that the L.A. Superior Court Judges were excepting money that was not authorized by LAW and Sturgeon vs. Los Angeles County 1 declared those payments to be UNCONSTITUTIONAL the Judges paid a lobbyist to pass SBX211 that granted themselves (Retro Active Immunity from Prosecution).

When Government and Corporations are held to the same standards of the rule of LAW as the people are held. Then and only then could there be meaningful discussions about gun control.

When Government stops taking money from the people and
giving it to banks and corporations and prosecutes blatant acts of corruption then gun control might be an option.

Please sign petition to repeal SBX211

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Posted by Daniel Cooper on February 4, 2013 at 10:02 AM

wow, the experts on gun control are among us .The second was made to control and out of control government, like the one we are now seeing where one branch thinks they are to rule over the other two.

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Posted by Clarkie on February 4, 2013 at 10:36 AM

Then what you're saying, Sark, is you have a right to another's work, property, time, production, etc...that you have a right to compel someone else to do something for your benefit. You can use the emotional appeal of a hungry kid and homeless person as your examples so the theory doesn't seem like theft. But, I can use the bank bailouts and other corporate welfare to show that it is.

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Posted by Paulius on February 4, 2013 at 10:52 AM

"wow, the experts on gun control are among us .The second was made to control and out of control government, like the one we are now seeing where one branch thinks they are to rule over the other two."

And where was your outrage during the Bush years?

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washingt…

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Posted by mat catastrophe on February 4, 2013 at 10:58 AM

"Feinstein admitting that she once carried a concealed weapon. The reason: a group of terrorist yahoos had planted a bomb in her house and later shot out the windows in her home.....During the clip, which was taken from a Senate hearing on terrorism in America following the Oklahoma City Bombing, Feinstein admitted that she regrets having once carried a handgun."

Wait, what? Get out of town. Do you mean to say that the pro-gun crowd is made up of terrorist yahoos who tried to kill a US Senator and blew up a Federal Building in Oklahoma City the last time gun control was debated! I'm shocked! SHOCKED! This is not an indictment of Sen. Finestein, it's an indictment of the rightwing survivalist culture. If these yahoos are able to buy firearms wherever, whenever, and from whomever they desire, then the terrorists have truly won. They must be stopped.

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Posted by Fish Pimp on February 4, 2013 at 7:40 PM

Yes, Fish, all those who own guns are just like that! Same as how all liberals are just like those bomb planting Weather Underground commies.

(Seriously, lose the hysteria and try applying some critical thinking to this subject instead.)

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Posted by Paulius on February 4, 2013 at 8:00 PM
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