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

One in the (echo) chamber

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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.”

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?

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