Off the Record: Without the 1st, 2nd is necessary

In this year’s mid-term election one of the things people want to hear from candidates is where they stand on the Second Amendment and gun control issues. They know the Second Amendment gives them the right to keep and bear arms and they see any kind of gun control proposal as an infringement on that right.

One reason people give for the need for a strong right to bear arms is the idea that an armed citizenry will have the capability to stand up and protect themselves from an out of control, despotic government. It says so right there in the amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I dread to think of a day when citizens are forced to take up arms to defend themselves against their own government. I suspect that when that day comes, the government will be much better armed. The private citizen, regardless of the size of his arsenal, won’t stand much of a chance.

If there is an assault on the Second Amendment taking place, what about the assault on the First Amendment being carried out by our duly elected president? President Trump tweets frequently about “Fake News,” urges crowds at his rallies to turn around and jeer at the reporters in the back who are covering it, calls them “horrible, dishonest people,” and urges his followers not to believe anything they see and hear on the news or read in the newspapers.

A year ago the Pew Research Center poll released its findings that less than half (49 percent) of Republicans it surveyed think that freedom of the news media to criticize government important for maintaining a strong democracy. Of the Democrats surveyed, 76 percent felt a news media criticism is necessary for a strong government.

I don’t know what the results would be if that poll were taken now, but I suspect the concept of a free press being able to criticize the government is even less popular today among Trump supporters.

But the Founding Fathers, who wrote the Constitution, saw a free press as a vital part of the government. They included it in the First Amendment, along with freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right of people to peaceably assemble, and to “petition the Government for redress of grievances.”

They knew the power of a free press in exposing harmful government actions, bad laws and abuses of power. They had made good use of it before the Revolutionary War to make the case for independence from Great Britain.

We should be worried today that Donald Trump is seeking to sow distrust for the “mainstream media” among today’s voters, even to the point of telling them not to believe what they see on TV when they run clips of Trump saying things he now says he didn’t say. He is the sole source of truth, he says, the only one we can trust. When I hear that, I think of his bragging at a fundraiser in Missouri about telling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that we have a trade deficit with Canada, when he says he didn’t know whether we did or not. When the Washington Post got a copy of the audio and reported it, Trump tweeted that we do indeed have a trade deficit, and he knows because he just knows.

Frankly, I think we need a free and unfettered news media to keep track on government, because without it government is free to just make it up as they go along with no one to hold them to account. Without the First Amendment it would only be a matter of time before we’d need to make use of the Second Amendment. But by then, government would have taken our guns away, and nobody would be around to report it.

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Kevin Sweeney has been the managing editor of The Journal since May 1985. A native of St. Paul, he worked at newspapers in LeSueur and Albert Lea before moving to New Ulm. Contact him at ksweeney@nujournal.com.

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