Bill of Rights: “Fire!” and Crowded Theaters



Clear and Present Danger

We can’t yell the word “fire!” in a crowded theater. The First Amendment won’t protect us.  Why?  Clear and present danger.  Almost 100 years ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shenck v. United States, 249 US 47 (1919):

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. . .The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.  It is a question of proximity and degree.

Thank you, Kit Gruelle

Firing Assault Weapons in a Crowded Theater

The NRA lobby, however, has made it possible for someone to fire assault weapons in a crowded theater.  The NRA lobby made it possible for someone to fly under the radar as he amassed an arsenal of weapons, explosives, body armor, and tear gas.  The NRA lobby made it possible for this person to enter a crowded theater, slaughter 12 people, and wound 59 people.  The NRA lobby arrogantly refuses to be held accountable for this carnage.

Clearly, this caused a panic.  It presented a clear and present danger to the 300 people in the theater.  It brought about a substantive evil that Congress has a right to prevent.  It is most definitely a question of proximity and degree.

Yet, James Eagan Holmes’ right to bear those assault weapons is protected by the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution.

In what alternate universe is uttering the word “fire!” a more clear and present danger than a nut job firing assault weapons?

NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and portrait of King George III

Substantive Evils that Congress Has a Right to Prevent

New York City Michael R. Bloomberg is a rare politician with the balls to take on the NRA.  He was on CBS’ Face the Nation this morning criticizing both President Obama and Mitt Romney for their failure to call for gun control legislation in the wake of the shooting rampage in Aurora, CO on Friday.  I agree.  It is time for all of us to take on the impotent bullies in the NRA who will stomp on everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if it dares to infringe on their paranoid need for an arsenal of guns and ammunition.

The NRA blasted me for my post on Friday.  I noticed that few of these bullies had the strength of character to use their own names.  One guy voraciously quotes Scripture on his Facebook page while he brazenly advocates the evil violation of the Sixth Commandment (thou shalt not kill) elsewhere.  A bankruptcy attorney, who appears to be single (wonder why), posted 11 rants.  I think they thought that their idiotic propaganda would intimidate me into silence.  Instead, I was glad I wasn’t married to any of these insensitive, narcissistic, paranoid jerks.

Today’s post is most definitely aimed <pun intended> at the gun nuts in the NRA.  I’m also taking aim at all the spineless politicians who have abdicated their duty to prevent these substantive evils for far too long.  Listen up.  Women Vote.  We boycotted until boviating Rush Limbaugh shut the hell up.  This was before Eve Ensler launched One Billion Rising.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CO

Bravo, Rep.  Ed Perlmutter!

On Face the Nation this morning, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said he would introduce legislation to protect his constituents in Aurora:

Should we reinstate the assault weapons ban? I think we should, and I think that’s where it starts.

We ought to be taking a look at how this guy [James Eagan Holmes] was able to accumulate so much ammunition. He had enough ammunition for, like, a small army. There’s something wrong about that.

I can’t fathom how the assassin was able to have so many boxes of ammunition, explosives, and body armor shipped to his home and lab without at least one person questioning what the hell was going on.  Red flags ought to go off somewhere when someone purchases four guns in such a short period of time.  Where the hell was Homeland Security in detecting this likely terrorist?  And, what about the brainiacs at his lab?  They didn’t see anything unusual with all those packages?

See also:

Bravo Mayor Bloomberg:  Taking on Gun Control Lobby

Guest blogger Shawn Reilly: Shouting ‘fire’ vs. opening fire, the constitutional case for greater gun control

Fire in a Crowded Theater

James Eagan Holmes:  No Warning Signs?  Bullshit.

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3 responses to “Bill of Rights: “Fire!” and Crowded Theaters

  1. NRA,
    You had ample opportunity to post your propaganda on my previous post. None of you said anything original or clever. Therefore, your rants will be deleted from the comment section of this post.
    Anne Caroline Drake

  2. A couple of things that I noticed in your article. The first was the usage of, for lack of a better term, calling people names. You call the people who commented on your last article insensitive, narcissistic, paranoid jerks. You also call the NRA impotent bullies. You yourself are now bullying these people with name calling. Another thing that I noticed was when you said “In what alternate universe is uttering the word “fire!” a more clear and present danger than a nut job firing assault weapons?” I don’t think that anyone has disputed the fact that firing guns in a theater is more dangerous than yelling fire. I think that people have come to the conclusion that both are dangerous (obviously the first one more so) and that is why they are both illegal. You talk about how the first amendment is limited. That you cannot say “fire” in a theater or yell “bomb” on a plane. But you can also call people names, lie, distort information all legally. You can challenge what the government is doing and expose them for things that they are doing wrong. This keeps the government in check and keeps them from becoming to powerful. In the same way letting citizens own guns prevents the government from enslaving the people. It is a safeguard against government takeover, just like all the freedoms in the first amendment, but both have circumstances that make them illegal such as shooting them in a crowded theater or yelling fire in a theater. You mention that the NRA lobby has made it possible for someone to fire assault rifles in a theater. The first amendment allows someone to yell fire in a theater. Both are illegal though and the offender will be prosecuted. At the end of one paragraph you say that the NRA refuses to be held accountable for the carnage. This is not the NRA’s fault. Saying that is like saying guns kill people, pencils make spelling errors, cars go over the speed limit. These are all things that people do not the inanimate objects controlled by them. Just because something has the capability of doing something illegal or harmful does not mean it was intended for that. The second amendment was intended to protect citizens from the government if it became to powerful or tyrannical. Or hunting I assume. I do agree with you though when you say that their should be limits on the amount of ammunition you can own at one time. (I would say the amount of guns as well but their are gun collectors who only want the gun and a gun without ammo will not harm anyone.) Their should be a system where some flags go off about someone having all these things in their apartment. The fact that National Security was at risk remains. What if there is a sect of terrorists out there who also own all this stuff?

    By the way I am not part of the NRA. I hadn’t even heard of it before today. I am just a 16 year old from Minnesota. You can check out my facebook. I am not on twitter though.

  3. Seamus,

    My strong point of view arose after someone pointed a loaded gun at me and said he could kill me and get away with it. He wasn’t kidding around. I don’t think his right to bear arms should trump my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which is at the bedrock of our Constitution and democratic ideals.

    You and I aren’t going to agree on this issue. I thank you for visiting my site and taking the time to leave a comment.

    If you want to improve your debating skills, I highly recommend putting yourself in the shoes of the gun advocates who were murdered that night. If they had somehow survived, do you think they might change their point of view? What about the point of view of a person who lost someone they loved very much? If you were walking in their shoes, would you like to hear someone tell you at the funeral that their right to bear arms is more important than your right to enjoy the companionship of someone you loved very much who was murdered? A great debater cam argue both sides of an issue equally well.

    Anne Caroline

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