Maryland fight over guns actually First Amendment issue

Maryland fight over guns actually First Amendment issue
MikeGunner / Pixabay

We here at Bearing Arms talk an awful lot about the Second Amendment, and for some pretty obvious reasons. After all, as our name suggests, we’re here to talk about guns, gun rights, etc. It’s what we do. The First Amendment, for example, isn’t a daily topic here.

Yet none of us are oblivious to the rest of the Bill of Rights. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I see the Bill of Rights as a whole, where each must be upheld and vigorously defended lest it be used to justify incursions into other rights.

Sometimes, though, the lines between defending one right and another get a little blurred.

Take, for example, the topic of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, and a local ordinance that the Baltimore Sun thinks is no big deal.

For all the attention given to the recent rise in homicides across the United States, more Americans die each year as the result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds than from gun-involved homicides. In 2020, for example, 54% of 45,222 gun deaths were classified as suicide, while 43% were murders, and the remaining 3% were accidental, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are the facts, but they are not always widely known by the general public. Just ask the friends and families of those who took their own lives: Often, they did not realize how commonplace such behavior is, and, even if they did, many were likely unaware of the steps that might be taken to prevent such a tragedy — including installing a trigger lock for as little as $10 spent at the local hardware store.

That’s why requiring local firearms dealers to distribute and display a pamphlet developed by the local health department warning of this risk, along with information on mental health and conflict resolution, would seem like a modest but important public health measure. Is anyone pro-suicide? In favor of settling scores by gun? Opposed to gun safety measures? Of course not; or at least they shouldn’t be. And so, an ordinance requiring just that was unanimously approved by the Anne Arundel County Council and signed into law by County Executive Steuart Pittman in early January.

And yet before the requirement could go fully into effect last month, the ordinance was challenged in U.S. District Court by the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue and four gun dealers: Field Traders and Pasadena Arms, both of Pasadena; Cindy’s Hot Shots of Glen Burnie; and Worth-A-Shot of Millersville. Their argument is that the required brochure is a violation of their First Amendment rights as “compelled speech” (there is a penalty to dealers who do not provide it to customers). Really? It strikes us as roughly the equivalent of requiring employers to warn workers about safety hazards, and seems no greater a burden than providing a printed receipt. It’s certainly far less onerous than the health warnings required on each and every pack of cigarettes sold in the United States.

Except it’s impossible to smoke a cigarette without exposing yourself to that health risk. The mere act of lighting up requires one to ingest the carcinogens. The same is true of safety hazards at work. Just the act of going to work exposes one to those hazards.

But owning a gun doesn’t do any such thing. There’s nothing in a gun that makes people consider suicide. Just having a gun doesn’t expose you to a greater risk of attempting suicide.

Besides, I think everyone knows that guns are dangerous.

The argument here is that these stores are having their First Amendment rights abridged by being forced to take part in certain speech.

While I don’t think the pamphlet is an awful idea, the point is that it should be voluntary. In Anne Arundel County, though, it’s not, and there is where I have a problem.

The Second Amendment is meant to protect the First Amendment, among other things. What the county has done, though, is trying to circumvent the First to try and scare people off from exercising the Second. It’s an attempt to dissuade people from buying guns by scaring them into thinking that it’ll somehow make them suicidal.

It won’t.

Now, this is going to court and the folks at the Baltimore Sun just can’t see the problem. The fact that they can’t fathom how compelling speech based on the actions of a tiny fraction of people–with more than 400 million guns in this country, the number of gun-related suicides annually is not a significant portion of the people with guns–then they really don’t have any business being in the media.