The Constitutional education of Piers Morgan
CNN host Piers Morgan doesn’t understand much about the American Constitution, which makes it odd that a major news network would give him an important position as host of a show. Don’t hold Morgan’s foreign origins against him – plenty of native-born Americans are just as ignorant as he is. And in fairness, the full ramifications of our inalienable rights are difficult intellectual territory to explore, particularly when they come into conflict with each other… and most particularly when we try to square the extent of our massive, often blatantly unconstitutional central government with the founding documents it is supposedly obliged to respect.
Watching Morgan get his posterior kicked all over Twitter has been both amusing and instructional. It began when the CNN host decided to stick up for NBC sportscaster Bob Costas and his gun-control sucker punch on “Sunday Night Football.” Morgan said, via Twitter: “The 2nd Amendment was devised with muskets in mind, not high-powered handguns & assault rifles. Fact.”
It’s always cute when someone tries to make colossal ignorance look authoritative by putting the word “fact” at the end. Does CNN have anyone who doesn’t think like a teenager?
Morgan was prompty set upon by author Carol Roth, who pointed out that the Second Amendment “was devised for people to be able to protect themselves with the same type of weaponry used by those from whom they might need protection.” (Expanded, as with all quotes in this post, from Twitter contractions, in the interests of readability.)
This is a common argument raised by “living Constitution” acolytes, who say that the authors of the Bill of Rights couldn’t possibly have anticipated various aspects of the modern world, so their wisdom has passed its sell-by date and should be discarded. The 2nd Amendment is just one of many arenas in which this particular rhetorical cudgel is employed. Admirers of the Constitution counter that it’s amazing how well its wisdom endures, even in a world the Founders could scarcely have imagined.
Morgan’s answer to Roth set up one of the greatest intellectual smackdowns in Internet history: “Where exactly does it say that in the Constitution – must have missed it?”
Roth lowered the boom: “Right next to the word ‘muskets.’”
This blew Morgan out of the water for fully eighteen hours. After nursing his wounds, he eventually came back with, “Does it authorize indivdual ownership of tanks, UZIs, and nukes?”
That’s another common fallacy dragged out by enemies of the Second Amendment: argument from the absurd. Roth was properly dismissive of it, sneering “You had 18 hours to think about it, andthisis your comeback?” But gun-control zealots think it’s a real zinger. If you believe private citizens shouldn’t own nuclear weapons, surely you can’t object when we ban semi-automatic handguns! It’s reminiscent of the way many of the same people say our only choices of government are between bloated, insolvent, hyper-regulatory Obama insanity and pure anarchy in the streets.
Gun rights aren’t the only part of the Constitution that befuddles Morgan, because after he got smacked around on Twitter for a while, he whined that it was “amusing to see the pro-gun lobby furiously denouncing my First Amendment rights to free speech over my opinion of the Second Amendment’s meaning.”
There’s another rhetorical tic I love: when the arrogant try to disguise their helpless bleating as supercillious disdain. Backed into a corner, the CNN host suddenly turned into a Dixie Chick, conflating disagreement – or even demands that his employment be terminated – with suppression of his free speech. One more time, for the benefit of Morgan and anyone else who is still fuzzy on this crucial point: the First Amendment does not guarantee you an audience. It provides no guarantee of employment, and it does not shield you from criticism. Freedom of speech is not injured by response to that speech. Indeed, the insistance that “free speech” requires the gagging of critics is, itself, an offense against the freedom of expression.
And like everything else in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment is an injunction against the government. We have come to understand free speech as an important value for the private sector to respect as well. There is always an outcry when people are fired for speaking their mind, even when such discipline has nothing to do with suppressing their ideas. NBC would be perfectly justified in booting Bob Costas off “Sunday Night Football” because halftime is not an appropriate venue for political diatribes, particularly when the opposing point of view is not represented. There would probably be negative public feedback if the network took such action, because that sort of thing is only supposed to happen to conservatives. But that reaction would, itself, be a form of free expression, as would a boycott of NBC by aggrieved Bob Costas fans. One could, in turn, disagree with such a play without throwing any Constitutional yellow flags.
It’s messy, this business of freedom and inalienable rights. It’s supposed to be. The quest for clean and simple “solutions” is the path to totalitarianism. There will always be plenty of Big Government acolytes eager to explain why any given freedom needs to be restricted or taken away; they are defined by their distrust of the public, and they love to argue from incident, especially since the indcidents that support individual rights don’t get as much headline media coverage. It’s not surprising that people who place all of their faith in the State have a tough time reading the Constitution, or truly comprehending what it says, because such knowledge is painful.