Victor Davis Hanson

Conservatives reply that the chief purpose of the Second Amendment was not necessarily just to ensure personal protection from criminals or the freedom to hunt with firearms, but in fact to guarantee that a well-armed populace might enjoy some parity to an all-powerful, centralized government. To the Founders, the notion that individual citizens had recourse to weapons comparable to those of federal authorities was a strong deterrent to government infringing upon constitutionally protected freedoms -- rights that cannot simply be hacked away by presidential executive orders.

That may be why the brief Second Amendment explicitly cites the desirability of a militia. By intent, it was followed by the Third Amendment, which restricts the rights of an abusive government to quarter federal troops in citizens' homes.

So which amendment should we begin pruning to deal with monsters like those at Newtown and Columbine?

The Connecticut shooter, Adam Lanza, was known to be mentally unstable. He sat for hours transfixed with violent video games -- in a popular culture of cheap Hollywood mayhem where bodies implode on the big screen without worry over the effect of such gratuitous carnage on the viewer.

Just as semi-automatic weapons mark a technological sea change from the flintlock muskets of the Founders' era, computer-simulated video dismemberment is a world away from the spirited political pamphleteering of the 18th century. If we talk of restricting the Second Amendment to protect us against modern technological breakthroughs, why not curtail the First Amendment as well?

How about an executive order to Hollywood to stop its graphic depictions of mass killings, perhaps limiting the nature and rationing the number of shootings that can appear in any one film? Can't we ban violent video games altogether in the same way we forbid child pornography? Isn't it past time for an executive order to curtail some of the rights of the mentally unstable -- given that the gunmen in mass killings usually have a history of psychic disorders and often use mood-altering drugs?

If conservatives have ensured that there are millions of semi-automatic assault weapons in American society, liberals' unprecedented expansions of free expression have led to an alarming number of unhinged Americans on our streets, nursed on sick games like "Grand Theft Auto" and hours of watching odious movies such as "Natural Born Killers."

Legislating away the evil in men's heads and hearts can be a tricky -- and sometimes unconstitutional -- business.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.


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