Every day, I thank America’s Founding Fathers for their prescience in providing a Bill of Rights to protect against the government arbitrarily undermining fundamental civil liberties. The actions undertaken by the government in New Zealand in response to the mass murder by a lone gunman earlier this month, provides but the most recent illustration of why our Bill of Rights is so vital to the preservation of freedom.
The First, Second, and Fifth Amendments to our Constitution guarantee -- among other fundamental liberties -- the rights to free expression, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right to own property free from arbitrary confiscation. These civil liberties, which we enjoy here in America (and often take for granted), are being decimated by the New Zealand government in the name of “public safety.”
Predictably, of course, has been the effusive praise with which many public officials and media outlets here in the United States have lauded New Zealand’s government for “moving swiftly” in the wake of the March 15th murder spree in Christchurch; actions making it even more difficult than previously for that country’s citizens to purchase or possess most handguns and many rifles.
It would be surprising indeed, if the American Left had not quickly rallied in praise of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pressing for a sweeping ban on various firearms, including “military-style assault rifles” following the mosque murders. What is less understandable is the silence with which those same liberals who laud New Zealand and bemoan our own government for its gun-control lethargy, have reacted to the other edict issued by that government – criminalizing the physical or digital possession or distribution of the “manifesto” drafted and placed on-line by the gunman shortly before launching his murder spree.
The speed with which a ban on firearms morphed into a ban on speech, to be enforced by New Zealand’s Chief Censor (the official’s actual title), is breathtaking. Henceforth, as decreed by Ardern’s administration, physical or digital possession or transmittal of the killer’s rambling diatribe against immigration is a criminal offense. Copies of the “officially objectionable” screed possessed by individuals (including the media) prior to the censorship edict, must be destroyed – or an exemption granted by the government -- in order to avoid prosecution.
One possible explanation for the silence exhibited by the American Left in response such an obvious blow to freedom of the press and individual freedom of expression, may lie in the fact that the censorship falls squarely at the confluence of two fears most commonly manifested by liberals: the fear of guns and the fear of “hate speech.”
Common sense should tell New Zealand’s leaders that banning a document already in the public domain does not make it disappear; especially in this internet age. Beyond the fact that government cannot make invisible that which already is visible, New Zealand’s bizarre effort to do so may in the long run actually impede efforts to prevent future firearms murders in the country (and perhaps elsewhere).
Making it more difficult if not impossible for individuals to study the document drafted and disseminated by the New Zealand killer, removes from the body of research clearly relevant background potentially useful in dissecting the mind of this – and perhaps other – mass murderers.
Moreover, in banning the document New Zealand officials have given a new mystique to a document that otherwise was worth hardly a cursory glance. It also forces those who may be susceptible to the drafter’s hateful thoughts into the shadows to secretly discuss it amongst themselves, rather than leaving the document in the public space to be debunked.
We cannot with comfort assume that the Bill of Rights will continue to protect Americans against illogical and arbitrary power grabs such as is occurring in New Zealand. A 2017 Annenberg survey found that more than one-third of Americans could not name even a single freedom protected by the First Amendment; a number likely even higher today.
Americans cannot be relied on to defend what they neither know nor understand. That so many in our country blindly applaud the moves by New Zealand to undermine basic freedoms for all its citizens in response to the bad acts by a single deranged individual, makes clear the depth of the challenge awaiting us.