Editorial: 1st Amendment suffers in 2nd Amendment debate

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Editorial: 1st Amendment suffers in 2nd Amendment debate

OK, let’s stipulate the following:

Once a sportsman trade association, the National Rifle Association has morphed into a tool of gun manufacturers to promote industry profits no matter the carnage left in its wake.

It has opposed every single piece of common-sense gun safety legislation that has been proposed in recent years to address national rates of gun-related homicides, suicides and accidental deaths unknown in the rest of the Western world.

Mass shootings of young children in their classroom, worshippers in church, concert-goers, club-goers and movie-goers do nothing to change the group’s policies.

In fact, the NRA has doubled down on them, maintaining that more guns are the answer and promoting gun legislation to further water down already lax legislation.

All that said, should Nassau County supporters of the NRA be barred from holding a fundraising event at the Inn of New Hyde Park?

And should the catering facility be pressured to cancel the event?

Absolutely no to both.

Concerns about Second Amendment abuses should not trample rights protected under the First Amendment – the right to free speech and the “right of the people to peaceably assemble.”

The issue was raised last week when the Nassau County chapter of Moms Demand Action said it was launching a protest campaign after inn management said it planned to keep the event despite the group’s request to reconsider.

“We support the Second Amendment, we support the rights of people to own guns for self-defense and hunting, but the NRA is really nothing but a shill for gun manufacturers,” said Tracy Bacher, a mother of three from Sea Cliff and the head of the local Moms Demand Action chapter.

We don’t disagree with Bacher that the NRA has been shilling for gun manufacturers. But that is their right.

The First Amendment protects all speech – both bad and good.

In fact, the First Amendment’s purpose was to protect unpopular ideas – especially ideas unpopular to those who held political power. Popular ideas, after all, don’t need any protection.

This is based on our Founding Fathers’ belief that the answer to bad speech is good speech, not less speech.

It is true the First Amendment does not protect the Inn at New Hyde Park from people taking their business elsewhere or protesting outside its doors.

But do we really want people who run businesses to screen their customers based on their political views? Like the baker in Colorado who doesn’t want to serve gay people. Or hotel owners in the South who would not serve blacks in the past?

The inn shouldn’t be punished for the politics of its customers any more than a newspaper such as ours should be punished for printing letters from supporters and opponents of the NRA. We stand guilty of both.

Sadly, some elected officials who have sworn an oath to protect the Constitution were eager to join opponents in demanding the NRA cancel the event.

“Children have been murdered in their schools throughout our country. The NRA has refused to back any new, creative ways to curb gun violence and continues to hold many of my colleagues hostage to the status quo,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).

Suozzi also expressed  concern that the NRA event would “cause even more anxiety to our children and families.”

Sorry, Tom, but it is not the job of the NRA to back “new, creative ways to curb gun violence” – it is the job of Congress. Which has failed to do its job time after time.

And, no, your colleagues are not being held “hostage to the status quo” by the NRA, they are being held hostage by their fear of losing their seats. Which apparently is more important to them than curbing gun violence.

If Suozzi wants to reduce the anxiety of “our children” and families, let him do his job in Congress and persuade his colleagues, including fellow members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, to pass common-sense legislation.

North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, the Democratic candidate for the District 7 state Senate seat, explained her call for the NRA event to be canceled by saying  “the families of Nassau have spoken: The NRA is not welcome here. For too long, the NRA has conducted a fear-based operation that prioritizes money over our children’s lives. The time to act isn’t in the wake of another school shooting, but right now.”

Have the families of Nassau really spoken? We must have missed the election.

There is overwhelming support across the county for common-sense gun safety regulation. But there are also those who support the NRA. Are they not welcome in Nassau?

Calling on the NRA or the inn to cancel the event is not taking action against the next school shooting. That will take an informed public getting politically involved and voting. And maybe even talking to NRA supporters.

State Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso (D-Port Washington) seemed to have the right idea when he announced he planned to moderate a gun safety forum in September – on the same day the NRA was planning to hold a fundraiser.

For a fleeting moment, we believed D’Urso would offer to meet with NRA supporters to debate the issue of gun safety regulations or even try to find some common ground.

But, then he added, “The NRA is not welcome here.” 

We can and should do better than that.

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