Rights and Responsibility

I wish to address your commentary "We Are All We Have" [by Chris Barrett] printed in the July 30, 2009 issue of the Metro Pulse.

I understand you were attempting to delicately address the anniversary of one of the most tragic recent events in Knoxville history. While such an article would be remiss in failing to mention the deep emotions these murders have inflicted upon our city, I feel compelled to respond to some of your words.

To quote Jack Parsons, "Freedom is a two-edged sword, of which one edge is liberty and the other responsibility." I shall mention here the relationship of the Bill of Rights to your article.

You appear to place part of the blame for this tragic event on radio, television, books, and film. It is the First Amendment to the Constitution that protects not only freedom of speech (including radio, television, books, and film), but also freedom of religion (allowing Unitarians, Baptists, Muslims, and Atheists to practice their beliefs), and freedom of the press (which provides a place for you to work and express your ideas). The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently adopted a broad interpretation of our right to free speech, subject to only a few recognized exceptions. To study more on this subject, particularly regarding speech considered harmful or dangerous, please read Yates v. United States (1957) and Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969).

You say "no amount of legislation can keep [guns] safely away from each of us." It is legislation codified within the Second Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees the right of the free people of the United States to keep and bear arms. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court of the United States recognized the Second Amendment as an individual and universal right for self-defense. The safe and responsible ownership of firearms is what gives us all the ability to protect ourselves against others whom would assert their beliefs through force.

You mention "Knoxville appears not to have interrupted its schedule of gun shows." Your implication seems to be gun shows were responsible for these murders. According to Knoxville police chief Sterling Owen, the killer bought his shotgun at an Anderson County pawn shop, not at a gun show. Further, in order to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer such as a pawn shop, or even from a licensed dealer at a gun show, one must complete federal form 4473 and pass the required National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Two of the prohibitions that preclude the right of a person to own a firearm include anyone subject to a restraining order for harassment, stalking, or threatening of an intimate partner, and anyone whom has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Jim Adkisson failed these tests, and should not have been sold a gun. Rather than additional legislation, one might instead consider why existing laws are not being enforced.

I do agree with many of your statements, though I may draw different conclusions. Those susceptible to easy acceptance of any ideology are certainly a cause for concern, which is why critical thinking, rational thought, and familiarity with the common tools and pitfalls of discussion and debate are so essential to our free society. Each of us is surrounded by strangers in need, which includes men like Jim Adkisson. Sometimes men do sport and parrot slogans against our way of life or way of thinking. The solution is not to disallow these men from making such statements, but rather to attempt to show them, or their audience, why their logic and beliefs are undeveloped, flawed, or harmful. That is, "to remove just one of the many obstacles to mutual understanding," for both sides of a given issue.

Discussion and outreach to those whom do not share our views is a great responsibility, but we do not need to lose our liberty to do so.

Shane Murphy, Maryville