It’s an old argument. Does the invention or progression of technology invalidate the protections of the Bill of Rights? And even as we debate this with liberals, with progressives, with Democrats – people who see things in the Constitution that are not there while ignoring things that are clearly stated – is the evolution of technology altering how we can most effectively reach the citizens enmeshed in this argument?
While conservatives and libertarians would answer an emphatic “no” to the first question, the answer to the second is most definitely a resounding yes. Already, the video sharing site YouTube is more popular than Facebook among teenagers. Part of the movement is caused by the fact that Facebook has proven tremendously popular with adults, making it “less cool” with their youngsters. The other factor at play, however, is that our society is increasingly visual. Words are out; pictures are in. Print is dying; video is ascendant.
Among the other sites popular with teens are Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat, among others. Twitter is a microblogging site, yes, but a recent upgrade allows users to see previews of pictures and videos while they read their twitter feeds. Instragram and Tumblr are photo-sharing sites, the purpose of which is to take and distribute images and graphics. Snapchat, like Vine, is a way of sharing a few seconds worth of video. In both cases the sites might as well be image-sharing networks because of this brevity.
Where the youth go, where they visit and where they stay, so too will their parents. As adults and seniors become increasingly comfortable with smartphones, tablets and the fast-paced world of sites optimized for these platforms, they will migrate to the social media their children and grandchildren are using … which will start the cycle over again. We can’t know what the popular social media of the future will look like, but we do know what the current trend in social networks have in common:
None of them support lengthy reading.
The rise of the e-reader and the e-book have caused a rise in popularity of shorter-format books, stories and novellas, which are more easily digested when reading an electronic device. The shift to image-sharing sites has caused a similar and much more pronounced contraction in the amount of text users share. Text posted by participants in these venues tends to be of the “hashtag” variety – keywords that make posts searchable for those with similar interests.
Where today’s social media and the United States Constitution intersect with evolving technology lies in the ways we seek to reach and to influence our fellow citizens. No one is reading lengthy blog posts or online manifestos. Political thought and the exchange of ideas was, not so long ago, conducted through wars of essays, a tradition that goes back to the Federalist Papers and well before them. Today, as our news has been reduced to sound bites, our political interaction has been reduced to images. To transmit our opinions, to have them heard, to propagate them in the social media of the day, we must reduce them to easily absorbed pictures that our fellow network participants will see and (hopefully) share.
There is no better example of this intersection of technology, regard for the Constitution and Bill of Rights and political networking through social media than in the case of Dick Metcalf, editor of Guns and Ammo magazine. Metcalf’s editorial in the December issue of Guns and Ammo, “Let’s Talk Limits,” argues FOR the “regulation” of constitutional rights. He does so while using a familiar misinterpretation of the words “a well regulated militia” to ignore the intent of the Second Amendment – a misinterpretation frequently invoked by those who seek to ban civilian possession of firearms.
Anyone familiar with Second Amendment politics is aware that this is a misunderstanding borne of the evolution of language. The “militia” was, to the Founding Fathers, all able-bodied male citizens. Their idea of “well regulated” was akin to “practiced and drilled.” The writings of the founders make it clear that they believed strongly in the right of free men to bear arms and that the Second Amendment was an attempt to forestall any government interference in this right.
Metcalf, in a stunning and traitorous act, nonetheless argues that “way too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be. Freedom of speech is regulated. … Freedom of assembly is regulated. …” He goes on to justify his position by claiming that because you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater (without incurring consequences), reasonable limitations on the right to bear arms must be justified and legal. In Metcalf’s mind, because we don’t want violent felons or crazy people to own guns, it’s OK to require a training course and a concealed carry license before a free, law-abiding man or woman in the United States may carry (and in many states, buy) a handgun.
Setting aside Metcalf’s remarkably ignorant interpretation of the language of the Second Amendment, adopting the language and the arguments of the gun banners, of the Democrats, of the “progressives,” does nothing but arm them in the battle to eliminate private firearms ownership. There is not now a single state in the United States where a violent felon or a person who has been adjudicated mentally ill may legally buy a firearm. Metcalf has simply stabbed all American gun owners in the back in the name of some misguided appeasement directed toward people who hate guns.
The solution is not a series of essays posted in the public sphere; no one will read them. The solution is not to shake our heads and silently condemn Metcalf; the damage done cannot go unanswered. No, the solution is to employ the new social media as they are now used, posting image messages that spread the word to punish Guns and Ammo for Metcalf’s perfidy.
Addendum: Shortly after this column was posted, Guns and Ammo issued an apology letter informing readers that Metcalf’s column was a mistake and that he would be replaced as the magazine’s editor. Read the letter from Guns and Ammo.