You like their leather bindings, their fancy endpapers, the way they speak to you of other times and places, the way they feel in your hand. You like the way they smell. Naturally, you’re aware that books are dangerous. Over the long, sad, gory course of history, they’ve resulted in the slaughter of millions. Books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf, even the Bible. But you have too much intelligence to blame the books themselves. You know that books don’t kill people. People kill people.
They told you that people who read books kill people. Certain books are extremely dangerous. Racist. Inflammatory. Cook-books for terrorism. Anarchy. Violence. Something must be done!
Nothing you couldn’t live with, of course. The good books would always be available to responsible people like you. But the bad books, well, just to be safe, numbers could be stamped inside them. A different number, not just in each kind of book, each title or edition, but in each and every individual book.
“That way we can keep track of who’s reading what. If a bad book gets in the wrong hands, we can trace it. And it’ll help get ’em back if they’re stolen. We won’t bother anyone with the good books, properly registered.”
But wait . . . Isn’t there a right to freedom of expression, the right to create, exchange, and collect books without government harassment? Isn’t the right to read, write and think whatever you please guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution? No matter who thinks it’s wrong? No matter how “sensible” their arguments may sound for taking that right away?
Let’s say you tried to defend your right to read whatever you wanted without government supervision. But nobody listened.
So you appealed to the media. After all, they’re even more dependent on the right to free speech than you are. American journalism always gloried in its self-appointed role as watchdog over the rights of the individual. The sad truth: the press was more like a cur caught bloody-muzzled, savaging the very flocks it had been trusted to protect.
Time passed . . . Still “they”—the people, politicians, bureaucrats—weren’t satisfied. They wanted the serial numbers written down in record books. They wanted booksellers to write your name written down beside the numbers, along with your address, your driver’s license number, your age, your race, your sex. “We have to know who’s reading all these dangerous books!” They might be terrorists.
Soon they were demanding that bookstores be licensed.
Then they forbade you to buy books by mail or in another state. And required that your dealer report you if you bought more than one book in a five-day period. They forbade you to buy more than one book a month.They demanded that you wait five days, a week, three weeks before you could pick up a book you’d already paid for, at a store subject to unannounced warrantless inspections and punitive closure by heavily-armed government agents.
In Massachussetts and New Jersey, the mere possession of a dangerous book meant an automatic year in jail. At one point, they offered to spend tax money to buy up your books. “You’ve got too many. This is a purely voluntary measure.”
Is it a nightmare? Another Gulag horror story? A bloodsoaked page from the history of fascism? No, it’s just the commonplace oppression gun buyers suffer every day.
For people who don’t like guns, the parellel is ridiculous. A gun the same as a book? One educates. The other destroys. They can’t understand why gun buyers wouldn’t gladly submit to some sensible restrictions in exchange for what they want.
Try justifying your love of “profane” books to a follower of the Ayatollah Khomeini. It’s a similar gap in reason and emotion.
Sure, guns are dangerous. Like books. Like books, the right to create, exchange, and collect guns without government supervision is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. The laws that abridge that right are unconstitutional, no matter how justifiable they may seem.
So what makes you think your books are any safer than your neighbor’s guns? Whether you like books or guns, the issue is the same: when anybody’s rights are threatened, everybody’s rights are threatened.
The Second Amendment protects the First Amendment and the Second protects the First. Lose one and we lose the other. Lose either and we lose America.