FIRE!

It is still legal to yell fire, if there is a fire, for now.

George yells fire at a crowded birthday party.

Amendments are not absolutes. They can have restrictions. You can’t yell fire in crowded theaters or libel someone (1st).

This gem is parroted whenever some statist Leftist (but I repeat myself) wants to end a right of the people that might stand in his way of controlling more people. On its face, it seems pretty reasonable: Of course, you cannot start a stampede in a theater for no good reason, and it is certainly wrong to write lies about others.

The reasonable conclusion is that if intentional stampedes in a theater are illegal, every single person in America who wants to buy a gun should get permission from the government. In addition, since you cannot lie about your neighbor, you should be limited to seven rounds in the magazine of your pistol. There it is, all wrapped in a neat little bow and Bob’s your uncle.

In the first place, it is already illegal to physically, or even imaginatively, harm other people with a gun, just as it is illegal already to harm people with your words. For example, “brandishing” a firearm in Virginia can be accomplished without a firearm at all. If you are in an argument and pat the breast of your jacket as if you have a gun, that is considered brandishing. Shooting people without good cause, even shooting near empty houses, is already illegal too.

Something else that is illegal: Defending yourself with a gun that you do not have permission from the government to own. If you are a felon you might be denied permission from the government to possess a gun and no matter what good acts you perform with a gun, you stand a good chance of going back to jail for defending anybody with one.

For all we know, the people who use quotes like that one above might really want speech to be “reasonably regulated” like firearms. Imagine if you could not legally use the word “fire” at all without a license, a license that requires a background check. Now imagine someone who was never accused of any crime, ever, but does not have said license, notices smoke and flames in a theater and shouts “fire.” Of course, he would be hailed as a hero until the local authorities discover he shot his mouth off without a license.

The bigger question whenever you hear nonsense like, Amendments are not absolutes. They can have restrictions. You can’t yell fire in crowded theaters or libel someone, you should ask right back, “There are already many more restrictions than that on gun ownership, just exactly which of those restrictions are you planning to trample another right with?”