What The Gun Debate Means for Free Speech

Friday, February 15, 2013

What's the 2nd amendment have to do with the 1st? Jim Sleeper, author and lecturer in political science at Yale University, argues in his recent writing that the debate over gun violence should also include a debate over violent speech and media.



Jim Sleeper

Comments [51]

Mr. Sleeper:

If you want "statistics" to be more than a rhetorical flourish for your positions, I suggest you put in a "link" to what you're talking about. ;-)

" . . . Firearm mishaps accounted for just 1 percent of all accidental deaths in the home. . . ."

(The bald "I have statistics!" claim smacks of "McCarthy's" lists.) ;-)

Feb. 23 2013 11:07 PM

Sorry for the number of "contributions" I've made - although whether I'm to be sorry for making too many (keeping other, more valuable, contributors from adding to our exchange) [my assumption at this point is that you and I (and the ever discretely watchful moderators) are the only persons reading these posts] or making too few is not really clear.

Your last post trumpets the existence of meaningful [my interprtaion] "Statistics", unfortunately you failed to include them or a link that would lead me to them. Thus occasioning this otherwise unnecessary "contribution".

Have a nice day.

Feb. 22 2013 01:49 PM
jim sleeper

We have now had "ge Taylor's" eighth contribution to this thread, this latest one in the form of a video suggesting that controlling guns in the US would be like cutting the horns off a gazelle to prevent it from defending itself against a leopard. This argument is old and has been discredited in human history in several ways.

For one, largely unarmed populations in India, South Africa, and Eastern Europe, not to mention in the segregated American South, somehow managed to bring down vast police-state regimes that were armed to the teeth. This never happens with gazelles and leopards. It might be useful to wonder why and how it has happened.

For another, sophisticated societies in Britain, Canada, France, and other "free" countries that have strong gun control are safer and freer -- yes, I freer -- than American society. Think about it.

Finally, a gun in the home is the surest predictor of a gun murder there: statistics on suicide, accidents, and intra-family murders far outrank those on incidents in which the gun owner deterred an invader.

Feb. 21 2013 04:52 PM

Ultimately, isn't this the kind of argument and presentation that should be denied so-called First Amendment protections as it may tend to influence absolute ideologues, possibly absolute ideologues who are suffering from unnoticed or unrecorded mental health issues that keep them from engaging in common-sense resolutions of conflicting opinions? ;-)

"In this segment of his Virtual State of the Union, the Virtual President talks about why politicians want to talk about gun control rather than crime control, and delivers the factual evidence and historical truths that make the case for the Second Amendment self-evident."

Feb. 21 2013 12:14 PM

Mr. Sleeper:

This is the site cite for PBS's "Raising Adam Lanza",

The URL you gave was just for a promo.


Feb. 20 2013 04:23 PM


"A" for effort on providing a site cite.
Here's one for you and your fans, not trying to make a focused point as much as giving you all some actual experience with the reality of the games you so easily are persuaded are beyond First Amendment protection from government censorship.

I was wondering if you were in favor of banning the books written by Friedrich Nietzsche, known as the "Leopold and Loeb" List, read by the infamous homicidal duo prior to their murderous outrage?
Feel a need to ban "Lolita", by government regulation? Rushdie's, "The Satanic Verses"?
Make your best argument distinguishing your position from the classical book burners. When the contemporary names and proper nouns are removed from your learned, "common sense" government censorship screed, I'm betting that it will be indistinguishable from a 1930's, Nazis justification.

Feb. 20 2013 09:43 AM
jim sleeper

This evening, Tues. the 19th, the PBS News Hour had a segment on violent video-games that tracks pretty closely the arguments I made in this show:

Feb. 19 2013 07:57 PM

@Kevin Krooss from Centerport NY:

Luckily, (or from your experience?), you'll know it when you see it. ;-)

Feb. 19 2013 06:39 AM
Kevin Krooss from Centerport NY

To answer your NRA guest...

What part of 1st amendment would I want restricted? The parts that already are, like child pronography. Parts that hurt people.

Feb. 18 2013 05:31 PM

Mr. Sleeper:

Thanks for the site cite, I read the report, but I guess I may have been confused by Mr. Totilo's technical treatment of violent video games. I guess Columbia "J" School graduates who use their narrative skills as flacks for the video game industry tend to speak over the heads of the common person.
His quotes do not support the tenuous emotional projections that you offer on this topic - rather they seem to reflect the commercial fears of various marketing concerns that they have over-saturated the population with a depiction of violence that has become monotonous and subject to negative images. Or is it your opinion that, unlike "real estate", "this time it's different"? Have you done any first hand reporting/research in the field on this subject? "Spielen wird euch frei machen."
(BTW: Do you think writing stuff like "The Coming Civil War Over Guns and TV Mayhem" makes you sound like the "left-wing Alex Jones"?)

Feb. 18 2013 02:53 AM
jim sleeper

On finding the link to my quote from videogame designer Stephen Totilo, all you need to do is google his name and any of the phrases in the excerpt I provided. But this will save you the trouble, and the full piece by Totilo is pretty revealing and well worth the trouble:

It's good that this objection to the most sadistic of these games is coming from designers themselves. But I'll bet that some of them are also feeling that they've been swept up by swift, mindless currents of corporate profiteering that they never meant to strengthen.

Feb. 17 2013 04:24 AM

TO Mr. Sleeper, et. al.:

It's Time to Stop Using the 'Fire in a Crowded Theater' Quote

"Oliver Wendell Holmes made the analogy during a controversial Supreme Court case that was overturned more than 40 years ago."

"Ninety-three years ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote what is perhaps the most well-known -- yet misquoted and misused -- phrase in Supreme Court history: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." . . .

" . . . But those who quote Holmes might want to actually read the case where the phrase originated before using it as their main defense. If they did, they'd realize it was never binding law, and the underlying case, U.S. v. Schenck, is not only one of the most odious free speech decisions in the Court's history, but was overturned over 40 years ago. . . . "

[It may be most fortuitous to be conducting a review of legal precedents involve in demonstrations against the "military draft" (let's see those articles on "fetishizing", absolutist, ideological interpretations of the Thirteenth Amendment) - Congressman Rangel has renewed his calls for reinstating such a draft. (and wouldn't that be the ultimate government employment program?)

Rangel's last big idea was to support enhanced penalties for "crack" possession. (guest appearance by VP Joe "Bite-Me" Biden)

Feb. 16 2013 07:04 PM

Mr, Sleeper:

Can you include the URL for the NYT's article your supposedly citing?
Or are you expecting readers to blindly trust your selective representations?
(Yeah I tried to locate it my self but why should I put any more effort
into understanding your position than you invest in fashioning the presentation?) ;-)

Feb. 16 2013 06:10 PM
jim sleeper

This from Stephen Totilo, in New York Times, in a discussion of violent video games:

"In June, however, it was a shock to see those who play [these games] or make them rail against them. The occasion was E3, the annual showcase of the biggest Xbox, PlatStation and Wii games. The loudest voice yet from the industry's mainstream was the respected veteran game designer Warren Spector, who cast his gaze across the show and told 'The ultravioence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. I just don't believe in the 'effects' argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in come cases combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it's in bad taste. Ultimately it will cause us trouble.

"Mr. Spector's allies were abundant, as critics tabulated the body counts in the game trailers that ran at E3 and wondered whether ultraviolence was, if not the enemy of peaceful society, at least an obstruction to sophisticated artistic expression."

Feb. 16 2013 08:36 AM

@jim sleeper:

Your follow up comments are more confusing and somewhat more disturbing than your initial presentation.

1. Who are these nameless corporate "entities" targeting our lower viscera, corporations producing movies, television programs, books, and music? (are these "viscera"is this to what Kubrick was highlighting with his "concerns" about "precious bodily fluids" (or the persons who obsessed about them?) )
Do you have a couple of names for these bogey-man "high priests" that you fear? (and from whom you wish to protect me/us from). Are they the same phantoms conjured by Dan Quayle's jeremiad against "Murphy Brown"? Will I "know them when I see them?"
(And BTW: I thought that any college level instructor worth his salt might be capable of correcting Mr. Lehrer's mindless proposition about who can shout "Fire" in a crowded theater. Do your students sit quietly for such nonsense? If so, it is an indication of a tougher job market than is being reported.)[I dare you to listen to the first 90 seconds of this:]

2. Your tired tropes about megaphones and laryngitis are weak rhetorical devices to avoid the American Civil Liberties Union arguments in support of the result in "Citizens United" [one of the ACLU's amicus briefs is here: ;

a more readable explanation of that position is here:

The issues, and the various parties positions are more complicated than presented here (other factions of the ACLU took different positions).
Students and audiences have a right to be aware of the different points of view. It makes them better. Silencing messages by who (or what) is speaking makes them weak. Do you trust your students (or your fellow citizens) to be better?

All that said, I compliment you on your efforts to engage the after-show comments - it is a task most guests and Mr. Lehrer seem to find to be beneath them.

Feb. 15 2013 10:25 PM
dlm from Brooklyn

Sleeper seems more anti-corporation than anti-video game. The arguments presented were quite lame. Sounded like any excuse to control what he disapproves of.

Feb. 15 2013 06:02 PM
bill from PA

The purpose of the Second Amendment is to arm people in order to prevent future tyranny. They need the tools to do this.

The term "Well Regulated" in the Second Amendment meant "Well Manned and Equipped " in 1791 as was determined in the 1939 United States v. Miller case after referencing the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. The concept of Government Regulation, as we understand it today, did not exist at the time.

United States v. Miller also determined that the term "Arms" refers to "Ordinary Military Weapons" (not crew operated). American Citizens have the right to Keep and Bear, which means Own and Carry, any weapons that a soldier carries into battle. That includes past, present and future weapons. A Militia consisted of armed volunteers willing to fight with their personal arms and not under government control.

The 2008 Heller v. Washington DC decision reaffirmed that the Right to Bear Arms was an Individual right. The 2010 McDonald v. Chicago decision reaffirmed it yet again and made it clear that it applies to every state, every city and every town in the United States.

To limit the Second Amendment to muskets would be the equivalent of limiting the First Amendment to the 18th century Printing Press.

Liberty is worth the risk of death!

Feb. 15 2013 04:04 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

The requirement for a healthy amount of liability insurance (and national registration for all firearm sales) for each gun and all ammunition owned might move the larger conversation in the right direction, toward real responsibility--and bring those who don't condone guns a bit more peace of mind. Thus far, we've afforded a larger proportion of rights to those who defend gun ownership, against those who feel they have the right to an existence more devoid of the possibility for gun violence.

Time for gun defenders to try to differentiate themselves from gun nuts by allowing for a larger proportion of responsibility.

Feb. 15 2013 12:17 PM
jim sleeper

Some of the points I made briefly while talking with Brian and the callers are also in the following piece, which is linked above here on the show's website, and also in an Atlantic online essay that I co-authored with Daniel J.H. Greenwood, a law professor at Hofstra University who works on corporate jurisprudence and governance. It, too, is linked in the following:

But let me follow up on a couple of things that were said:
1. Nobody's claiming that even the most violent, gladatorial video-games induce any but a few of their players to go out and commit mayhem. The games may actually make some players more passive and disillusioned about society. They may serve still other players as "harmless" safety valves for aggressive impulses that are better discharged at the keyboard than on the street. But that doesn't mean there's no cumulative effect of these games. I argue that there is, and that sooner or later, social scientists will be asking the right questions and drawing the right connections more clearly.

2. In First Amendment terms, it really does make a difference who (or what) the "speaker" is. On the air, I said that free speech means little if one party has a megaphone, while the other party has laryngitis from straining to be heard. (Recall that Occupy Wall St. protesters were denied even megaphones!) We, the people, create these corporate tools and allow them to amass profits to spend on megaphones, even though publicly traded corporations are amorphous, anonymous entities whose managers do (and pay others to say) whatever will boost profits, without caring whether it's otherwise harmful to society. We shouldn't have to prove that harm to regulate these entities, which are only engines, not flesh and blood citizens who might actually be persuaded by intelligent argument and who, in any case, are free to say whatever they want, including defending the corporations. What I'm saying is, level the playing field!

Feb. 15 2013 12:12 PM

I have no problem with them prohibiting links in game to buy REAL guns.
There is no such game to begin with. Why would a game have weblinks that would minimize the game anyway?
I know plenty of free-to-play games that have links to buy VIRTUAL guns to use in their GAME. I guess the speaker does not know the difference?

Feb. 15 2013 11:52 AM


I wish I knew your standards for sarcasm and how various items such as Mr. Sleeper's (is that some obfuscating "nom de plume" signifying his role in this discussion) writing - " . . . A republic can't shape its aggressive, impressionable youngsters into citizens who trust one another unless it can nourish the public narratives, myths, or constitutive fictions that give kids direction and hope. . . . "
[also see: Sunnstein's, ]

Enjoy the day.

Feb. 15 2013 11:50 AM
Linda from Brooklyn, NY

For the first time in a long while I hear rational conversation about the gun control/violence problem. Mr. Sleeper hit on all the important points. But since Americans are so hung up on protecting their individual rights, most don't listen past the first time a comment rubs you the wrong way. My boys all play these games and have extensive knowledge about weapons. There are no gunowners in my home or family other than two law enforcement family members. At times during news reports of these violent gun related events, they affirmed they think people should have a right to defend themselves. Some of their talk alarmed me and we began a conversation. This conversation involved lengthy back and forth between us all. My eldest is 25 and lived for a while in WA state and owned weapons there. It would not be easy for my thoughts and opinions to be heard had we not been the type of family that instills mutual respect and a need for harmony. We are not perfect but more than anything I want my children to realize that above all, we need to be able to coexist and find ways to promote life not death. Promote growth not destruction. Promote wise use of possessions lest they not possess us. "America" has promoted for a long time now a very laid back, not my problem approach to problems unless there's money in it for someone. It's so easy to act as if a problem doesn't have a clearly defined solution, then we just continue as if there will be no consequences. And when those consequences come we panic and talk that crazy talk we hear so much lately, "I have my rights!" We all have rights. And we are all equally responsible for one another. Start the conversations in our intimate circles. Promote listening and reasoning, not anger or obstinance. I want to live in a world that promotes life.

Feb. 15 2013 11:47 AM
thatgirl from manhattan

zeglik - Care to furnish some kind of reliable metrics on said reduction in cultural predisposition in violence? Otherwise, this is pure conjecture.

Feb. 15 2013 11:47 AM
Guy from NYC

They are not colluding, but it is interesting to watch the typical arguments about gun control/violence result in a pass-the-bucking circle jerk that goes nowhere fast:

"I'd really love for politicians to stop using __________as the scapegoat in this discussion and start focusing on the _______ problem in this country."

a. guns, mental health
b. guns, videogames
c. videogames, mental health
d. videogames, guns
e. mental health, guns
f. mental health, videogames

Feb. 15 2013 11:41 AM

Through all our history violence was everpresent. In fact, our biology predisposed us to it, so we can be more competetive for evolutinary purposes. We are much less violent as a society then ever before and I think we are supplimenting actual violence with artificial one. Which I think IS a progress in our culture.

Feb. 15 2013 11:41 AM
Peter from Manhattan

Random thought: Is it possible that violent video games might also work as a safety valve of sorts? Given the choice, I'd rather have someone take out his anger on virtual zombies rather than real people.

Also, there's a convincing case to be made that the people who are currently wringing their hands over video games grew up with much more violent media. See, for example, the excellent book "Savage Passtimes" by Harold Schechter.

Feb. 15 2013 11:39 AM
kikakiki from wall street

was the question ever answered "what does the average citizen use guns termed assault weapons for?" the 2nd amendment says we can own guns, does that include bazookas, machine guns, missiles, canons, etc. is there no weapon I cannot own according to the constitution?

Feb. 15 2013 11:32 AM
Nelson Diaz from NY, NY

Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo- and many other first person shooters are mostly popular because the multiplayer aspect, which amounts to virtual paintball with friends.

I'd really love for politicians to stop using VG's as the scapegoat in this discussion and start focusing on the mental health problem in this country.

Feb. 15 2013 11:32 AM
thatgirl from manhattan

Why does he need to play these games to know they're violent in nature? Unless you're an 8-year old boy who can self-advocate, it's a useless argument.

Jeff Pappas - It's one thing if a non-violent culture (and Japan has far less gun violence per capita than the U.S.) has a fraction that enjoys video games, but we're violent/aggressive at the core in a way they are not. When a young person's mind is being shaped by stronger social factors and practices, it's a far less significant influence. It's safe to say that parents here afford themselves less time to avail themselves of their children's intake of these games.

Feb. 15 2013 11:28 AM
norman from brookyln

This guy has now compared video games to smoking and segregation... this is ridiculous. Videogames are often responding to the broader culture as many other art forms do. If video games are guilty of anything it is not reflecting on what the violence means when it asks the player to participate in it. This is a complete sideshow to what we should be talking about which is gun control

Feb. 15 2013 11:27 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Well, we're still waiting for the "wrenching, deep reckoning" on race. Guess it's not looking so good for gun violence...

Feb. 15 2013 11:27 AM

Did they not say the same things about violent books? music? TV shows, movies?

Feb. 15 2013 11:27 AM
ted from New Jersey

I am a teaching artist who works with young people on playwriting in the public schools and it is a fact that young boys (especially) want their plays to end in murder and mayhem -- why? Where do these ideas come form?

The gun control problem in this country is immense and needs to be addressed since corporations are socially irresponsible but what the bigger issue is here is the disappearance of empathy -- if you can't empathize with a victim -- when there is no empathy for the randon killing of human life -- we are certainly headed for the death throes of civilization.

Feb. 15 2013 11:25 AM
Mick from Inwood

Isn't there still an ability to regulate and even control some pornography, such as child pornography? Violence porn--which is what we are talking about--should be regulated under the same principle, that it is inherently dangerous and exploitative of any underage individual who is exposed to this kind of material. Start with strong laws about allowing access to children, even, or especially in the home. A few successful prosecutions at and the games companies would have to start self-regulating.

Feb. 15 2013 11:24 AM
John A

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck - shoot it.

Feb. 15 2013 11:24 AM
david from ditmas park

This "social science" that you speak of will never be able to draw concrete links to violence. So, what you are proposing, essentially, is legislation by speculation...

Same problem on the climate change issue.

It's a conundrum.

Feb. 15 2013 11:24 AM
Sydney from East Village

The guest has commented on restricting the speech/expression of the corporations making the games, but these kinds of proposals also go after what might be considered an artistic product, and restricting this might be a slippery slope towards restricting artistic expression (of these games or other things).

Feb. 15 2013 11:24 AM
laiah raphael from grenwich ct

What aboutthe rights of the victims of violence, and their families, to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. their rights have been violated by guns.

Feb. 15 2013 11:23 AM
Guy from NYC

the caller's argument:
I enjoy this! So unless you can prove harm, I reject any sensible restrictions. Because I enjoy it!

Feb. 15 2013 11:22 AM

i enjoy eating sugar all day, until it makes me sick

Feb. 15 2013 11:21 AM
John A

Can you ask Oscar Pistorius if he's actually PLAYED these video games?

Feb. 15 2013 11:20 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

The first amendment is not absolute, so-called free speech is regulated in so many ways - by the government and corporations, so is private property rights.

Why do some people believe that the 2nd amendment is, or should be - without any restriction?

Feb. 15 2013 11:20 AM

what game links you to buying a gun? is it even a game that is popular or some obscure lousy game no one is playing anyway?

Feb. 15 2013 11:19 AM

Can you ask this man if he's actually PLAYED these video games?

Feb. 15 2013 11:17 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

Yes, but it's not just about overtly violent video games.
What about the documented cognitive effects -- dopamine addiction, emotional distancing, instantaneity addiction, mindlessness, effort and self-control discouragement, etc. -- of all push-button gadgetry that we are inundated with, that we do not discuss (in part, because of these effects!)...
This is not about Luddism. This is about undergoing paradigm shifts consciously and managing them progressively.

Feb. 15 2013 11:16 AM
John A.

It would be useful to see a list of First Person Shooter games here, listed by sales.
It's been reported that video games now exceed all motion pictures by sales.

Feb. 15 2013 11:16 AM

I think news media glorifies violence by obsessing over every gruesome detail of a crime over and over more than any video game.

Besides, there are games where you choose whether to be more violent or not, and it can negatively affect how other characters respond in the game.

Feb. 15 2013 11:15 AM
jeff pappas from Dumbo

In Japan kids play even more violent video games, yet they hardly have any violence in their culture.

Also just look at some old painting by Heronius Bosch ( sp ? )

Feb. 15 2013 11:15 AM

There's actually a slight downward trend between gun violence and per capita spending on video games. Netherlanders spend more than twice as much as Americans on video games, and yet have a fraction of the gun deaths.

Feb. 15 2013 11:12 AM


Normally, I agree with many of your ideas but you lost me here. Obfuscated sarcasm? If not, perhaps you should work toward organizing a new Continental Congress if you want to make those changes.

Feb. 15 2013 10:41 AM

Inevitably, "thoughtful" "caring" people, with a correctly progressive attitude, come to realize and to question the false promises and empty guarantees foisted upon us by the so called "Bill of Rights" contained in the Constitution of the United States.

The Second Amendment allows the poison of anti-life instruments to course through the society, drowning our children - "the most vulnerable amongst us".

The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments provide a series of obstacles to efficient government efforts to organize and direct productive property resources and protect its citizens from the predations of the victims of untoward social forces, while sanctioning the denial of effective care for the mentally ill and the socially unfit.

The First allows for mindless superstition and irrational values to have protection from the corrective influence of democratic progress in science and social welfare as embodied and represented by our organized agencies of democratic self rule.

We should be "allowed a vote", we demand to be "allowed a vote", on whether to continue to allow these demonstrated special interest ideologies to continue!

Progressives of the world unite -
we have nothing but the mental chains of the past to lose!


Feb. 15 2013 08:26 AM

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