When I started taking journalism courses, all my professors would give us the same piece of investigative advice: follow the money.
It’s journalistic common knowledge that to crack almost any code or corruption, the answer is at the end of the money trail. The government runs on greed.
It was not until about two years later in my education that we were taught about the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case of 2010. I think about this case after every single mass shooting.
If you aren’t familiar with Citizens United, it was a case that dealt with campaign spending from entities. In layman’s terms, the case was about how much money corporations are allowed to donate to political candidates, and whether or not there should be a cap on said donations. The outcome was heavily steeped in First Amendment law: corporations are considered people, money is considered communication/expression, so there is no constitutional reason why the court should be able to restrict the flow of corporate communication.
At first it seems sound, but again, I think about this case after every single mass shooting. Why? Because most Americans want common sense gun laws. Common sense gun laws have proven in several countries to put a stop to senseless massacres. So why, in this democracy, do we not yet have common sense gun laws?
After each mass shooting, we debate about bump stocks, silencers and assault rifles, but we aren’t getting to the root of the problem. We need to follow the money. What we need to debate is how far corporate “freedom of speech” can go.
There are clauses in the First Amendment that detail where it no longer protects speech and expression. These clauses are referred to as hate speech and fighting words. Fighting words, as described in the 1942 SCOTUS case “Chaplinsky Vs. New Hampshire” are words which,
“by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived is clearly outweighed by the social interest of order and morality.”
Would you say that the benefit of corporate freedom of communication between the NRA and the Republican party outweighs the disruption of order when someone opens fire in a school or movie theater? Does the principle that corporations have free reign over their campaign expenditures outweigh the morality (or lack thereof) that so many of our representatives have prioritized millions of campaign dollars over hundreds of innocent lives? Would you say unchecked NRA donations to campaigns count as fighting words?
Sometimes I think that after gun massacres we fight for the wrong things. Stricter gun laws will absolutely never exist in this country unless we first address the dangers of unchecked corporate donation, particularly in regard to the NRA. We have to fight from the bottom up. The bottom of the issue is that while we have decided that corporate donation is free speech, we have yet to label which parts of said free speech are dangerous ones. With great freedom comes great responsibility. This is what we need to fight for.
It was 153 years before the United States decided it was time to stop protecting the elements of speech that were destructive to the fabric of society. In about 45 days, this country has already seen close to 20 mass shootings. At a current rate of .44 mass shootings per day, we will hit 24,571.8 mass shootings in 153 years.
I will not wait 24,571.8 mass shootings for the Supreme Court to make a responsible decision in the arena of corporate speech, and neither should you. It is behind every political decision that affects you, and right now it is the biggest thing standing between us and a safer America.