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Trump's Covid-19 Legacy: More 2nd Amendment Guns, More 1st Amendment Damage

May 23, 2020

By Joe Rothstein

It’s been nearly ten years since the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4 that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permits just about anyone who wants one to own a gun. Now, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia you not only can own a gun but carry it with you as a concealed weapon or wave it around menacingly in public places.

A 2018 survey estimates there are about 400 million guns of all kinds—pistols, rifles, shotguns, even military--style assault weapons-—in the arsenals of U.S. citizens. That’s about 120 guns for every 100 people.

Despite the fact that there is no credible threat from Democrats or anyone else that people will be forced to give up their guns, Donald Trump is campaigning hard as a Second Amendment warrior.

When men armed with assault rifles surrounded Michigan’s state house recently demanding that the governor reverse stay-at-home orders, Trump tweeted support for them and made it a Second Amendment cause. In April, when Virginia’s legislature was considering measures to require background checks and to allow municipalities to ban weapons from public buildings, Trump called the governor of Virginia “a whack job” for supporting gun safety. He cast the debate as the first step by Democrats to take everyone’s guns away. No one proposed taking away guns, but likely due to Trump’s fear-mongering, two million guns were sold in April, a 71% spike over sales in April 2019.

Despite countless mass murders and a continuing epidemic of death by gun violence, the gun industry has proven impervious to serious regulation in most states. If anything, the right to own and carry guns has been expanding—-into public places, houses of worship, college campuses, and, as we saw recently in Michigan, into the legislative halls themselves. It’s safe to assume that the Second Amendment is not in danger of repeal. It’s more likely the gun lobby will get laws passed requiring everyone to own guns.

And we have to ask, how has this made America great? Can’t think of anything? Neither can I.

Now let’s consider another amendment, one that gets little mention, a fraction of the lobbying effort, and that IS under assault--First Amendment rights protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I can readily think of ways those rights DO make America great.

Without First Amendment protection we can imagine the full weight of Trump’s White House and William Barr’s Justice Department coming down on, maybe even shutting down, the New York Times and Washington Post and others who have investigated the current administration’s corruption and malfeasance. As president, Richard Nixon asked the Supreme Court to restrain newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers on the grounds of national security. He wasn’t the first president to try to gag the press, nor will he be the last. Does anyone doubt Trump would try to silence any media he considered "fake" if he thought he could get away with it?

We know what we know about the coronavirus not because Trump’s government played straight with us, but because of the heroic efforts of dozens of reporters who risked their own health to find the truth. We know more about what happened at Wuhan than most Chinese do. We know more about the mass graves in Iran than most Iranians do. We may not like what we see from our own government’s response to the pandemic, but we see it and know it because the press was free to report about it.

We also know that Trump tried to blackmail Ukraine because a whistle blower had media outlets to go to. We know about the president’s empty daily schedules, his disinterest in intelligence reports. His 20,000 presidential lies and disdain for facts. We know about the nepotism and cronyism. None of this happens by accident. A free press needs reporters and editors and media owners to ferret out what others prefer to hide and the courage to publish what powerful people prefer to keep secret.

During this pandemic we rightly honor the medical community and other front-line workers for their heroism and dedication. Let’s not leave out the media people who also are taking significant health and career risks to make sure we all know truth from fiction.

Trump’s endless cry of “fake news” is damaging to the whole concept of a free and independent media. He’s assaulting the value of the First Amendment in ways that are dangerous in a free society, not only because he’s on a rampage against the press, but because he turns tens of millions of Americans against it as well. Since politicians respond to the passions of their voters, Trump’s attacks on the media corrupts the entire political environment.

While no one is giving up their guns because of the economic shutdown, advertisers are canceling their ads in newspapers and news web sites. In turn, those newspapers and web sites are laying off workers by the thousands. Some are shutting down completely. The free press is under both political and economic assault.

Isn’t it an irony, that as a result of Trump’s failure to properly deal with the pandemic we will wind up with more guns and fewer free press options? Ironic and tragic.

The First Amendment is under attack and needs our help. The Second Amendment seems perfectly capable of taking care of itself.

(Joe Rothstein's latest political thriller, "The Salvation Project," is on sale from all online book sellers and most independent book stores. Questions or comments? You can contact Joe Rothstein at

Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.