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Letter to the Editor: Free Speech?


Editor’s Note: This is a response to the Editorial Board’s piece, “Free Speech Rules — Still Illegal,” which ran on Monday, May 23, 2011.

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

How does this bear on the question of free speech? My formulation is simple: if we cannot trust students with the Second Amendment, why should they have access to the First?

Because misuse of the Second Amendment has deadly consequences, we have limitations on the extent to which we can exercise our right to bear arms — at schools, or in bars, or at sporting events and government buildings. Beyond that, it is pretty much free reign, as long as those few laws that do exist are respected. We accept the unquestioningly paternalistic guidance of those who created the laws because we believe that men are fallible and some places are safer and better off without firearms there. The benefit, if one exists at all, is far outweighed by the potential for harm (especially in the case of the bar).

What this means for Stanford students, though, is that they are not responsible enough to have firearms. Because we cannot be trusted to handle firearms safely, they have been removed from campuses. Instruments of potential harm are too great of a temptation for those who lack a strong moral compass.

Why, then, do we allow those same individuals the right to a good education? What will stop them from writing editorials to papers, from creating leaflets to scatter, from causing violent protest and open rioting? One can do more harm with the power of persuasion than they can ever do by themselves. If we accept laws that keep us from harming ourselves, why should we not allow them to decide when and where we get to use our freedom of speech? Karl Marx started a hundred revolutions, albeit a while after his death; presidents of our own country, more than once, have led us into wars we should not have fought.

I will ask again, one last time: if we cannot trust a person to not harm themselves and others with a firearm, why can we trust them to be safe with words? One can do even more damage with words, a crowd and no weapons, than one ever could with a weapon by him or herself. Some of us may be senators, justices or presidents one day — can we trust them with a nation if we cannot trust them with a campus?

I left Stanford to learn the ways of war. I could not learn about war at Stanford, nor could I start a Stanford Gun Club — my application was denied — so I looked elsewhere for that activity. Quite analogously, if your application for a protest is turned down, maybe you should look elsewhere for an outlet. On campus you are limited by tradition and paternalistic forms of authority. While they may seem too conservative with their approach to permissions to run activities, they may be right — they have created a top-tier University in only one century.


Sebastain Gould, ‘12