Democratic Underground

Books Don't Kill People - People Kill People
July 7, 2001
by Jonathan Lilienkamp

I find it amazing that people are so ready to challenge, ban and burn books yet find issue with regulating firearms. Why is owning ANY kind of gun is OK, but owning ANY kind of book is wrong? The trend disturbs and rightly should disturb any thinking person. Why in the United States do people advocate the right to have any firearm, but do not have any qualms about banning expression? What makes the Second Amendment any more important than the First? Perhaps the question comes down to this: Are people more afraid of words, thoughts, and ideas?

From 1990 through 1999 there were over 7000 challenges to ban books (roughly two a day on average!):

  • 1,446 were challenges to "sexually explicit" material;
  • 1,262 to material considered to use "offensive language";
  • 1,167 to material considered "unsuited to age group";
  • 773 to material with an "occult theme or promoting the occult or Satanism,";
  • 630 to material considered to be "violent";
  • 497 to material with a homosexual theme or "promoting homosexuality," and
  • 397 to material "promoting a religious viewpoint."

Other reasons for challenges included "nudity" (297 challenges), "racism" (245 challenges), "sex education" (217 challenges), and "anti-family" (193 challenges). Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year

Now let's think about this. Is it reasonable to keep some books out of the hands of children? Yes, of course! Is it reasonable for a parent to make that decision? Yes, of course! Is it reasonable for anyone to make that decision for other people's children? No, of course it is not. Taking this further, in a free society, who has the right to keep reading materials out of any other adult's hands? No one. To dictate to me what I can or cannot read infringes on my basic inalienable rights of Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Make no mistake. Banning books is anti-everything we stand for. But many feel that is OK, as long as we don't apply heavy handed tactics, like asking them to be reasonable and safe with deadly weapons.

If your child has access to a gun, he or she has the capability to shoot the neighbor's kid. That's okay though. After all, which is worse, a kid with access to a loaded weapon, or a kid reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Obviously the latter is much more dangerous, or so many evidently think. The following books were required reading in school for me, yet all appear on the top 100 list of the most frequently challenged books from 1990-1999:

  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • and, of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Now seriously, what is in any of these books which is so offensive they can't be read? I challenge anyone to come up with a valid argument. Having read those books, I see no reason why anyone (with enough of a clue to understand what the author was doing) would have a problem with any of these books. Unfortunately, I suspect strongly that the biggest advocates of their banning never opened the cover.

Funny, the Bible (which is the best selling book of all time, and I hear no one arguing to ban it) has elements that are sexually explicit, has offensive language, contains parts which are likely unsuited for particular age groups, certainly has an occult theme, portrays violence, homosexuality, and certainly has a religious viewpoint. So why ban these books and not the Bible?

Here are a couple of other hard-hitting books that made the top 100 list:

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999 Type and Year

Now tell me why is it bad to have a copy of James and the Giant Peach, but it is okay to own a handgun without a safety lock? Guns kill 35,000 people per year, according to a pro-gun site. How many people die from reading Tom Sawyer? Where is the logic gap here? Why is it okay to blatantly infringe on rights (as stated in the First Amendment) that shape the mind? But it is not alright to regulate (as stated in the the Second Amendment) rights that can deform the body?

Now clearly there are intelligent people who are strong believers in absolute gun rights, who are also strong believers in free speech and expression. My focus is on those who fall into this basic contradiction of arguments. Is the belief that a mind is a terrible thing to waste on books, when they could better be wasted with bullets? Where is the logic?

You can have my book when you pry it from my cold dead fingers (unless you promise to give it back when you're done.)

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