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"The Defenders" Takes on the Second Amendment

By Paul Helmke

After seeing all the ads on CBS referencing the Second Amendment and this week’s episode of The Defenders,  I watched the new series for the first time – and was pleasantly surprised.

No, it didn’t match the acting quality of the early 1960s lawyer show of the same name, and other shows have done a better job portraying off-beat lawyers (particularly Ally McBeal and Boston Legal) and the uniqueness of Las Vegas (CSI), but I thought they handled the Second Amendment gun rights vs. gun regulation discussion even-handedly.

The plot involves a young man (Cody), who is arrested for having a number of guns in his vehicle with the serial numbers filed off. It turns out he was transporting these guns for his grandfather. It’s not clear whether he knew that the serial numbers had been removed. The grandfather is portrayed as a Second Amendment absolutist who feels restrictions on guns represent an infringement on his freedom. The grandfather stockpiles a large quantity of guns and sells and distributes them to others who, he says, believe like he does.

The lawyers (Jerry O’Connell as Pete Kaczmarek and Jim Belushi as Nick Morelli) also have to deal with a Nevada NRA-type group that wants to make Cody a poster child for gun rights and a Federal investigation of gun trafficking involving the grandfather.

The writing by Jacqueline Hoyt and direction by Matt Earl Beesley convey a legitimate sense of concern and skepticism by Pete when he meets the grandfather, sees the “barn” stockpiled nearly ceiling-high with guns, and discusses who the “they” is that the grandfather and his friends think they need to defend against. The grandfather, however, is not portrayed as a scary kook (the real militia types featured in TIME magazine’s cover story on October 11 this year were a lot more threatening) and concedes that in 10 years or so this gun stockpiling and militia preparation might look silly (unless, as he says, some Americans are at war with our government by that time).

The courtroom questioning of the ATF agent by Nick raised the definition of the Second Amendment. It could have had a stronger response from the agent but did make the point that public safety requires some ability to trace and regulate guns.

Too many TV shows focus only on guns as part of the story of a shooting by a bad guy, or as some miracle weapon used by a nearly omnipotent hero to quickly and accurately stop the bad guy. This needlessly raises our level of fear and promotes a false hope of the gun as savior.

This episode of The Defenders touched on an issue too often ignored – how guns are trafficked and where the guns used in crime come from. The show was balanced in its treatment of the Second Amendment and the gun issue – and I’m likely to watch again to see how they handle other story lines.


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