I've always found the "can't yell fire in a crowded theater" argument to be a false one, and invalid on most fronts.
First, you can yell "fire" in a crowded theater . . . if it is part of the play, or if there is an actual fire, or if doing so is part of audience participation, or if you lease the theater for private purposes and warn everyone about what you intend to do.
Given the above, what the "fire principle" actually details is the prohibition of "endangering behavior". When one exercises a reserved right in a manner that deprives others of their rights (such as the right to life, and not being squashed by a stampeding audience), then the conflict of rights must be resolved.
The comparison breaks down further when it is noted that the "yelling fire" prohibition requires the act to be committed first, whereas most gun control legislation creates prohibitions or bureaucratic hoop-jumping exercises in advance of an endangering act . . . that might never happen (for those who like the legal terms, we are talking about "prior restraint").
Let's reverse the process by taking common gun control legislation (proposed and current) and applying the same principles to producing a play:
Before a playhouse can be rented, the producer would have to document their ability to put on a play without any member of the audience yelling "fire". This would included formal training in selected speech controls and mob management techniques. (training requirements before getting a firearm permit)
The producer would have to be finger printed, photographed, and a criminal background check made to prove (s)he has never allowed an audience member to yell "fire" before. (registration and background of permit holder)
The producer would have to apply for and purchase a license for each showing of their play (licensing for each firearm) and be allowed only to perform the play once a month to reduce the likelihood of someone yelling "fire". (one gun a month laws)
Certain plays would be forbidden because they might be more likely to encourage audience members to yell "fire". (assault weapons bans)
Audience members would be issued gags as they entered the theater, and the producer would be required to assure the gags were worn by each member of the audience. (gun lock laws)
Each audience member would be locked into a soundproof box during the performance so if they did yell "fire", nobody would be frightened by it. (safe storage laws)
The notion of "reasonable regulation" fails several tests, but one in particular -- a reserved right can not be regulated in advance ("prior restraint"). Substantial preemption or delay of a right is as good as denying the right. If the equivalent of gun control laws were inflicted on the First Amendment, the ACLU would no doubt raise a mighty stink -- which makes their silence on 2nd Amendment abuses so gravely sad.
The following is an excerpt from a Vin Suprynowicz column:
Justice Holmes was writing for the court in Schenck vs. the United States, when in 1919 he penned the now infamous doctrine: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. ... The question in every case is whether the words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."
And what was this "clear and present danger"? Why, Mr. Justice Holmes was upholding the imprisonment of Charles Schenck, general secretary of the Philadelphia Socialist Party, for publishing 15,000 pamphlets which protested U.S. involvement in the First World War, and urged young men to resist the draft.
The current textbook "Mass Media Law," by Don Pember of the University of Washington informs us: "Sedition prosecutions in the period of 1915-1925 were the most vicious in the nation's history as war protestors, socialists, anarchists, and other political dissidents became the target of government repression."
This is the proud tradition which our brethren of the left embrace when they parrot back Justice Holmes' words to us as evidence that "no right" - they really mean only the despised Second Amendment, of course - "is absolute."
Unfortunately for this argument, Professor Pember further instructs us: "To many American liberals this notion seemed far-fetched and Holmes was publicly criticized for the ruling. ... Holmes changed his mind about his test ("clear and present danger") in less than six months and broke with the majority of the High Court to outline a somewhat more liberal definition of freedom of expression in ... Abrams vs. U.S. (1919.)"
By 1957, the high court found in the Yates case that to sustain a conviction under the Sedition acts the government must prove the defendants advocate specific violent and forcible overthrow of the government. And by 1969 the court went so far as to hold that even advocacy of unlawful conduct is protected by the First Amendment, "unless it is directed toward inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."
"The government found it impossible to do this in the 1950s," Professor Pember concludes in his 1977 text, "and the Smith Act has not been invoked to punish an act of expression in more than 25 years." So Justice Holmes admitted he was wrong within six months, and the high court has since so eviscerated the Sedition Acts that no one even tires to enforce them anymore (Thank heavens.)
Shame on those who embrace these red-baiting words, written in service of mass conscription for the tyrant Wilson's Great War. The Socialists were never right about much, but I believe they had every right to publish their darned anti-war pamphlets. Don't you?