Gun toting can chill free speech — and worse
By V.B. Price 8/26/09 9:28 AM
If loyal members of the NRA carry loaded guns into public political meetings and town halls, should loyal members of the ACLU carry loaded guns to the same gatherings?
Would anyone who values their life stay in such a meeting?
Gun carrying in any public setting is a provocation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see left-leaning gun owners and members of the NRA loading up and countering right leaning gun slingers.
I wouldn’t be surprised. But I am dismayed. Carrying guns in public meetings is an act of intellectual terrorism which could, in a split second, result in political murder.
Of course, we have a constitutional right to own and bear arms, but we also have an ethical and social obligation to be civil, respectful, decent and considerate of others. If that’s not true, then we can just toss the Golden Rule out the window.
Of course, we also have a constitutional right to speak our minds without fear of physical harm. In legal parlance, gun carrying in open public meetings where public policies are being debated, could well be considered as having a “chilling effect” on free speech. And that’s illegal and unconstitutional and just plain rude.
People who carry guns into public meetings do it to scare other people, to intimidate them, to make them watch what they say. They’re no better than any other bullies.
If you consider yourself an American, and believe in the Constitution, you have to come to terms with the Second Amendment, just as you must give the deepest respect to all of the Bill of Rights, including the right to express yourself freely.
Some people think carrying guns is “speech,” an expression of a political opinion. I do not. Some businesses, trade associations, and lobbyists think having huge amounts of money is a form of “speech” which allows them to drown others out. I do not.
But I don’t believe the Second Amendment has a second rate status in the Bill of Rights — its ambiguous and confusing wording not withstanding.
The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Some originists who judge the Constitution in its 18th Century context dismiss the Second Amendment because states no longer have militias composed of private citizens. Others counter that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, forbidding military personnel to enforce civil law, authorizes counties to deputize citizens to help keep the peace. Of course, that would amount to creating a militia that is deputized by a formal governmental authority. It’s a long argument.
When it come to the ACLU and the NRA honoring the Second Amendment, at least the NRA tries to protect what they consider to be everyone’s constitutional right to bear arms. The ACLU, on the other hand, has traditionally chickened out on the issue.
If a liberal carries a loaded gun into a political meeting as a gesture in opposition to conservative gun slingers, the ACLU won’t have his back. Nor will it defend the conservative’s position. But the NRA will be behind them both, for better or ill.
On its Web site, the ACLU disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in D.C. v. Heller striking down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban. Even though the court held “for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, whether or not associated with a state militia,” the ACLU states, “in our view, neither the possession of guns nor the regulation of guns raises a civil liberties issue.” Justice Scalia confirmed in that decision, however, that regulation of firearm ownership was not unconstitutional.
The ACLU argues that the Second Amendment protects a “collective right rather than an individual right,” basing this view on the 1939 Supreme Court case of United States v. Miller which prevented the interstate transport of sawed off shotguns, arguing such weapons were not necessary armaments for militias.
I’ve never understood the logic of collective v. individual rights. How can a collective have a right if the individuals who composed it do not have the same right? It’s a logically indefensible argument.
Still, carrying guns to public meetings to make a point is roughly like carrying a club, grunting and pounding it on the table, after swinging it in the air over people’s heads.
There’s a big difference in my book between owning guns and waving them around in public, between protecting yourself, your loved ones and your property, and using a gun as a megaphone to make a hostile, angry, and dangerous point.
In a nation that’s seen the gun related assassinations of four presidents — Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy — and the attempted assassinations of no less than 13 presidents, from Andrew Jackson to Ronald Reagan, carrying guns in public places, without a badge, is not an implied threat; it’s an open threat of violence.
And it does have a chilling effect on freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Gun carrying in public, used as a form of intimidation, does not serve the legitimate interests of those who consider the right to bear arms, as an individual or as a group, a fundamental constitutional right granted to all Americans in principle, subject to local and national regulation.
The Second Amendment is too important for such potentially lethal antics. The basic contemporary argument for the Second Amendment is individual protection against crime and protection against tyrannical takeovers. Whether one thinks the latter is a paranoid delusion or not, the basic radical message of the Declaration of Independence makes some kind of personal preparedness necessary in the defense of the Constitution.
You might be able to beat swords into plowshares, but holding the gestapo off with a big knife is not recommended. I say that even though I don’t own a gun, and prefer a baseball bat for household defense.
But I would never think to carry my bat into a town hall or any other political gathering.