Monday, August 17, 2009

The Boundaries of Speech and Tolerance in the U.S.

I've been quoted hundreds of times (maybe more) in media stories appearing throughout the U.S. and the world. Rarely do I hear from anyone who has actually read my comments and agrees or disagrees with what I have to say. Today has been different. I was quoted in the following AP story which began appearing in newspapers and on TV throughout the country this afternoon (including tomorrow's Washington Post) and the hostile reaction I'm receiving in my e-mail inbox is incredible.

Man carrying assault weapon attends Obama protest

PHOENIX — About a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside the convention center where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Monday — the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.

Gun-rights advocates say they're exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and protest, while those who argue for more gun control say it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Phoenix police said the gun-toters at Monday's event, including the man carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, didn't need permits. No crimes were committed, and no one was arrested.

The man with the rifle declined to be identified but told The Arizona Republic that he was carrying the assault weapon because he could. "In Arizona, I still have some freedoms," he said.

Phoenix police Detective J. Oliver, who monitored the man at the downtown protest, said police also wanted to make sure no one decided to harm him.

"Just by his presence and people seeing the rifle and people knowing the president was in town, it sparked a lot of emotions," Oliver said. "We were keeping peace on both ends."

Last week, during Obama's health care town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., a man carrying a sign reading "It is time to water the tree of liberty" stood outside with a pistol strapped to his leg.

"It's a political statement," he told The Boston Globe. "If you don't use your rights, then you lose your rights."

Police asked the man to move away from school property, but he was not arrested.

Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist, said the incidents in New Hampshire and Arizona could signal the beginning of a disturbing trend.

"When you start to bring guns to political rallies, it does layer on another level of concern and significance," Solop said. "It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication."

He said he's never heard of someone bringing an assault weapon near a presidential event. "The larger the gun, the more menacing the situation," he said.

Phoenix was Obama's last stop on a four-day tour of western states, including Montana and Colorado.

Let me now quote from a sample of comments I've received this evening:

1) For the time being, Americans still have rights under the Constitution. That includes the right to bear arms. I wonder, did you express the same level of concern during the elections when heavily-armed Black Panther terrorirsts were harassing and intimidating White voters at the polling stations? Did that "create a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication"? Or do they get a pass because they are anti-White, left-wing terrorists? Why are you so threatened by a law abiding citizen exercising his Constitutionally protected rights? The police were armed, so were Obama's Praetorean Guard cadres. Why is it ok for them but not for every other American citizen? (sent by Obed Santos)

2) People like You make me sick !! Please let me educate you ! What the hell are you calling an assault weapon !! an AR-15 ?? No its a semi auto, or rapid fire weapon !! Whats an ASSULT WEAPON !!--- Is a rifle or pistol !! That fires FULL AUTO or 3 round BURST !! Its book worms, like you that have never did. a days hard work in your life !! But has lived in a sheltered world, scared of the dark, and drive around with your doors locked !! Its ok, democrats, dont live in realilty ! and have NO BALLS !! I wish all you democrats would pull, your heads out of Obama's ass ! and educate yourselfs, in being a Man and an American ! America was built on GOD-GUNS-GUTS, And tough Men, and women ! people that would'nt back down from a fight ! Do you own a gun? if so thats very sad, that you dont know enough, So please educate yourself ! My Family has fought for the right ! so we are free, to carry a gun, and live FREE !! Get out of your class room, go to the country and meet some hard working people,who love there guns !! and love the right to carry them !!

Does the irony escape these authors? I raise the issue of guns creating a chilling effect on discussion at political rallies and they respond in a hostile, threatening manner meant to silence my ability to comment on political conditions in America.


  1. Well, Fred. I'm glad you posted a couple of comments because I was imagining worse. Maybe you kept them in hiding. These people are sick. And I AM afraid to go to a rally with semi-automatics (or whatever) present. If one of them gets angry and decides to open up, I don't want to be in the way. If that isn't chilling political discourse, I don't know what would.

  2. Fred, I am appalled by the ignorance exhibited in just these two illiterate rants. No civilian needs an assualt weapon nor has the "right" to tote one around in public. And, like Ann, I would leave a rally, a bar, a building or the street if a civilian is present that is openly displaying a weapon, especially a firearm. There is no purpose to such action but intimidation. Can any of the gun toters explain why they are armed? And don't give me the "Right to bear arms" crap. I wish the lunatic fringe that screams the right bear arms would actually read the 2nd amendment they constantly misquote. It does NOT guarantee every angry bully in American the right to brandish weapons in public. It states... "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." How dumb do these people have to be not to understand the words "well regulated militia?" They are not in a militia. They are purposefully strutting around openly communicating their misguided macho attempts at compensating for their lack of power and influence in their "real" daily lives. I used to be a gun owner then I realized I'm not afraid of anything. And a gun doesn't make me more of a man.

  3. Wow! I remember reading this article and the comment you made. These emails you've posted are disturbing. You're comment about bringing assault weapons to political rallies espoused no disrespect to those who would choose to be armed (in any situation), yet you were met with complete disrespect in return (particularly from the second response). I admire Jim's fearlessness, but it scares me that there are such unstable people who are so determined to bring dangerous weapons to public events.

    ~Katrina Taylor

  4. Fred, I recognize that this discussion revolves around the Constitution and the Right to carry weapons. However, as a CCW member, people carry guns openly to add a few layers of whatever they are lacking elsewhere (if you know what I mean). I, myself dont own a gun, but felt the need to get training in it so that I could be prepared to protect my property if I ever needed to (even then, there are very strict laws about that). I dont feel that individuals should openly carry guns in public, primarily because it screams "here, lets have a showdown with our guns" or "dont mess with me, because I'll shoot" if you have a gun exposed. Everyone has the right to protest (gun or no gun) and people shouldnt be in fear of expressing their opposition (or support) of a political figure for fear they may get shot at. Republican, Democrat, or Liberatarian - everyone in the U.S. has rights to express their position and not fear for their lives because someone exposes their gun to intimidate them. When these individuals say "we fought for YOUR freedom to carry a gun". I dispute that, you fought for my right to express myself without fear of retaliation. Just my two cents....