Moving Into Dangerous Territory
Claiming that they are only “using their rights” as Americans, about a dozen men–at least one carrying a military-style assault rifle–populated the crowds outside the Obama event in Phoenix today. As I remarked before, the one guy outside the event last week went far too far, so a dozen should be that many times more chilling. What seems to have tempered the display is that none, at least as far as I can tell, were bearing signs that intimated that they wanted to actually kill Obama, as was the case with the armed protester in Montana. Nevertheless, the display was chilling.
The protesters simply contend that they were exercising their rights; Arizona, where the event was held, is an “open carry” state, where you can carry a gun in public so long as it is out in the open. If these gun advocates are worried that Obama is going to take away their gun rights (which they really have no reason to be, as Obama has not only made his stance on this clear, but has actually loosened some gun laws), then one might understand a display. However, there is a difference between a display and a threat. If the men had shown up, displayed their weapons for some cameras, made a statement, and then packed away the guns–in other words, made the point about bringing guns and then demonstrated that they meant no ill will–that would be a display.
However, when a president travels, assassination is always a primary concern. To simply have men bearing guns, including assault rifles, milling about crowds of protesters making rather outlandishly hostile rants about the president, some signs even advocating his death, goes beyond simple protest and enters the realm of real security issues. Most surprising to me is the apparently lax attitude the Secret Service is taking to all this.
There is also the question of right in context. One has the right to free speech, but you cannot endanger others; I can shout “Fire!” at a gun range, but not in a movie theater. Depending on the context, one is perfectly appropriate, the other is criminally irresponsible. In the context of a presidential visit, bearing a gun is, in my opinion at least, criminally irresponsible. Bearing a gun is a right, freely speaking is a right, but bearing a gun while making death threats? I don’t think that’s a right. And bearing a gun to a political event definitely strays into that territory: there is a very real, implied threat being made.
Besides, if the real idea here is just exercising rights, then where were these people during the Bush administration? People were getting arrested for shouting non-violent anti-Bush slogans or even just wearing critical T-shirts near Bush events; had anyone then shown up with a gun, they probably would have been arrested on the spot. No one seemed to want to test their gun rights then, did they?
Add that to the fact that Obama has only been friendly to relaxing gun laws and you get the clear impression that the whole “gun rights” claim is not a reason, but an excuse to make thinly veiled death threats against the president of the United States of America. There is a difference between exercising your rights and hiding behind them.