Thursday, August 27, 2009

Even Some Gun Rights Advocates Question Brandishing Guns at Presidential Appearances

This man, who would not give his name, carried an AR-15 rifle near an Aug. 17 appearance in Phoenix by President Barack Obama.

On Sunday Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. seconded my August 13th thoughts on the fascist intimidation tactics being used by protesters of health care reform proposals--then focused on an additional tactic I've wanted to highlight anyway: people bringing firearms, including assault rifles, to the sites of town hall meetings and even presidential appearances. He said the tactics tell us just how much some very conservative Americans fear the change President Obama was elected to bring. Speaking of the election of the first African-American president, Pitts wrote:

If this was regarded as a new beginning by most Americans, it was regarded apoloclyptically by others who promptly proceeded to lose both their minds and any pretense of enlightenment.

These are the people who immediately declared it their fervent hope that the new presidency fail, the ones who cheered when the governor of Texas raised the specter of secession, the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the "Black" House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.

In the debate over health care reform, they are the ones who have disrupted town hall meetings, shouting about the president's supposed plan for "death panels" to euthanize the elderly.

Now, they are the ones bringing firearms to places the president is speaking.

The Washington Post tells us at least a dozen individuals have arrived openly--and, yes, legally--strapped at events in Arizona and New Hampshire, including at least one who carried a semiautomatic assault rifle. In case the implied threat is not clear, one of them also brought a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson's quote about the need to water the tree of liberty with "the blood of...tyrants."

It remains unclear...what the substance of the president's supposed tyranny might be.

When and if the implied violence comes, perhaps its author will explain. Meanwhile, expect those who stoked his rage--i.e., the makers of Internet myths, alarmist rhetoric and blatant lies--to disdain any and all moral responsibility for the outcome.

These are strange times. They call to mind what historian Henry Adams said in the mid-1800s: "There are grave doubts at the hugeness of the land and whether one government can comprehend the whole."

Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual... Such as when you look at a guy who thought it is a good idea to bring a gun to a presidential speech and find yourself stunned by incomprehension. On paper, he is your fellow American, but you absolutely do not know him, recognize nothing of yourself in him. You keep asking yourself: Who is this guy?

This isn't liberal vs. conservative, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were.

And change, almost by definition, always comes too fast, always brings a sense of stark dislocation. As in the woman who cried to a reporter, "I want my country back!" Probably the country she meant still had Beaver Cleaver on TV and Doris Day on Your Hit Parade.

Can one government comprehend the whole? It may be harder to answer now than it was then.

The distances that divide us cannot be measured in miles.

Of course the implied threat is not only to shoot President Obama but also for the fascists to have their way by violent revolution. The only consoling developments I've seen on that came in a report Tuesday from MSNBC that at least some gun-rights activists are actually questioning the wisdom of bringing guns to these events. Excerpts from the article follow:

As much as any issue, open carry reveals divisions within the gun-rights community, often characterized by gun-control advocates as a monolithic force that is led in lock-step by the powerful and well-heeled National Rifle Association. But you won’t find the NRA weighing in on this issue; the 4-million-member group did not respond to’s requests for an interview.

“They’re obviously avoiding taking a stand on this one,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the nationwide advocacy group for “sensible” gun laws. “It’s a no-win for them.” If NRA officials criticize those who open-carry near Obama events, they run the risk of irritating their “rabid membership,” Helmke said. If they support the behavior, “they’re going to lose all credibility not only with the public but with the elected officials who usually vote their way.”

Other gun-rights groups, however, have not shied away, offering a range of reaction.

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, another staunch defender of gun rights, was not applauding. Gottlieb said the open carrying of firearms near presidential town hall meetings on health care “is not the time or the place for it. I’m not for disallowing them to do so, I just don’t think it’s politically intelligent. … I would like to see gun owners think twice before they go to a rally like that with a firearm strapped on. It doesn’t necessarily put our best face forward.”

John Pierce, co-founder of, a social-networking Web site for gun owners that catalogs weapons laws across the nation and chronicles efforts to loosen and remove restrictions against the public carrying of firearms, praised the low-key response of the White House and the Secret Service to the incidents. But he also worried a bit about the actions of those who wear guns near presidential venues.

“I absolutely believe open carry should be legal anywhere that a citizen can legally be,” he explained. “Having said that, one of the things that I find a little bit less than perfect about the recent situation is not the fact that citizens were open-carrying, but rather that they were there as a form of open conduct to disagree with a political position that the president has taken, whether it’s about health care or the economy.” Doing so with a gun strapped on sends a “very mixed message,” said Pierce.

It is to say the least refreshing to see some voices of disagreement in the usually monolithic drive to bring guns into every nook and cranny of American life. It would be even nicer if these individuals who see the political folly of trying to intimidate the American public with guns would also appreciate how much telling lies about the president's plans for change fuels that political folly.

No comments: