Does carrying a gun indemnify free speech or condemn it?  Recently, in New Hampshire, a citizen appeared at an Obama Town Hall wearing a sidearm and wielding a Thomas Jefferson quote about “Watering the Tree of Liberty” — a favorite quote of Oklahoma City Bomber and homegrown domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh.  Is the man with a gun and a protest sign suggesting a living semiotic that supports President Obama or is he really there to actively chop down the first Black president?

Not to be outdone in the crass semiotic department, a Black man in Arizona showed up at an Obama rally in Arizona carrying an assault rifle

No arrests were made in New Hampshire or in Arizona because carrying a gun is legal in those states even if you show up with a magazine full of bullets and claim you’re expressing your Second Amendment right to bear arms — what you’re really doing is showing off and bullying down the peaceful commingling of people in the public square.

The unspoken, but still deadly loud message is that if anyone says something you don’t like, you have a gun that will always outweigh their argument by speaking louder and carrying a message of molten lead instead of a stinging, verbal, retort. 

Arguments don’t kill people.

People kill arguments with guns.

Message sent without a shot fired; but the threat of being shot is always available.

I like travel expert Arthur Frommer’s call to boycott Arizona — using our freedom of choice to protect our free speech from the gun-toting bullies:

For myself, without yet suggesting that others follow me in an open boycott, I will not personally travel in a state where civilians carry loaded weapons onto the sidewalks and as a means of political protest. I not only believe such practices are a threat to the future of our democracy, but I am firmly convinced that they would also endanger my own personal safety there. And therefore I will cancel any plans to vacation or otherwise visit in Arizona until I learn more. And I will begin thinking about whether tourists should safeguard themselves by avoiding stays in Arizona.

According to the Phoenix, Arizona, police, people with guns including assault rifles do not need permits in Arizona, but can simply carry such weapons with them, openly and brazenly, when they gather to protest a speaker at a public event. The police also acknowledge that about a dozen people carrying guns, including one with an AR-15 assault rifle, milled about outside the event at which President Obama spoke.

David Sirota argues openly carrying guns in the public square threatens the very core of democracy and never protects it:

While the First Amendment doesn’t ensure credibility or significance, it is supposed to guarantee freedom from fear — a freedom that is now under siege. Citing the Second Amendment and the increasingly maniacal rhetoric of conservative media firebrands, a small handful of violence-threatening protesters aims to make the rest of us — whether pro- or anti-health-reform — afraid to speak out.

And so we face a choice that has nothing to do with healthcare, gun ownership or any other hot-button issue that protesters of both parties are fighting over. It is a choice about democracy itself — a choice that comes down to the two axioms best articulated by, of all people, Mao Zedong.

One option is willful ignorance: We can pretend the ferment is unimportant, continue allowing the intimidation and ultimately usher in a dark future where “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center just published a report about the resurrection of the right-wing militia movement:

They’re back. Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. “Paper terrorism” — the use of property liens and citizens’ “courts” to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. “This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” says one. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate.

What do we make of this new rise of the disenfranchised and, more importantly, what are we going to do about it and where do we store their roiling hatred?  Take up arms and shoot it out with them?  Are they beyond the point of reason?  Can they be touched by logic or ruled by the law?

The world is changing quickly, and for those presently in power, giving up the loudest voice by majority rule will not quietly die.

By 2049, White America will no longer be the power majority, and the question we need to begin to answer now is how do we all get there — safe, dry and keen and accepting — without one drop of innocent blood shed to water the tree of liberty.    


  1. I really don’t know what to do with this. It’s quite scary, David.

  2. It is a scary slope, Gordon. If one person brings a gun, others will want to bring a gun to protect themselves from that gun. Then, everyone has a gun. Then someone brings a flamethrower or a grenade or a bazooka — and those threats are matched and that’s how civil wars start.
    You press down that kind of violent uprising with violence — and the FBI and local police are armed for that task — unfortunately, as “government agents” employ their force, that action plays directly into the hands of those that want guns in the public square.

  3. Hi David,
    Those who are pro-gun they say they don’t feel safe without a gun…those who are not – do not feel safe being around them. How contradictory is that?
    As long as we dont trust others…this will continue to happen..

  4. That’s the core of the problem, Katha! I can’t imagine how anyone would feel safe when someone brings a gun to a healthcare rally. That’s the problem right there. The gun lobby is more important in America than freedom of speech and the freedom to congregate.

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