Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Right To Get Out of a Town Hall Meeting Alive

I lived through the assassinations of the 1960s, barely. I know what gun violence can do to our collective life and to our individual lives, even at a great distance. But we all have seen evidence in just the past week of what one violent person can do with a gun in a crowded space.

So I am utterly astounded at the spectre of people carrying guns to town hall meetings, one outside a meeting with President Obama in New Hampshire, and one actually inside a meeting with a Congressional Rep in Arizona,, where a holstered gun clattered onto the floor. And completely baffled by the apparent fact that in both cases, this gun-toting was legal.

There are two concerns here. First, the safety of the President and of Members of Congress. But second, the safety of the people attending town hall meetings.
How can it be legal to bring a loaded gun to such an event, even in the parking lot? But even more, how can it be legal to bring a gun into a town hall meeting? Does the right to bear arms trump the right to get out of a town hall meeting alive?

Presumably, there are fire codes that would prohibit someone from setting a fire in this crowd. But there is no law covering the clear and present danger of gun violence? In a heated situation, in which tempers are clearly on edge, and when people are being incited to go to these events with the most inflammatory public rhetoric I've heard in decades?

Presumably the Secret Service can prevent guns from getting much nearer than the parking lot outside an event where the President is appearing, but that's too close for me. That gun was loaded, and the man was holding a sign that made clear his advocacy for shedding blood.

But as we've seen in the coverage of other town hall events with Senators and Reps, there is little or no security. So there is no one to prevent guns from entering, and no one to deter their use inside.

This is a threat to participatory democracy and to the public safety. It must be addressed. Do we need video of bleeding bodies and panic to anticipate and correct this? I don't want to see the current insanity become tragedy for the innocent and their families as the result of some "lone gunman" at a town hall somewhere.

While it may be that the extremists showing up at these town hall meetings aren't doing much good for healthcare opponents, I'm afraid that stunned disbelief and ridicule are not sufficient responses. Somebody has to take the clear and present danger seriously.

Josh Horwitz has a column that narrates what's being going on, and how the fomenting of violence is a consistent theme. He concludes:

This year has already been marred by a series of horrific shootings involving individuals who hated our government and believed they had a constitutional right to strike against it: Richard Poplawski in Pittsburgh, James von Brunn in the District of Columbia, Scott Roeder in Wichita, Gilbert Ortez, Jr. in Texas, etc. With tensions escalating at town halls across the country, the overwhelming majority of Americans who wish to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights must speak out against the violent, insurrectionist philosophy that has corrupted the Second Amendment.

I advocate more than that. Somebody important at the White House better be calling somebody important at the FBI who better be alerting law enforcement at the local level. These guys seem pretty good at spying on Quakers. Maybe they ought to be checking groups and individuals who have crossed the line and actually threaten violence, with the means to cause it.

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