When 1st and 2nd Amendment Conflict: Protests, Guns and Double Standards

guns at town hallsLet me state from the get-go that I’m no opponent of gun ownership (got my first rifle at the age of 12 and am still a crack shot). But something weird is going on when you have guys wandering around a political rally or protest site with pistols strapped to their thighs, or semi-automatic assault rifles strapped brazenly to their backs, as has been happening outside of venues where President Obama is speaking.

Think back a minute to all those rallies and gatherings where President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney spoke just a few years ago. Back then, the Secret Service got local police to herd protesters outside events into what they called, with no sense of irony, “Free Speech Zones.”  Forget guns. Just an “Impeach Bush” T-shirt or a sign saying “U.S. Out of Iraq” was enough to have cops offer you a choice: Move to a fenced in zone, or be arrested.

I’m sure we’ll all agree that if any of those protesters had been visibly armed, they’d have been arrested, probably tased into the bargain, their guns would have been confiscated, and they might well have found themselves on a flight to Guantanamo Bay.

What’s different now?

For one thing, we aren’t seeing the “Free Speech Zones” at Obama events. Clearly the Secret Service is not being instructed by White House operatives to have local police cart away protesters. That’s a good thing. The Bush/Cheney tactic against protest was a gross violation of the First Amendment right of free speech and free association. For another, it seems like the Secret Service is letting local police make the decisions about who poses a threat to the president–and in some states, like upstate New York, Colorado and Arizona, for example–those local police seem perfectly comfortable with having armed citizens in the crowds. (On the other hand, does anyone think that if those armed citizens wore turbans, that they’d be allowed to parade around with their weapons?)

Let me just state for the record that this is sheer madness.

I’ve been to a lot of demonstrations in my life, and one thing that has been pretty standard is that police have banned the use of wooden sticks for holding up signs. The reason is obvious: They are afraid that sticks might end up being used as weapons in any confrontation, whether with them, or perhaps with angry opponents of whatever is being protested. So protesters use cardboard tubes instead.

How is it that sticks or baseball bats can be banned at rallies and protests, but not guns?

I’m not talking here about the right to bear arms. People have the right under the Constitution to own guns, and various states like Virginia, for example, have passed laws even allowing them to be worn into public places like restaurants. But police also have a duty to protect the public, and the right to carry guns is not universal. They cannot, for instance, be carried near schools in any jurisdiction I know of.

Why aren’t people allowed to carry guns near or in schools?  Clearly it’s because there have been some nasty incidents involving people with guns blowing away kids at schools. Armed people would scare parents, scare kids and scare teachers, and that’s not an environment we want for our kids.

So what about political events?  Don’t we want political events to be free from intimidation?  The essence of a free society is the right to go to a public political event and express one’s support for or to protest against some political figure or political policy.  That can involve having to confront people with an opposite perspective, which can get tense and nasty, but the conflict is verbal, not physical, and of course if it gets physical, the police intervene, as they should–hopefully with even-handedness.

Guns at such events change everything. If police–and the Secret Service–allow guns at political events, then members of the public have to fear for their safety and their very lives. No amount of police scrutiny can prevent a gun-holder, whether based upon a plan of action or in the heat of the moment, from suddenly firing into a crowd. That reality is certain to deter some people from speaking their mind, and others from even showing up. And that’s not even mentioning the possibility of assassination attempts.

Am I crazy, or is this all just nuts?

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at

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20 Responses for “When 1st and 2nd Amendment Conflict: Protests, Guns and Double Standards”

  1. dobropet says:

    “People should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people.” V for Vendetta.

  2. dobropet says:

    Simply mentioning Bush of using “Free Speech Zones” as their tactic to undermine the peoples voice does no justice, the Bush family is a very powerful line of people.

    There are numerous reasons for the differences in dealing with the people of America between the parties, but for all their opposing views on the topic they both pander to the parties interest no matter what the cost(Alan Keyes, along with 21 other protestors at Notre Dame arrested).

    With or without guns.

  3. A fine sentiment, but this isn’t about fearing the government or vice versa. It’s about fearing fellow citizens. Guns to protect your home are fine. Guns to defend freedom are fine, but we’re talking about public debate in the streets–with some people passionately opposed to ObamaCare, and some people passionately supportive. That’s a hot mix, and it doesn’t need guns added to it. Those guns are not there for defense; they are there for the purpose of intimidation.

    Would we allow them in the hall? No. Why not. Same people. Same guns. Why should we protect debate inside a hall, but not on the street?

    The issue has been framed as whether or not the president is being put at risk, but that’s the least of the problem. The real problem is whether the public right to free expression and assembly is being defeated by these thugs with guns and the police who tacitly support them. And the answer to that question is “of course! That’s the point!”

    Dave Lindorff

  4. lk says:

    The difference with the SS’s “free speech zones” and all that from the prvs admin and the rxn now is pretty blatant. I would never want anyone to establish those “zones” for protesters today, as much as I disagree with them, but you’re right, if there were armed protesters against Bush you can bet certain folks who are okie-dokie today would raise hell.

    There is a book which deals with how the Bush/Cheney team used the Secret Service for political reelection purposes during the 2004 election. And the Secret Service was willingly complicit in this though few will admit it.

    “The Secret Service: the hidden history of an enigmatic agency: This new edition of the definitive history of the Secret Service lays bare the 2004 Bush campaign’s political uses of the agency”

  5. lk says:

    just to be clear though, i’m more against the guns for the copycat nature of it. One person in NH became 12 people in Arizona, becomes… It’s an ongoing encouragement for nuts who actually may want to cause harm. As far as the protesters, i think it’s just a 2nd amendment expression thing without any vitriolic intention, but for safety’s sake, they ought to think twice.

  6. dobropet says:

    It was 14 people in NH, not 1, and the sentiment is under the direction of the second amendment, of course people are going to use that right to display their freedom but as for being used for the expressed purpose of intimidation that is for those who have a right to be offended to determine as you have. Not all is as it seems;

    The police are there to protect and serve US, not them and too often at times protect and serve turns into supress and harass as under the Bush doctrine, the point I see coming from them is that government is becoming more and more intrusive into the lives of Americans, interventionism so to speak, and their blatant abuse of the second amendment is tantamount to their cry for freedom, not intimidation, that’s a misdirection only a few people could establish.

    The 2 political parties treat it as if it’s their own crap game, occassionally someone gets shot or a fight breaks out, but the moment anyone outside their game comes in to interfere with it, they all unite together to protect it.

  7. dobropet says:

    I guess what needs to be made clear along the lines of protestors are the beliefs of each individual protestor, whether they are collectivists or individualists.

    That would certainly lucidate the topic and thus “draw the line in the sand” so to speak.

  8. cskate says:

    “People should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people.” V for Vendetta.

    This is actually quoted from Thomas Jefferson

  9. Alex Hatcher says:

    You report in Philly, which is in PA right?

    and PA has a will issue for CCW. so the guys that GET a legal CCW can be carrying right now. on the streets, cars, the El, trains etc.

    and you are worried about the ‘sudden shooting in the crowd?’ from a public open carry?

    seems that your boss just wanted a anti-gun, anti-bush rant, and you wrote it!

  10. stillahippie says:

    I was never anti gun until this year I used to be a gun owner yet in 68 years of life a lot of those years spent in very dangerous places I have never found the need to fire or even pull a gun, I have to wonder what kind of person would go to a town meeting or hang around outside a venue were the President is speaking with hand guns strapped to to there hips and semi automatics slung on there necks. I hope it makes them feel strong and powerful because they looked like the fools they are.I felt embarest those fools and most embarest for my country. almost every day there is a drive by in the new in my town.
    I promise I have read and reread the constitution and it doesn’t give nut cases any kind of right to “open carry” in a attempt to intimidate peoples right of free speech.

  11. Jeff says:

    Isn’t this clearly an example of the 2nd amendment working as intended?

  12. Baxter Conley says:

    Alex Hatcher makes and incredibly stupid point.

  13. kgreg says:

    The “free speech zones” that you mentioned were a fixture of both political parties conventions. The purpose of these zones had nothing to do with free “speech”-they were to prevent outright riots from well organized bands of protesters on both fringes of the political spectrum.

    As a shooter, and an AR15 owner, I am also troubled by these “stunts”. Personally, I don’t think I would want to be in the crosshairs of several snipers with their fingers resting on 3lb. triggers for the duration of the rally.

    As a “mere” citizen and taxpayer (who, by the way is no fan of the current administration) I am deeply concerned that the resources that we fund to protect the office of the president, regardless who occupies it, are being distracted by such stunts.

    Whether you voted for or approve of Mr. Obama, he does occupy the office and that in and of itself qualifies him to be provided by a “balloon” of safety courtesy of the taxpayer.

    Here endeth the lesson. :D

  14. Richard says:

    Sorry, kgreg, but you must have been living on some other planet where there were “organized bands of protesters on both fringes of the spectrum”–the vast majority of the protesters, at both conventions, were there to tell BOTH parties that they were sick and tired of the thousands of Americans literally dying for LIES; dying, as it were, to satisfy Dick Cheney’s oil envy so he could install Halliburton, Blackwater, CACCI, and the rest to his fascist pals to run his little war. *Government run by business=fascism*, by the way. I know that it’s popular among some Republicans these days to try to convince America that *black man+white house=fascism*, but that’s another story. There was very little danger of protester-on-protester violence, or any real danger of any violence at all. Even the violence in Chicago in ’68 was, after hearings, determined to have been a “police riot.”

    Oh, and by the way, I am a non-shooter, and a non-AR15 owner, confident in my masculinity without a huge metal phallus lurking in my closet, and if I did have one, I surely wouldn’t have to tell everyone about it on blogs to distract from my nerdy insecurity.

    Thus endeth *your* lesson. ;-p What are you gonna do, shoot me? lmfao

  15. rougy says:

    You’re not crazy. You’re right on target (ha ha). Man, I remember Bush screening his audience, but I had actually forgotten about the “free speech” zones. Shame on me.

  16. doozer says:

    Richard appears to be right about fascism;

    For my part, as a non-partial gun owner, who is even more of a “crack shot” than the fellow above.. I believe the second amendment only makes sense in this day and age if we are allowed to own a tank or scud missiles :) The second amendment is simply exploited these days simply for the purpose of intimidation, even politically, i.e.; liberals are woosies becuase they don;t like to kill stuff. Clearly that is the issue here and I will state my case thusly- A number of these individuals admit to these guns being loaded.. I can understand the symbolism of a gun at a rally, but a loaded gun has only one purpose. I am curious what current military personnel would have on the subject of citizens walking around the country that they are protecting w/ loaded munitions simply for the effect of scaring people out of their perspectives. To agree w/ Richard, it’s a phallus orgy for intellectual inferiors who are intimidated in their daily lives by the intelligence of people around them.

    Another point is this: doesn’t this situation create magnificent opportunities for terrorists and shooters who want to mask as protestors? What the hell? What about 9/11 and all that airport security garbage if we are going to let people do this? I believe the answer is precisely that.. it was a big show point on by the bush administration to attempt a fascist takeover of the greatest country of the world.. to agree again w/ richard.

    Lets all remember that the pen is mightier than the sword (unless of course the pen scares you because you are emotionally and intellectually retarded, of course then you must resort to the desperation of firearms.)

  17. S Keiser says:

    Mr Lindorff and everyone else in this post has been duped. The gentleman carrying the AR15 is almost certainly a plant, and CNN willingly or intentionally interviewed him in support of the Eric Holder and BHO agenda. In every place I have lived, at a minimum he would have been arrested immediately for brandishing a weapon. The SS would have taken him out if they thought he was a threat, and he was clearly in the middle of a friendly crowd who were not afraid (except for the gratuitous CNN interviewee who feigned terror!) No, he is there solely to help support the anti-gun lobby. I don’t care one way or the other about the political motivations, but this set up was so obvious it was offensive.

  18. 12B Sappers Lead The Way says:

    Doozer, you said you wanted to know someone from the militaries perspective? I’m in the military, I’ve gone to war and come back and no I have no problem with people walking down the street with loaded firearms on there back it’s there rights. Rights are like muscles, you let them sit and don’t occasionally flex them they’re going to go away and right now people are finally starting to flex. I agree with what you said about owning tanks and scud missiles but probably in a different way, I have no problem giving a guy at a gun store an AT-4 or a M240 machine gun 1000 rnds and telling him to go have fun. Do I believe there are people who shouldn’t have guns, yes. The mentally inept, I’m not talking he’s sad or cuts himself cause he wants attention, I’m talking he thinks his names are Mike, Joey, Susie, and Sally but none of them get along with each other cause Mike cheated on Sally with Susie kinda messed up. I also don’t think, and i enunciate this, violent criminals should not have guns. For example, someone stole a bunch of money or got drunk and got into a fight, or some other crime that has the possibility of becoming a felony but was without malicous intent to kill someone and without the use of a firearm then by all means have fun with your guns. Back to my main point though, these demonstrators are not attempting to bully, intimidate, or otherwise stop people from coming to rallies. What they are doing is exercising there second amendment rights to carry firearms in a way to exercise there 1st amendment rights by visually making a point that they disagree with current proposed legislation and will not stand for it. Before I end my rant I pose a question and I’d really like to see who gets it right. What was the purpose of the second amendment? I want you all to really think about that question and when you know the answer you’ll realize why it is such an important amendment. I’m not going to voice my opinion on that but I will say it is bound to happen eventually and the second amendment is truly our last line of defense. I truly hope it does not come to that but always remember this country we call home was fought for, died for, and built by those called terrorists, freedom fighters, and rebels.

  19. 12B Sappers Lead The Way says:

    Excuse me I mispelled something. It should be military’s and I will add that my opinion is soley my own and is no way endorsed by the military or any government entity.

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