And no few of those people are public officials.
After a lunatic with no regard for human life opened fire on a meet-your-congresscritter event in Tucson, killing six people and injuring 14 including U. S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, reaction was mixed. The Left blamed "Tea Partiers" and Sarah Palin; once more was known about the shooter, advocates for the mentally ill reminded us that most crazy people aren't a danger; magazine bans and "safe zones" were proposed and debated and though it all, Gabrielle Giffords lay in a hospital bed, shot through the head, clawing her way back to world. Most bloggers and other commentators deplored the shooting of an American politician, even if they didn't share party affiliation or philosophy.
But not everyone agreed. In less emotionally-charged circumstances, I have used the hyperbolic "Congress. Tree. Rope. Some assembly required," and I am far from the only one.
In Massachusetts, a state that boasts of its commitment to core principles of freedom, a blogger headed his post on the event, "1 down, 534 to go!" and allowed as how he wasn't upset when a Congressbeing was shot.
Uncivil? Tacky? Harsh? --Sure it was. But it was his opinion. He wasn't fomenting sedition; he was engaging in political speech. The sort of thing you might think would be covered by the First Amendment, not to mention the high traditions and constitution of the Commonwealth in which he resides. For example:
Article XVI. The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this commonwealth. The right of free speech shall not be abridged.Reaction to his posting was swift; persons disagreeing with his notions organized a boycott of his online business and made critical posts and comments -- as they had every right to do. It was all churning right along, the normal workings of a free society, when--
The police showed up and confiscated all his guns and ammunition. For uttering threats? Well, gee, they didn't actually charge him with anything; they are, they averred, merely investigating the suitability of his having a firearms license. And in the meantime, hand 'em over! (And what does the oldest constitution still in use have to say about that?
Article XVII. The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority, and be governed by it.H'mm. I'm not seeing any limitations on that right, which would leave only the Federal proscription of felons from bearing arms and the blogger in question has not even been charged with a crime.)
Welcome to Massachusetts. Where the exercise of your State and Federally-protected right to free speech can get your State and Federally-protected right to keep and bear arms removed. And heaven knows that couldn't possibly have a chilling effect on one's willingness to speak out.
I want to be very clear: I don't agree with what he wrote. Oh, Congress is a bunch of power-mad ninnies, by and large; I don't think a one of them would be much missed by anyone other than friends and family, but I'd sooner see them voted out, impeached, or rendered impotent by advancing technology. Shooting them sets a bad precedent; one day it's politicians, by the end of the week it'd be dogcatchers and ordinary citizens would follow. It's not a good plan. It's rude.
But you don't muzzle political speech, because that sets a bad precedent, too; it starts out with stepping on bloggers expressing harsh notions and by the end of the week, if your Mom's mass e-mail gripes about the Mayor not getting the snow plowed, she'll have cops at the door wanting to take her shovel away -- and her computer. And government censors at every news outlet, making sure only the most inoffensive and positive news and opinion gets through. The five-year plan has been a glorious success, citizens!
I don't think anyone wants that. Not even in Massachusetts. But maybe I'm wrong. In any event, count me in on the side of freedom:
Maybe you should be, too.