Debate on Armed Protesters at Townhall Meetings

[Updates at the bottom of this article]

Though long (my solution was to download the MP3 and listen to it in the background throughout the day) this BloggingHeads discussion between Megan McArdle of the The Atlantic (libertarian) and author Michelle Goldberg (left-ish) about protesters carrying guns at townhall meetings was very interesting. Michelle takes the position (which I imagine we’ve all heard somewhere) that these open carry protesters are trying to exert political intimidation through threat of violence and are indeed likely to commit violence. Megan explains why she thinks it much more likely that they’re simply gun nuts trying to make a point about 2nd Amendment rights. (In a way, incidentally, which neither McArdle nor I support, but still almost certainly not in fact a violent threat to the nation with whose brush the entire right side of the political spectrum can be tarred by association.)

Particularly interesting to me is around minute 48 to 55, especially when Megan asks Michelle to explain what she thinks of the open carry protester who showed up with a sign supporting ObamaCare, but also exerting his open carry rights.

What it seems to basically come down to is: many on the left cannot envision that someone would utilize open carry rights at a political event for any reason other than to threaten their opponents with violence.

Also, it’s just interesting to listen to someone who says, with a tremor in her voice, “Oh how I hated Bush,” and who talks about waiting for “the blessed day” when Cheney dies, talk about how she thinks that right wing figures are bringing dangerous amounts of hate into the public square.

Update I: An interesting point from McArdle’s original post on the topic:

So perhaps unsurprisingly, when offered the opportunity to put some money down on the proposition that one of these firearms is soon going to be discharged at someone, they all decline. It is starting to remind me of that C.S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

Which is, sadly, starting to sound all to much like our current political environment.

I suspect that, like the notion that Obama is not a US citizen, or that George Bush either planned the 9/11 attacks or allowed them to happen, this is for most people what Julian Sanchez calls a symbolic belief. They don’t really believe that these people are thugs intent on murder–not in the sense that they have, with careful thought, arrived at a conclusion that they are willing to defend vigorously. But it is pleasurable to tell yourself you believe terrible things about your enemies, and so you don’t examine the thought until someone says, “Well, how about $500 on it, then?” and you think about how much it would hurt to lose $500 on, and realize that you don’t actually have any reason to believe it’s all that likely.

Unfortunately, these sorts of fun pastimes are horribly corrosive to civic society.

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  1. Leave the guns at home folks! People who bring guns to these meetings, and they have been very few judging from media accounts, are playing right in to the hands of their adversaries.

  2. I thought the fact Michelle said she would take the bet at 10 to 1 odds, then backed off when Megan said she’d give her those odds was interesting.

  3. Agreed, Don. I hope I haven’t given the impression that it’s anything other than idiotic to bring a gun to a political protest, no matter how calmly you behave after you get there.

    I just think the claim that the right wing of the country is on the verge of breaking out into some sort of political violence is not only idiotic and irresponsible, but also probably by people who don’t really believe it.


    Yeah, that was pretty impressive.

  4. I am a believer in the 2nd amendment, but it is idiotic and counterproductive for people to bring guns to townhall meetings.

    The townhalls are not about gun control, they’re about healthcare. Stay on topic, folks, or you look like confused scatterbrains! It reminds me of leftists who would turn up at anti-war protests with pro-abort signs, pro-gay marriage signs, pro-PETA signs, whatever their favorite pet cause was. The message I got was “Yeah, the war’s bad, but what I really, really want you to know is that I’m against fur coats!”

  5. As an avid gun owner and shooter who is adamant about the 2nd amendment…. it is absolutely ridiculous to openly carry at a political event, or frankly, anywhere else that you are likely to cause alarm, and embarrassment to gun owners… This hurts our cause.

  6. As a retired LEO, firearms instructor, and shooter for half a century now–I am a strong 2nd Amendment supporter for good reasons. But “open carry”, and particularly “in your face” open carry is just dumb. It’s about on the same level as shouting obscenities just because you can.

    Sometimes I think half the population suffered arrested development at about the third grade level. Probably some residual impressions left over from my old job.

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