The Gun Lobby Loves Freedom—But Apparently Not Free Speech

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March 24, 2015 9:00 a.m.

Advocates for looser restrictions on gun ownership and use often portray themselves not as defenders of a noisy and expensive hobby, but the protectors of freedom itself. Wrapping themselves in the Second Amendment and claiming to speak for the Founding Fathers is central to the anti-gun control argument, right up there with claiming that “guns don’t kill people” and peddling fantasies of heroic self-defense against a largely imaginary crime wave.

But what happens when gun-loving patriots are asked to support any other freedom but the freedom to own a gun? That question was put to the test recently by the pro-gun control group States United to Prevent Gun Violence, and they quickly discovered that gun lobbyists have no problem looking for ways to censor and silence their opponents.

The group set out to debunk the widely-held notion that owning a gun makes you safer by inviting a group of people interested in buying their first gun to a fake “gun shop” set up in New York City. When would-be gun buyers came inside, the man behind the counter showed them a model of the gun they wanted to buy and told them the “history” of the gun: This gun is the same kind that a five-year-old found in his parent’s bedroom and shot his baby brother with it. Or this is the same kind of gun that a two-year-old accidentally pulled from his mother’s purse in Walmart and shot her with. Or another gun, a collector’s item, that was the one Adam Lanza used to rapidly murder 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The video is effective, capturing the reactions of people as they are disabused of the notion that owning a gun makes you safe and reminded that having a gun in your house just makes it that much likelier that someone in the house, by accident or on purpose, will shoot themselves or someone else. Apparently, the gun lobby thinks it’s, well, too effective, as Rachel Maddow reported on Friday. The official NRA affiliate in New York, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSRPA) is trying to use the law to criminalize this video and participation in it. They want the state to use laws meant to ensure gun safety to be used to persecute people for speaking out for gun safety. From the press release (sic):

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association is calling upon state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the producer of the video for potential violations of state and local laws.
“First off, the firearms and accessories hanging in the background do not appear to comply with either New York City law or the so-called SAFE Act,” said NYSRPA President Thomas King in a statement.
“Second, it felony violation of the Sullivan Act for a person to posses a handgun anywhere in New York without a license. The video clearly shows individual ‘customers’ handling various handguns and doing so in an unsafe manner,” King said.

But, as Maddow reported, the “guns” in the video were just really well-made fakes and apparently the entire thing was done with the cooperation and supervision of the New York Police Department.

So the NRA’s pathetic attempt at a gotcha isn’t going to go anywhere. But it’s worrisome that they tried at all. Regardless of what formal laws the NYSRPA, the intention here was quite clear: to suppress speech and silence dissent. All that heartwarming patriotism the gun lobby brings to defending the Second Amendment went up in a puff of smoke when it’s the First Amendment that needs defending. Instead, we get an overt, if failed, attempt to legally punish people for voicing opinions and stating facts the NRA does not like. Freedom doesn’t have a chance when it comes in conflict with the profits of the gun manufacturers that help fund the gun rights lobby.

Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.

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