Where Are the Limits?

August 17, 2009 7:35 p.m.

TPM Reader LAG has a question …

In a stunning amount of irony, Mansonite Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was released from prison this week, after 34 years in prison. The gun she pointed at President Ford had no bullet in the firing chamber– unlike Sarah Jane Moore, she never even pulled the trigger or fired. Presumably, these gun nuts showing up for the health care events have their weapons actually loaded. I repeat, Fromme did *34 years in prison.* Where, may I ask, was the Secret Service today? Far be it from me to tell them how to do their job, but letting armed extremists near the President of the United States would appear to not be in their job description. Were the AR-15 guys questioned? Detained? Quite frankly, given the history of political violence in this country, I would think that the operative policy would be to disarm these guys first and ask questions later. The legal standard for determining what is a threat to the President is rather low, as these things go (as I recall, requiring only a threat and an apparent ability to carry it out– Francisco Duran, while he fired his gun, never got within a hundred yards of President Clinton, who was behind several walls at the time. He’s doing 40 years in prison.). What is going on here?

Allow me to share a few thoughts on this. First, it’s important to say that not only has none of these guys tried to fire their weapon at the president (or anyone else), to the best of my knowledge none of them were within the protective perimeter of the event. In other words, at the event today, no one was in the hall where the president was speaking. They were all in crowds outside the auditorium where he was speaking — probably across the street, or something like that.So in a narrow sense, I’m fairly confident (I’d like to be able to say I’m totally confident but I can’t) that narrowly speaking the Secret Service agents were sure that no one was a danger to the president at that distance. After all, what you really need to worry about is not the cowardly tea party joker who shows up with his gun over his shoulder. It’s the guy with a sniper rifle in the tree. And to the best of my knowledge these people were in areas where no one needs to get frisked or go through a metal detector. Real assassins don’t show their weapons in advance, needless to say.

That said, I think LAG’s larger point is a good one. As Chris Matthews said today in his surreal interview with Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) of Georgia, you don’t take a gun somewhere unless you think there’s some chance you might have occasion to use it. So there’s no question that these guns are brought as a provocation. It sort of reminds me of how after being told not to bonk his one-year-old brother on the head my two-and-a-half year old will sometimes go back over to his brother, get into a pre-bonk posture, and then look back over at me — half-smile, half-mischievous — grin to see if he can get a rise.

Remember, an ill-considered joke about harming a President of the United States has been more than enough to get a lot of folks visits from the Secret Service.

I know we have a Second Amendment. And more relevantly we may have many states where carrying an unconcealed weapon is perfectly legal. We also, thank God, have a First Amendment which guarantees freedom of expression. But put me down as not believing we should allow the brandishing of firearms in proximity of the president as an acceptable way of expressing opposition to the president. Shouldn’t this be obvious?

As LAG put it, what’s going on here?

Masthead Masthead
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