Message in a barrel

The hostility and anger on display at some recent town hall meetings are disturbing. Shouting down lawmakers is not the best way to get answers to legitimate questions or to propose alternatives to pending health insurance reform legislation. The presence of firearms near events with President Obama this month, however, took our concern to a whole new level.

It seems to have started when William Kostric showed up outside the president's health-care forum in New Hampshire last week with a gun strapped to his leg. That he also carried a sign that read, "It Is Time to Water the Tree of Liberty," only fueled fears he might have nefarious intentions. That's because it was a riff on a line from Thomas Jefferson that says, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." On Monday, a dozen gun-toting men, including one with an assault rifle, were outside Obama's speech to veterans in Phoenix. The Department of Homeland Security has warned about an increase in right-wing extremism because of the soured economy and the election of the first African American president. So anxiety over the threat posed by armed men at political events cannot be sloughed off as merely paranoia.

Yes, all of these men were abiding by the law. In both New Hampshire and Arizona, it is lawful to carry a loaded weapon in public. Also, according to the Secret Service, the immediate area occupied by the president is considered a federal site, with no weapons allowed. This prohibition is enforced by requiring attendees at presidential events to go through magnetometers upon entry. The White House seems untroubled by it all. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said, "There are laws that govern firearms. ... (They) don't change when the president comes to your state or locality."

This is true. But American history is replete with examples of folks sending a message through the barrel of a gun. That's why this new show-your-gun craze is frightening. Supporters of the Second Amendment ought to find another way to send their message — assuming it's a peaceful message they're trying to send.

— The Washington Post

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