January 22, 2020

GARRETT EPPS IS VERY WRONG ABOUT THIS: Guns Are No Mere Symbol: Protesters gathered at the Virginia state capitol on Monday to exercise their First Amendment rights, but they did so in a way that took away the First Amendment rights of others.

That, in one sense, was what many of the protesters in Richmond Monday were doing—politics in the purest sense, as they registered their opposition to planned gun-control legislation pending before the Virginia legislature. That opposition was one they have every right to feel and to express. This was, at one level, pure democratic politics.

But note who was not in Capitol Square on Monday. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence had also planned to assemble and petition for gun-control legislation—as it had done in peaceful competition with gun-rights groups in previous years. This year, because of the threats of armed violence surrounding the gun-rights march, that gun-control demonstration had to be canceled. The delegate from Manassas, Lee Carter, the South’s only socialist legislator, went into hiding because of death threats. Carter had not, in fact, sponsored an anti-gun measure, but gun-rights groups spread disinformation on the internet that he had done so; his life—and his ability to function as a legislator—was endangered.

One group’s politics canceled those of others, in other words. Self-government in a democratic society is supposed to follow a model of openness—different ideas and points of view compete in a “marketplace of ideas” for the support of the people and their representatives. That model doesn’t work when one side kills the other, or even threatens to.

If you conflate the threats of a few Internet loonies with the views of the entire opposing side in a debate — and this smear is central to Epps’ argument — then you can accuse anyone of using violence to undermine debate. If “that model doesn’t work when one side kills the other, or even threatens to” then that model never works, because there are always loonies — or even paid Bernie Sanders staffers — making those sorts of threats. It’s just when the threats come from the left they’re ignored rather than attributed to everyone else on their side of the ideological split.

And note that for all the scary talk of violence, there wasn’t any. Marching peacefully while armed is a statement not only that you are armed, but that you are peaceful. Is there any lefty group that could march on its enemies bearing deadly weapons and not engage in violence? Recent history suggests that the answer is no. (Much less clean up after themselves.)

If you start from the premise that your opponents are deranged killers whose mere presence paralyzes you with fear, you’re not standing up for “openness” and the marketplace of ideas, you’re engaged in a smear campaign.

Related: Antifa Infiltrator? Gun Rally Goers Turn on Protester Who Suggests Violence.

UPDATE: From Frank J. Fleming:

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