At the town hall meetings President Obama held, protesters arrived armed with weaponry like assault weapons. Which is totally cool, right? So not threatening. After all, carrying weapons to a political event in full view of other citizenry is totes fine. It's not like African-American men - or presidents - have historically been victims of gun violence. It's not like we live in a country where this specific man, this specific president, has had "kill him" shouted out during political rallies.
That is exactly the country we live in.
If we were a nation where the implicit violence of the gun was mostly theoretical, where people have not been cut down because of their viewpoints or their skin color, then perhaps carrying guns to political rallies would not be as bone-chilling and as stifling as it is. It would still be stifling. It would still be silencing. It would still hold that threat of death and destruction (what else is a gun truly for when shown to others, other than to scare those around you into *not* taking a specific action?), because it is still a mechanism used first and foremost to destroy - whether it be bullseyes, deer, human beings, a gun alone is a neutral destructive force, but a destructive force all the same - but it wouldn't be as bad.
We don't live in that kind of nation. We live in a nation where gun violence isn't a small thing, where "in 2006, there were 30,896 gun deaths in the U.S: 12,791 homicides (41% of total deaths), 16,883 suicides (55% of total deaths), 642 unintentional shootings (2% of total deaths), 360 from legal intervention (1.2% of total deaths) and 220 from undetermined intent (.8% of total deaths)."
We live in a nation where threats of violence have been used to stifle political debate. We live in a nation where we have the freedom of speech, but the words "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" carries a particularly harrowing message, with a relatively recent and violent allusion I can't imagine we're supposed to miss.
Even if we were to give these particular gun-toting protesters the benefit of the doubt, even if the argument can be made that these particular protesters are obtuse and bereft of historical knowledge (and that argument, at least for one of these men, cannot be made, because as Bill Moyers pointed out on last Friday's Journal, his Myspace page makes it clear "he admires white supremacists"), it doesn't change one fact.
The freedom to bear arms is a right, but it also carries with it a responsibility. Even if none of these men would ever point a gun at President Obama, even if none of them would pull the trigger, they are still playing a deadly game. Because there are those out there who would, who wish to. And to add more guns - even legally displayed - to a crowd when the President is present, is at the least highly irresponsible and at the most incredibly dangerous. In their willful arrogance, they may not recognize that fact. They may actually believe that they are merely expressing, as the man carrying the assault weapon stated, that they "still have some freedoms". But they are responsible for being yet more people who could qualify as legitimate threats. They are responsible for the effect they have on the debate as a whole, a debate not even about guns or their control. They are responsible for racheting up the intensity and the fear and the uneasiness surrounding this particular issue. And they are responsible for their gross negligence of historical precedent.