Keep Congress and our freedoms safe

What happened in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday was a national tragedy. It was not, however, the work of inflammatory rhetoric from the right, left, or anywhere else. Nor would it have been prevented if Arizona had harsher gun laws. Drawing on these false sources of blame, two congressmen have proposed separate pieces of legislation—one against speech, the other against guns—that will curtail constitutionally protected freedoms without deterring future attacks.

Members of the media and government have been quick to point to Sarah Palin’s now-infamous crosshairs map as an example of the kind of violent, extreme dialogue that may have motivated the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. In response, Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) plans to introduce a bill that would criminalize symbolic speech that threatens or could be perceived as threatening public officials. In his own words, his bill would “make it illegal to put crosshairs on a congressman’s district.”

All evidence suggests that Loughner was motivated by fringe ideas of the left, right, and uncategorized variety—not to mention a sense of rejection and a troubled past. But even if Loughner had seen the crosshairs map, a bill that criminalizes such expression is still unwise, and likely unconstitutional. Crosshairs, targets, and similar terms are common and acceptable ways of expressing certain ideas. They are legal and should remain so. The United States is not in the habit of policing thoughts and words.

As a member of the Congress, Brady is sworn to uphold the Constitution and the free speech protections guaranteed therein. Yet when asked about free speech concerns during an appearance on a local Fox station in Philadelphia, he had this to say: “Let the Supreme Court deal with freedom of speech. Let the Supreme Court deal with the Constitution. Congress passes laws. That’s what we do.” Such a dismissive attitude is worrisome and contemptible. How can people be confident that the bill would respect their freedoms when Brady thinks that’s somebody else’s job?

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) plans to introduce similarly reckless and flawed legislation. His bill would make it a crime to knowingly carry a gun within 1,000 feet of certain government officials. This solution contradicts what we know about Loughner—specifically, that he despised and wished to kill a member of Congress. Should we expect him, or someone like him, to obey the laws of members of Congress, when his goal was to kill them?

Loughner would have had little trouble securing a gun, regardless of the state of gun laws. Making something illegal doesn’t mean it suddenly disappears forever. The U.S. government spends billions of dollars prohibiting the possession, sale, and consumption of marijuana, and yet the substance is easily available to anyone who wants it. More dangerous drugs are only marginally harder to obtain. If there’s a demand for something, there’s a way to supply it. This is true whether the thing in question is guns, drugs, alcohol, pornography, violent video games, or some other disfavored item.

At best, then, King’s ban would do nothing to prevent the shooting. At worst, it could interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens to carry guns, as recognized by the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

If Congress is truly worried that this attack is part of a pattern and their lives are in real peril, it is welcome to increase its security force. The Department of Homeland Security, if it does anything, should protect members of the government. But the solutions proposed by Brady and King will make legislators no safer and everyone a little less free.

Robert Soave is the assistant editor of the Student Free Press Association. He currently resides in Detroit, Michigan.

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  • Stergeye

    It’s not time to “turn down the volume” of political speech, but to crank it way UP.
    Forget for a moment that the obvious intent of this MSM mantra is “turn the (conservative) volume OFF,” and focus on what a political election truly is.
    Our Constitution mandates that every two years we schedule a struggle for the reigns of power–a full-out revolution. Where nations in other times and places have accomplished shifts in power with bloody coups and endless dynastic struggles, we manage it by going to the polling booth (the mailbox, in my state of Washington), and dropping in a ballot.
    It’s peaceful, but done in bloody earnest. A political “campaign” (military term) is conducted exactly like a war: A “warchest” is established, with an “arsenal” of campaign attack ads, “big guns” brought in to swell support, “broadsides” slung at opponents, and “footsoldiers” to handle details in every precict. Strategy is laid out in the “war room”, featuring a map with bullseyes highlighting opponent weak spots.
    American elections are sloppy, dirty affairs with lots of mud-slinging, skullduggery and occasional brawls, which comes to an end after the results come in and the winner declared. The loser attempts a gracious concession, and everybody goes home and starts planning for NEXT time.
    How much less decorous than elections in regimes favored by the Tom Friedmans of this world, where everyone dutifully turns out to the soccer stadium for the spontaneous celebration of the 20th re-election of the Dear Leader, complete with colorful banners and mass displays from randomly-picked-up placards, creating a giant image of the Beloved Leader’s smiling face when held aloft.
    Turn the volume UP.