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Time for Limits on Packing in Public
No one should take this lightly. As reported on the Rachel Maddow show, the radio host who packed a pistol himself to the Phoenix event once helped with public relations for a group that was formed to defend a violent militia group known as the Vipers. Twelve members of the Viper Militia, opposed to what they called the "New World Order," were charged in 1996 with plotting to blow up at least seven government buildings.
As Frank Rich suggested in the New York Times, a surge in hate groups has taken place previously when a liberal has been elected. The rabid right preached that John Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president, would take orders from the pope, and was soft on communism and blacks. A crescendo of hate speech and threats to the president culminated, tragically, in Dallas.
Now all the elements are present once more. The Great Recession has generated fear and insecurity. The right is angry at losing the election. Death threats against the president have soared, with Barack Obama feared as the first African-American president, and denounced as literally un-American, a foreign-born socialist Muslim about to sell out the country.
The difference between now and the 1960s and 1990s is our gun laws are even weaker. The ban on assault weapons expired under George Bush, and the Congress has been too cowed by the National Rifle Association to revive it, despite the urgings of police across the country. Laws making it legal to take guns to public events--like a presidential speech--have been passed in states across the country.
What we are witnessing is a dangerous and toxic mixture of hate groups and laws that allow them to carry guns, even to a presidential event.
Any public figure--athlete, celebrity, CEO, politician--accepts the risks that come with appearing in public. Presidents, inevitably the center of controversy and often the fixation of the unbalanced, are particularly at risk. Our Secret Service is professional and skilled, but they understand how hard it is to stop someone packing a gun on a rope line.
There is simply no defense against assault weapons.
Too often, the Secret Service is helpless in the face of AK-47s, M-16s, Uzis and other assault weapons. The president is left defenseless--as are any other officials at town hall meetings.
With these weapons, defense is a pretense.
We are headed to an unspeakable horror. It is time to step back from the brink before it is too late. Society must draw sensible lines. All responsible public officials and media commentators should add their voices to condemn those who suggest violence--directly or symbolically--toward those with whom they disagree. People like the radio hosts who urge listeners to bring guns to a presidential event should be rebuked. Laws enabling the whole Wild West fantasy of packing guns publicly should be repealed, but at the very least we need a national law that makes it illegal to bring guns to events featuring public officials.
The haters, the paranoid, the wingnuts have made their presence known. Now it is up to the rest of us to make it clear that bringing guns to a presidential town hall is simply and unequivocally unacceptable. We've seen a doctor murdered in Kansas; a guard shot down at the Holocaust Museum and, as the Homeland Security Department warns, the extremes are once more on the rise. We need to hear from the responsible voices and the responsible leaders now, not after the next tragedy.