Free Speech & Open Carry

free speech

Thanks to my friends at FB, especially lawyers and all of you with lawyerly minds, for clarifying points of constitutional law. But as a recent post by Jarrod Tanny suggests, is it still free speech when the speakers bring assault rifles to a demonstration in the public square? To the best of my knowledge, the original free speech arguments by the late Anthony Lewis and others at the ACLU did not even think to imagine this explosive element that is unique to today’s discussion. Once a gun is brought into the “conversation,” is it really a conversation? Or does the very introduction of a transform the very act of speech itself into something that should get far less protection? One can always say that speech is implicitly violent, even when it is not explicit, and that may be true, and even beside the point. You can also say that guns are the problem, not free speech. But in this country, a loose interpretation of the second amendment juts up right next to a strict interpretation of the first amendment. On the radical right, the belong now together in a tight circuit that was not the case in previous decades. It’s the loaded gun that has crossed the line of speech into something else. Here’s a case where two rights make a wrong. Free speech is a right and good that does not necessarily stand in isolation. When some 80% of demonstrators are armed with automatic weapons and they outgun local police, as Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe claimed happened at Charlottesville (here), then something has gone seriously awry with the equations that constitute the larger democratic fabric in which that right to free speech is embedded in this country at this new moment in time. Put more simply, is armed speech free speech?

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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