No one is suggesting that being openly armed at a crowded protest
is a good idea, but The Atlantic's Megan McArdle is arguing it's not as
bad as we might think. Protesters drew criticism in past weeks by bringing guns
and even an assault rifle
to health care town halls, one of which featured President Obama, inspiring
debate on the wisdom of allowing guns at protests. McArdle, though
conceding the protester's behavior is "stupid," isn't afraid to consider their side of this. But The New Republic's Jason Zengerle isn't convinced.
- A Symbolic Belief McArdle noted that armed protesters carry guns legally and openly. "The rate
of crime associated with legal gun possession or carrying seems to be very low,"
she wrote. "Guns, it turn out, do not turn ordinary people into
murderers." McArdle called fear of gun-toters a "symbolic belief"
without much merit. "They don't really believe that these people are
thugs intent on
murder--not in the sense that they have, with careful thought, arrived
at a conclusion that they are willing to defend vigorously. But it is
pleasurable to tell yourself you believe terrible things about your
- Spreading Secret Service Thin Zengerle pointed out that "the Secret Service's capacities aren't
infinite." He argued, "Making sure gun-toting protesters don't have a sight line on the
president" takes up Secret Service resources that would be better used looking out for real threats. "Keeping a constant eye on them takes up resources--resources the Secret Service
might need to thwart people who do mean to do harm to the
president," he wrote.
- Armed Protesters Not a Threat McArdle countered
that, although dangerous people are out there, those openly carrying
guns are not among them. "It is entirely possible that some nut
will shoot someone at a protest,
or try to shoot the president," she
wrote. "But I
have no reason to think that the fellows brazenly carrying pistols on
their hip will be among those nuts." She followed-up,
"Something like 90% of homicides are committed by people with criminal
records, i.e. people who probably cannot legally own a gun." She wrote,
"Violent criminals are not like the rest of us." Why not? Consider the
You have access to fatal weapons every day. How often, after a fight
with someone, have you been seriously tempted to run them over with
your car? Or grab a knife from the rack in the kitchen and brandish it
at them? Put rat poison in their morning coffee? Or take an exacto
blade to their throat while asleep? The men in the readership, at
least, could be fairly confident of their ability to stab their spouse
to death whenever she says something really awful. Yet none of you
have done it.
- Gambling on Assassination Underneath the discussion of security and gun rights, there's another debate taking place. McArdle challenged
those who disagreed to bet $500 on whether an armed protester would
take a shot at Obama. McArdle anticipated (correctly) that no one would
take the bet. "You think about how much it would hurt to lose $500
on, and realize that you don't actually have any reason to believe it's
all that likely," she wrote.
Zengerle called this "offensive," writing, "maybe
they just have enough basic decency not to wager on whether or not Obama--or
anyone else, for that matter--is going to get shot."
McArdle shot back, "I'm betting on good behavior, which doesn't seem that offensive to me."
"People very seldom bet on something they don't actually want to happen," Zengerle countered. "I think McArdle really needs to come up with a better test for determining what's a real belief and what's a symbolic belief."
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