Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's weird what rights are respected

Bob Dylan was briefly detained by police in Long Branch, NJ, the other day for basically being a weird-looking old dude. Some guy at the Cherry Creek Mall here in Denver got detained by mall security recently for wearing a Michael Jackson mask. An incredulous out-of-towner asked, "Why wasn't anyone frightened by this?"

I'm not trying to report any trends or anything. I'm just noting that people's freedoms are regularly compromised just because some other people feel uncomfortable. It's not illegal to wear a mask in public (at least not in Colorado) or to look weird or to wander around a neighborhood. But it's apparently okay for authorities to temporarily detain people who do these things.

But bringing a loaded weapon to an event where the president is speaking? That's a sacred right. What's going on?

My impression of the Secret Service's presidential detail is that they are profoundly cautious. They have only one objective -- the president's survival -- and if they had their way, the president would never leave the White House, which would be surrounded by barricades and a mote moat. Of course, they also recognize that they're protecting a politician whose job description includes public appearances. So they do what they can. The president wants to go for a drive? Fine, he can do it in a bulletproof limo. He wants to go out to dinner? No problem, we'll just sweep the restaurant for weapons, pre-taste the food, and run the patrons through metal detectors.

So I'm guessing that the Secret Service would rather disarm anyone who attends a presidential speech or town hall meeting, even if those folks are outside the event and never cast eyes on the president. There was a reason that saloons in the Old West would insist on you handing your guns to the bartender when you entered. It was a place in which tempers were likely to flare, and high tempers and firearms don't mix well. Same thing at a town hall meeting on the subject of health care reform.

So why are attendees being allowed to carry loaded handguns and assault rifles to these events? My guess is that this is a political decision rather than a security one. Obama knows that protesters are just looking to have their guns taken away by his security forces -- then the protesters get to go on Fox and talk about how Obama is coming to take our guns, and they know this because it happened to them. Obama figures the actual threat of violence is small but the political blowback of disarming protesters could be huge.

Here's the thing, though. There are already plenty of angry people on Fox talking about how Obama is taking away our freedoms. Letting them keep their guns will not make them fans. This is trying to appease fanatics with empirical reality. It doesn't work, any more than demonstrating that health care bills contain no death panels alleviates fears that those panels exist, or showing Obama's birth certificate convinces the birthers that he's legitimately the president. These folks will despise Obama no matter what he does. He might as well do what's right.


Sari Botton said...

Great post, Seth.

BTW, Andy Borowitz had a hilarious headline about the Dylan arrest: "Obama invites cop, Dylan for bong summit."

Seth Masket said...

Ah, would that it were so.

ari said...

Moat, old friend, not mote, though your way conjures a very odd image.

Seth Masket said...

Thanks, Ari. We political scientists would be lost without you historians.