We Don't Have to Accept Antisocial Gun Behavior Just Because the Guy Says It's a Political Protest

a supporter of us president donald trump keeps a hand on his gun during a
Antisocial Gun Behavior Is Not ProtestKEREM YUCEL - Getty Images

We may have reached the pinnacle of Both Sides journalism with some coverage out of Maryland, where Governor Wes Moore signed a package of new gun control bills into law this week restricting who can carry guns in public and where they can do it. The Supreme Court conservatives created a constitutional right to carry guns outside the home last summer when they struck down a 110-year-old New York gun law, a decision which also functionally threw out parts of Maryland's legal regime on guns. Moore and his allies in the legislature are presumably trying to prevent their jurisdiction from becoming another gun anarchy state now that the number of residents allowed to carry a concealed firearm in public has tripled.

Gun rights groups don't like this—they're also suing to throw out Maryland's assault weapons ban—and it seems neither did one resident in particular. Tolly Taylor of WBAL in Baltimore reported Thursday that "a man with an AR-15 has been showing up for weeks to a school bus drop off for local elementary school students." He teased a piece on that night's local news in which viewers would learn that "parents say their kids are afraid, the man says he’s protesting @GovWesMoore’s new gun control law. You’ll hear from both sides at 5+6pm."

Taylor may well just be trying to abide by coverage guidelines set by his boss(es), but in the process, this becomes really the apotheosis of the Both Sides affliction in the American press. There is no scenario in which some maladjusted creep who's frightening children at an elementary school bus stop should be presented as just some guy with political opinions by the local news. This is antisocial behavior that should be ridiculed, including by normal people who own guns.

You wouldn't ask some guy who menaced people on the subway with a knife for his thoughts on whether knife-menacing is cool and good, and make no mistake: this man is attempting to menace members of the public using a deadly weapon that's capable of killing way more people in way less time. That this kind of weapon is a favorite of school shooters, and these are schoolchildren, only adds to the disgusting character of the events here. Carrying a gun like this in the public square is a way to constantly communicate the threat of deadly force to those around you. A gun like this exists for two purposes: to maim and kill, and to communicate the threat thereof. This loser could make the case that he has a right to carry a gun around via the standard political speech that normal people make use of on this and every other issue. He's parading around a gun for a reason, the same reason that courts upheld the prerogative of local jurisdictions to restrict who can carry weapons in the public square for 700 years until the Supreme Court conservatives got involved.

This is a particularly eye-catching example of the wider phenomenon where, out of genuine belief in the principle of "objectivity" or fear they'll be called "biased," members of the mainstream press create a false equivalence between arguments and political opinions rooted in reality and those that are complete nonsense. Normally, the Both Sides phenomenon involves reporters—often some of the most well-informed, purportedly savvy people around—pretending to believe that bullshit has merit in order to present it as One Side of the Argument, and Who's to Say Who's Right? For about 20 years, Washington political scribes would present the Republican view on climate change—nuh uh, no, hoax—as just the other side of the coin to...the overwhelming scientific consensus on the matter.

people take part in a protest for
These folks could easily have demanded an end to pandemic lockdowns without guns. So why did they bring them to the statehouse steps? To communicate the threat of force if they do not get their way.JEFF KOWALSKY - Getty Images

Sometimes, reporters will lobotomize themselves for the period of time in which they're working on a story. Anyone paying attention over the last decade has watched Republicans raise the debt ceiling without incident when a Republican is president. (Under the most recent one, they also added trillions to The National Debt to service a tax cut for rich people and corporations, part of a debt orgy under President Trump.) But when Republicans turn around and say the debt is a huge problem and we can't raise the debt ceiling, Beltway reporters pretend they don't remember anything that happened before—or even, at times, that raising the debt ceiling does not approve new spending. (It applies to paying off debts already accrued.) This goldfish-brain approach has been necessary for the last few decades because, while the Democratic Party has its manifest failures, the Republican Party no longer resides in reality. To present what they say in the full context of reality would involve losing the mask of Neutrality which is often conflated with Objectivity. The objective truth is that Republicans only care about the debt when they're out of the White House, and they don't even really care about it now. If they did, they would consider raising revenues as part of a debt deal. They've ruled that out.

What's so unsettling about this Maryland incident, though, is that the adoption of a neutral stance legitimizes antisocial behavior and presents it as a fair form of "protest." This guy does not have to point the gun at anyone for it to serve its purpose. This has been a steadily expanding problem throughout the country, as right-wingers show up heavily armed to statehouses in an explicit communication of the threat of deadly force if they do not get their way on matters of public policy. This is not normal political expression, just as breaking windows and vandalizing businesses is not a legitimate form of protest against police violence and racial injustice in our society. The fact is that certain things are out of bounds, and we're really arguing over where the line should be. This guy's conduct is on the far side of the line. He is leaving the realm of civil disagreement and discussion and entering a gray area where the potential for deadly violence is implied.

What we're really reluctant to confront, however, is that there is a sizable faction in America who continually make explicit threats to engage in violence if the government—elected by the people to make public policy—makes public policy that they and their faction do not like. They brandish their weapons during these discussions, physically or rhetorically, and they're never more aggressive than when anyone suggests that Thomas Jefferson did not envision an inalienable right to carry an AR-15 into Chipotle. It's not hard to put all this together, particularly if you're a reporter, but it's scary to confront the fact that there's a segment of the American population dedicated to the proliferation of deadly weapons—more guns, everywhere, all the time—and threatening to use the ones they already have if they don't get their way. Easier, then, to stand to the side and offer the View From Nowhere, where every side has a case worth hearing.

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