Why is the U.S. more lax on gun laws than on peaceful protests?

Gun Rights

The majority of U.S. states (45) allow residents to openly carry firearms in public with the stipulation that they are legally obtained and licensed. Open carry laws in most states require that a firearm remains unloaded and displayed in plain view, rather than concealed or hidden. Some states ask that people acquire a special carry permit, while others demand no such thing.

Many states restrict the open carry of semi-automatic and automatic weapons, while others do not. The states with the most lenient gun laws are Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee.

And yet, when people set up tents on college and university campuses, police invade their encampments, throw people to the ground, tie their hands, and toss them into police vans or buses, which transport them for arrest.

On my campus, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, our new Chancellor ordered members of the university police department to break up the tent encampment in the name of “ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and other members of our campus community.” Police arrested 132 people, including 70 students and 6 faculty.

You Might Like

Massachusetts allows open carry with a special permit. It’s ironic that if protestors had been openly carrying firearms during their campus protests, the National Rifle Association and other anti-gun regulations lobbyists and manufacturers would have likely petitioned university officials to stay away and allow the encampments.

In almost every instance, students, faculty, and other community members do not want to openly (or in any other way) carry guns.

They are armed, however, with the principle long considered almost sacred in a democracy and articulated by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr: “There can be no justice without peace, and there can be no peace without justice.”

The current spate of protests occurring throughout the world, both on and off university campuses, seek peace through justice in the form of an end to Israel’s relentless bombing and slaughter of innocent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

I tend to believe the protestors are, perhaps unconsciously, following a tenet of the Jewish holy book, the Torah: “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the world.”

If not on a college campus, then where?

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” -Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Why are states passing laws that ban certain forms of protest on college and university campuses, like, for example, the construction of tent encampments? Most of these sites do not obstruct foot or vehicular traffic, and for those that do, there are easy and accessible detours around them. Universities are charging protestors with the “crimes” of “trespassing” and “disorderly conduct.”

The reason is that we live in a nation in which property rights hold higher value than human rights even though the United States Constitution’s First Amendment grants several specific rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In fact, these encampments are peaceful and even joyful at times. People share food together. They play music, sing, and dance. They discuss the difficult issues over which they are united in protest. They are organizing and coming to consensus in the formulation of their lists of demands. They are educating themselves and others.

If not on a college or university campus, then where?

No matter where one may stand on the current war between Israel and Hamas, no matter where one stands on the merits of the creation of the modern state of Israel, or whether one believes in the construction of an equitable one-state or separate two-state solution, all of us, including students on the campuses of our nation, must have the right to peacefully protest, to have our voices and solutions heard and validated.

And again, no matter where one stands, any instance of blatant or even more subtle forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia, which sometimes arise in these protests, has no place toward the goal of peace through justice and must be thoroughly condemned.  

I attended San José State University from 1966-1969 as an undergraduate and in 1970 as a graduate student. At that time, the school had a relatively progressive administration. We had freedom of political speech, we organized and staffed informational tables throughout the campus, and we had access to university facilities to hold our meetings and rallies.

In fact, I was a chief organizer of a rally in support of our university president against criticism coming from some of the more conservative members of the state university board who considered our president too “tolerant” of campus anti-war and anti-racism protests and protesters.

Nonetheless, in the fall of 1967 and again in 1968, we called for a student strike. The purpose of the boycott was not to demonstrate against or criticize our professors—or even our university. It was, rather, to send a message to our leaders in government—state and national—that the war we were waging in Vietnam was wrong, misguided, and illegal according to international law.

I will never forget sitting in botany class when Professor Thaw forthrightly threatened to give an in-class quiz on the day of the strike. Anyone absent that day would receive an automatic “F” on the quiz, with no possibility of a make-up.

To this day, I do not know where my courage came from as I raised my hand and stated, “This is one ‘F’ I would be proud to ‘earn’.” To my utter amazement, other students cheered, and eventually Professor Thaw rescinded his threat.

By boycotting classes, students take a risk — however small at the time — but a risk nonetheless.

Schools are microcosms of larger society. When students say “we will collectively take a stand,” they are, at least symbolically, lodging their vote against what they believe to be an unjustifiable position on the part of their government. They are declaring their opposition to politics as usual.

As a community organizer both as a student and following graduation, I continued to join with others to oppose the U.S. invasion of Vietnam and Cambodia. I was arrested in Washington D.C. during the historic May Day Demonstrations in early May 1971 as I sat linking arms with other Gay Liberation Front activists outside the South Vietnam Embassy.

I helped organize several protest demonstrations during the late 1980s into the 1990s as a member of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to raise awareness and pressure the often intransigent and biased governmental power structure to deploy sufficient resources for the defeat of the HIV virus that had already reached pandemic proportions. I was arrested an additional two times.

The youth have always led

Let us remember that three young people helped set the stage for the relative political freedoms we enjoy today.

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a landmark freedom of speech case for students on February 24, 1969. It involved two Des Moines, Iowa high school students, John Tinker, 15, and Christopher Eckhardt, 16, as well as John’s 13-year-old sister, Mary Beth Tinker, a junior high school student.

In December 1965, John, Christopher, and Mary Beth attended a meeting with a group of adults and other students in Des Moines at the Eckhardt’s home. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with strategies whereby they could publicize their objections to the U.S. invasion of Vietnam. They came up with an idea to express their support for a truce between the warring parties by wearing black armbands during the holiday season and by fasting on December 16 and New Year’s Eve.

Meeting participants had previously engaged in non-violent activities to work toward ending the war, and they decided to join the program. When Des Moines school district officials learned of the proposed activity, they adopted and distributed a policy stating that any student found wearing a black armband and failing to remove it on request would be suspended from school and allowed to return only without the armband.

John, Christopher, and Mary Beth wore black armbands to school in violation of the stated policy, and school officials sent them home. The students’ parents petitioned the United States District Court to issue an injunction to prevent school officials from disciplining them, though the court dismissed the complaint on grounds that the school district had the right to take action to prevent breaches of school discipline (a.k.a. “decorum”).

On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the justices ruled in favor of the students and against the school district by stating that the wearing of armbands for the purpose of expressing views is considered a symbolic action “closely akin to ‘pure speech’” and well within the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. In addition, the Court found school officials failed to prove that the wearing of the armbands would substantially disrupt school discipline.

Speaking for the 7 -2 majority in the case, Justice Abe Fortas wrote:

“. . . In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.”

This case would have implications for numerous that followed.

Our society is constructed to deny young people a voice in the decision-making process in state affairs. Young people do not hold powerful positions in the executive suites of business and industry, in media outlets, or in the halls of Congress. Their strength, however, exists when they take collective action. Government leaders then begin to listen.

In their collective strength, they can and have changed the world for the betterment of all.

We must expand our rights to peacefully protest while also demanding from our legislators common sense and appropriate regulations on the ownership of firearms in the United States.

In the timeless and poignant words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is when good men do nothing.”

Don’t forget to share:

You Might Like

Articles You May Like

Trump is sounding nuttier 
Hardware Talk: Stan Chen Custom 1911 Parts
Former world champion shooter Rudrankksh Patil wants to be picked for Paris Olympics ahead of trial-topper, writes to NRAI
Donald Trump throws support behind candidates in Texas runoff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *