Last week, when I picked up the paper, I saw more images from the Newton mosque controversy, a controversy which I had understood to be winding down now that city officials were removing the moratorium preventing the construction of places of worship in the county. And yet, I keep seeing more images of protestors outside the county courthouse, armed with rifles, making their voices heard in opposition to the mosque.
Now, I am (surprisingly to some, given my politics) a supporter of the Second Amendment. I’m from Tennessee, so it’s not really a stretch. I own firearms. I like to hunt. I like to shoot. I’m also a supporter of common sense. Second Amendment policy isn’t what I’m wanting to talk about here. I just want to talk about common sense and the exercise of freedoms.
Standing there protesting the building of this mosque, you are exercising your First Amendment rights, and I get it (mostly). I think you’re misguided and reacting out of fear rooted in ignorance, I think you’re attempting to deny other Americans their own rights as guaranteed in the First Amendment/RFRA/RLUIPA/etc., I think you’re demonizing a community of people of faith who simply want to be able to worship and bury their loved ones and raise their children in a way consistent with their beliefs, but I get it. You have the right to protest.
I don’t understand the firearms, though. Yes, you have the right to bear arms wherever you go, but why do you need to in this case? The people you are protesting against have made no threat against you, they have made no indication that they intend to cause violence to those who oppose the building of the mosque. On the contrary, they’ve simply wished for the opportunity for peaceful dialogue. So, why the guns? There really seems to be no reasonable explanation other than a desire to provoke fear through a veiled threat couched in the rhetoric of exercising your freedoms as an American.
On another level though, can you just step back for a second and look at your privilege here? You’re at a protest with a firearm in your hands, and if anyone even suggests that you have violent intentions, you respond with an indignant response of “We’re not violent people, we’re just people with an opinion.” Well, you’re white people with an opinion. White people with an opinion and a gun. If a group of black men had showed up at that protest with guns, I doubt the county commission would have just cancelled the meeting. When a black man shows up at protest with a gun, for some reason it’s scarier. Or just goes anywhere with a gun (even if he’s licensed to carry it). Or not a gun. Or a book. Or a sandwich.
You’re standing in the public square with a firearm lobbing angry insults at a faith group, channeling anger that should be directed toward extremist terrorists at innocent practitioners of Islam who have done nothing wrong whatsoever. And you walked away at the end of the day. Terence Crutcher needed help with his car. Keith Lamont Scott was just waiting to pick up his son from school. Philando Castile was just a permit-holding gunowner reaching for his wallet during a traffic stop. They didn’t get to tell their story in the paper the next day. They didn’t get to walk away.
You’re not just people with an opinion. You’re people with privilege. How are you going to use it? Are you going to use your rights to repress the freedoms of others? Or will you recognize the impact of that privilege and try to leverage it toward actual positive change? Will you recognize that the freedoms you take for granted are not enjoyed by everyone in this country?
Or will you just keep using your privilege and your freedoms to protect yourself from what is different and scary?