A few days ago, I argued that the right to bear arms protected minorities from persecution. Hardly an original thought. But one well worth repeating. And not as uncontroversial as it seems. For we now have a Florida preacher set on burning the Koran. Every media report going (and there are thousands) points out that Pastor Terry Jones is packing heat. Today’s tampabay.com: “Inside, Jones, 58, remained behind his plain desk, most of his face masked by a thick, sculpted gray mustache that rose almost to his sideburns. If he was armed, the gun wasn’t showing. Behind him on the wall was a gun range target. Next to it was a head of death in a Middle Eastern headdress. The target’s bull’s-eye focused on the figure’s chest.” What’s wrong with this picture?
For one thing, journalists John Barry and John Pendergraft forgot to mention that Death is wielding an AK-47 (see: above). Obviously, most Americans would be hugely offended if an American Islamic religious leader displayed a poster of Death in a U.S. Army uniform with a target on his chest. As odious as it sounds, wouldn’t that poster be protected under the First Amendment right to free speech?
Maybe it shouldn’t be. Perhaps there’s some law against treason or sedition that would outlaw it. But Jones’ book burning is hardly equivalent to this theoretic anti-American armed forces poster. The mustachioed Gainesville resident’s not encouraging his flocklet to “target” Muslims. As far as we know, Jones isn’t calling for an anti-Muslim jihad—I mean crusade. He’s burning a book for Christ’s sake. Literally.
Not only are books so 2000 and late, but they’re not sentient beings. If ever there was an example of acceptable free speech and the right do what you please on your own property (like, say, building a mosque), burning a book is it. Unless, of course, it violates some EPA rule. Anyway, guns.
Jones has made no secret of the fact that he’ll be armed at the Koraneque. TTAG contacted reporter John Barry to get the 411 on the firearms front. Barry told us that the two associate pastors named in his article were both wearing .40 caliber pistols in hip holsters. firstcoastnews.com reports that Pastor Jones is also carrying a .40.
Well, wouldn’t you?
The FBI and Gainesville police have asked [Jones] not to allow crowds on the lawn. Whoever comes will be kept near the street, about 30 yards from the burning. Sapp said they have no idea what kind of crowd to expect. “It could be five, it could be 5,000,” he said.
While the police presence at the book burning will be significant, the odds of violence are high. In fact, one wonders if Pastor Jones would have embarked on this idea if he didn’t have access to, and knowledge of, firearms.
I’m sure some would say that would be no bad thing. If Pastor Jones had real faith, he’d go into this Koran burning deal unarmed. But he does have faith: in a country founded on the free expression of ideas, no matter how unpalatable they are to mainstream society. A country with a Second Amendment right to bear arms that helps guarantee the First.
Dismounting my high horse, it must be said that Jones seems a little . . . off. We don’t know his opinion on his constitutional right to bear arms—other than the fact that he and his micro-congregation have no qualms about exercising it. And the free speech issue is hardly cut and dried.
The Supreme Court famously ruled that free speech doesn’t mean you can shout fire in a crowded movie theater. Pardon the pun, but this demonstration is a textbook definition of incendiary. Still, Florida law is clear: a hate crime has to be a crime. As of this writing, burning a book is not a crime in the Sunshine State.
The main difference between the movie theater exclamation and Jones’ book burning: the movie house crowd is a captive audience. If you don’t like Jone’s anti-Islamic message, you don’t have to watch. Just as we don’t have to watch every time a Middle Eastern demonstrator burns the President of the United States in effigy. But we do. As we should.