This week’s “government behaving badly” has to go to the case of Travis Cocoran, known as TJIC in the comments on the blogs I follow and participate in, and at his (currently offline) blog Dispatches from TJICistan.
It all started with a tasteless comment: “1 down and 534 to go”, following and clearly referring to the shooting in Tuscon AZ of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. I actually heard about the incident via a link to this article calling for a boycott of this comics store via a Facebook friend – and I am not ashamed to admit that I expressed support for the boycott; while noting that it is his First Amendment right to express his opinion, just as it is the boycotters’ right to free association to not purchase from him. My opinion there hasn’t changed, and his later postings indicate he wasn’t joking.
That was last week. This week, I find out that the police “stopped by” and revoked his permit to possess firearms (he lives in Massachusetts, whose gun laws are in some ways worse than New Jersey’s) while they investigate his “suitability to possess firearms”. He has not been charged with any crime, much less convicted in open court by an unbiased jury of a crime that disqualifies him from possessing firearms. In MA, this is not a “matter of routine”; and there’s no guarantee (contra the views of some of the commenters in this follow-up article from Comics Alliance bragging that they were the cause of the police visit) that he will have his property returned to him – the necessary permits are not required to be issued by the authorities, it is at their discretion. Permits in MA have been revoked and not re-issued for much less cause than this.
If his postings and comments had risen to the level of legal “threats” his statement surely would rise to “probable cause” for arrest, no? But he wasn’t arrested. The police in question are not the ones charged with investigating threats against federal officials anyway (that would be the US Secret Service), and the investigation is for his “suitability to possess”?!?! He’s not an adjudged violent felon or adjudged mental incompetent. I can’t see that being intemperate on the internets is such a high crime that his natural human right of self-defense should be taken away, temporarily or permanently, up to and including expressing delight in the severe injury of another human being, or even advocating the same. Worth the feds dropping by to ask a few questions, to make sure he isn’t going to act on it, sure. It’s no worse (or better) than burning the target of one’s ire in effigy. I saw any number of people approve of violence aimed at members of the previous administration and congress, and disapproved of that at the time, for that matter. As Borepatch noted in a comment to his post, a film was produced depicting the assassination of George Bush. I’ve heard and seen any number of people take positive glee in Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s. And that’s just politics in my lifetime.
There’s no need yet to go around shooting representatives – the ballot box worked in November (by and large). The jury box (in this sense the judicial system as a whole) is working more or less, and there are more soapboxes than ever. The cartridge box isn’t anywhere close to being necessary.
To sum up: we’re nowhere near the point at which it is appropriate to shoot anyone in government. Joking about it is in poor taste, and being serious is worse. Disassociating with someone who does is an understandable action. Confiscating someone’s personal property and means of self-defense, with no guarantee of return and no evidence of a crime; that’s a violation of human rights. And doing it because he exercised his First Amendment rights to express his opinion? I don’t want to be on the side of someone who thinks it’s appropriate to shoot anyone not directly threatening me. But I want to be on the side that thinks it’s appropriate to suppress human rights for something someone said even less, and there’s no middle ground. I blog, I own firearms, I express unpopular opinions. Therefore: