I wish there were a better way to describe the people I encountered Monday online.
I set up a Facebook event a few months ago to remind people to vote for my friend Dan Losquadro in the Town of Brookhaven race for Highway Superintendent. It's no secret that Dan has been a lifelong friend. He was my best man at my wedding. And we've been friends since we were little kids. I've known Dan and his family as far back as I have meaningful recollection, and I know that his integrity, his values and his experience make him the right guy for this job.
I've been shooting many times. Sometimes with Dan. I wouldn't call myself a "gun enthusiast," but I have rifles and shotguns and occasionally go skeet and trap shooting. At one point in my life, I got really good at it.
You might also know that I'm very much into First Amendment issues, as a former newspaperman, journalism school grad and professional business writer.
Yesterday, I saw an organized raid on the Facebook event I set up to remind people to vote for Dan. And I did something I very rarely do - I deleted negative comments.
It's a big deal when someone like me deletes comments. I don't believe in censoring people's opinions, particularly when it's political speech. However, I think it's important that anybody involved (or observing) understands the reasons why I did it.
The comments being posted were part of an organized harassment campaign. There are people very angry at Dan for voting the way he did when Governor Cuomo pushed to be the first to pass gun control legislation in the wake of Sandy Hook. Those people are determined to punish Dan for his vote, but not by putting up their own candidate for state assembly and supporting him, but by harassing his supporters in the completely-unrelated highway race.
The comments made were posted to the Facebook wall of the event. I let the first few go, but then it became clear that the comments were not being posted in an attempt to influence via honest discourse. They were being posted, dozens at a time for each individual who had signed up to attend the event, in order to harass and intimidate. Dozens were posted at a clip. I'd delete them and they'd come back seconds later. I even saw one that recommended sending personal messages to each and every one who had committed to turn out to vote for Dan. This small group of 8-10 individuals were cutting and pasting comments and posting them, en masse, to each and every event response. When this happens, the respondent gets a notification that somebody has posted a response to them. They might get it on their computer, their mobile device or both. And they were coming in at the rate of several a minute at one point, from several individuals at once.
This was when I decided that they were harassing and intimidating, not trying to engage in any sort of discourse. When I started to delete comments, that's when they started harassing me, claiming I was infringing on their First Amendment rights.
Which brings me to my next issue - people who claim to be fans of the Bill of Rights, but who don't understand it.
First off, deleting comments from a Facebook page where I'm the administrator does not constitute a violation of anybody's First Amendment rights. Your first clue is that the amendment begins with "Congress shall make no law..." We're talking about Congress here, not private citizens. When someone disrespects a digital forum by organizing a raid on it and by harassing its participants, no one owes them a microphone. It's not a violation of anyone's First Amendment rights to do that. You may not like that your comment was deleted. Guess what? We didn't like it when you raided our event. And we were respectful enough of your political views that we didn't raid your Facebook page, despite disagreeing intensely with the opinions posted there.
So this isn't about the First Amendment. It's about respect. And that's part of why I think these people are idiots.
The other part is that most of them seem to be absolutists when it comes to the Bill of Rights. People, no right guaranteed under the first 10 amendments to the Constitution is absolute. You can't falsely yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater without being held accountable for your actions. So the notion that protections afforded by the Bill of Rights are absolute is idiotic.
As such, there are controls on our 2nd Amendment rights that are sane, legal and probably a good idea, too. Among them, mandatory sentences for using guns in crimes, requiring therapists to tell the government when they believe someone is a threat to himself or others, and requiring background checks. If you go back and actually read the bill Dan voted for, it does more good than harm.
It's not to say that the law isn't without legitimate criticisms. I'm typically not a fan of legislation that's developed in response to tragedies, legislation that's rushed through without careful consideration, nor am I particularly confident in the ability of the state government to truly understand what constitutes an "assault weapon." But it's possible to pass such legislation without infringing on someone's Second Amendment rights - the reaction needs to be a meaningful debate, not a hardline "from my cold, dead hands..." response.
If you want to respond that way, it's your right. But don't blame me for thinking you're an idiot when you harass people and expect some sort of constitutional protections for your behavior. Nothing gives you the right to harass people and go hide under the guise of political speech. Especially when it's not the government preventing the harassment, but a private citizen who moderates the forum.
That's the second reason I think these people are idiots. Now, as to why they're lunatics...
Some of you may have seen that this Highway Superintendent race briefly attracted some national attention on Monday. A blogger for MSNBC wrote a piece about how Dan's detractors stole one of his signs, brought it out to the shooting range and blew it away. Because, you know, your highway department superintendent needs to be a Second Amendment absolutist or he can't get the roads plowed...
It's assholes like this who give people who like to shoot a bad name.
A state politician helps to pass a law you don't like, so you steal one of his campaign signs, shoot it up and post the video to YouTube? Really?
Click through some of the other videos on this nutjob's YouTube channel. Then watch him blow away Dan's campaign sign. Then tell me this guy isn't giving people who shoot a bad name. Did you happen to catch the video of him reciting Patrick Henry quotes while showing us his *AWESOME* rifle? Did it remind you of that scene where Private Pyle goes nuts and blows away his drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket?
And that's the type of nutjob we're dealing with. The kind of guy who childishly steals, then regurgitates a bunch of quotes from long-dead patriots to justify his absolutism and unwillingness to think, and then shows us his questionably legal guns blowing away Dan's sign. (How many rounds in the banana clip on that semi-automatic shotgun? Oh, and way to abide by the range rules by firing shotguns two feet away from the "Pistols Only" sign.)
If I can't go skeet shooting in a few years, at least I'll know why - under-educated Second Amendment absolutists who reach for their guns when their elected representatives vote for something they don't like.