Massachusetts Goes Over the Line

Just after the Giffords shooting, Travis Corcoran, who I link from time to time for his biting commentary, posted something along the lines of "one down, 534 to go."  I didn't like the comment, but it was not wildly different from his quasi-revolutionary rhetoric he often uses when describing the fraud and outright criminality of public officials.  In the context of his body of work, I did not find it either surprising or particularly troubling, and certainly did not take it as a call to action or overt threat.  I merely thought it in poor taste.

The comment went viral, and many others trashed him on blogs and in his comments -- these folks found the comment to be much worse than just poor taste.  Their response was exactly what one does in a free society in reaction to speech we don't like -- we use speech in response.  Travis strikes me as a big boy who was able to handle the consequences of his speech.  Unlike many more cowardly sites, Travis did not re-edit the post to whitewash it or secretly eliminate it.

However, some folks were apparently not happy with just responding with speech.  Typical of modern discourse, certain folks wanted to win their argument by bringing the coercive power of the state in on their side.  Apparently, Massachusetts gun laws allow for revocation of firearms permits under certain vague circumstances (which are conveniently flexible for the state).  Travis had agents of the state (or local?) government show up at his door and confiscate his firearms.  Now, presumably there is a legal ruckus going on (TJIC is not one to take such things passively) and his site is down (presumably under advice of attorneys).

This strikes me as way over the line.  The implied threat does not meet any of the well-worn court judicial tests for speech that can be actionable as a threat.  I don't know enough law, and have not really studied the statute in question, to know whether this particular gun licensing law is able to establish a broader definition of threat (I am not sure it even has been tested in court).

But I am certain about one thing, because the statement I am about to make applies to just about every government law with vague terminology that leaves enormous room for selective interpretation and enforcement:  There is probably no way the state of Massachusetts or the city of Arlington can argue that this effective restriction on speech is being enforced in a viewpoint neutral way.  I bet I could find a whole boatload of radical leftish academics with firearms who have made far more specific threats and never have, and would never have, such restrictions enforced against them.

Update: Apparently there are threats of other legal actions.  I have just no time to blog right now, but Radley Balko has what seems to be a fair take and a lot more information.


  1. Mike:

    I too am aggravated at how some brought the government in to this little disagreement.

    I am also disappointed at how fast those that disagree with Travis went after his livelihood too, attempting to get suppliers to no longer do business with his companies.

  2. dullgeek:

    One of the dangers of being critical of the state and those who would use it for their own personal beneift, is that they will use the state against your criticisms. Expecting that crowd to suspend their belief that it's ok to use state intervention is, I think, overly optimistic.

  3. Bearster:

    Let me first say that I think the state should not go after him, confiscate his guns, etc.

    With that out of the way, I think you are showing some bias Coyote. Whether from a leftist, or rightist, or whatever Travis is, a statement condoning--let alone calling for murder, even vaguely hinting at it in a non-actionable way--is never appropriate, in good taste, courteous, or civil. Think how you would respond if Joy Behar or Keith Olbermann or some lefty tool made some comment about the need to "get" Ron Paul and his son "before they become a bigger threat to society". You would be (rightfully) righteously angered.

    Let's condemn the irrational speech of thugs for all thugs equally, whether of left, center, right, or other!

  4. Vitaeus:

    The issue, in my opinion, is that bridling free speech is a slippery slope. Once you begin to limit the content of the speech, that is not a proximate cause of harm, you are heading towards censorship. I spent 13 years of my life protecting the citizens of this country and I never expected that I would agree with them all, let alone most of the opinions I see. Political speech is always going to be oppositional in content and context, you are after all trying to "win" an election or pass a law that means someone else loses.

  5. rox_publius:

    this is either a move driven by the desire to make an ideological statement or an excuse for those fond of their power to wield it over others. i do not believe for a millisecond that anyone truly perceived his statement as a legitimate threat.

    travis has been outspoken in his criticism of police in general, and local police specifically. i would not discount the revenge/punishment motive from the boys in blue.

  6. Zach:

    Given the proclivities of the boys in blue, I hope his dogs are OK.

  7. Dan:

    . . . humanity's greatest evil, the most destructive horror machine among all the devices of men is non-objective law.

    - Atlas Shrugged

    Sure people freak out when you quote something from Rand, but your post is a good example of the problem here. Laws that can be applied subjectively at the whim of a bureaucrat can be very dangerous indeed.

  8. Noumenon:

    You're probably right about the blog being taken down based on lawyers' advice; to me it felt like he had been disappeared.

    I didn't know about the blogstorm; I figured it was somebody he annoyed at a local political meeting like he posts about sometimes.

    To me the interesting thing was how the media reports made it sound like he deserved it. To me he's a Heinlein-following entrepreneur with a techie DVD-by-web business and creative hobbies like turning, a complex character. The political assassination posts are just part of being the kind of macho conservative that values sounding tough over making sense; I never took them at all seriously. But when you read a sentence like "Police have seized a Boston-area comic book dealer’s arsenal... a credible threat... calls himself an 'anarcho-capitalist'", well, it makes you think "I wonder if that's an accurate neutral description of him and I was mistaken not to see him as dangerous."

    I don't know about the law, but I wouldn't be too mad at the cops if they said "Just to be cautious, we are going to confiscate your guns for two weeks while we investigate whether you're the kind of person who might seriously mean this as a threat." I imagine if they had time to read his blog archives they'd realize he wasn't dangerous, just posturing.

  9. Michael:

    3 issues. Travis interacted with the Arlington police a few months back to resolve a threat to his person on his property. He chose to use law enforcement rather than legally shoot the person. So they know him.

    2nd. The Arlington police found out about Travis while reviewing comic book blogs. Great use of tax dollars.

    3rd. When the Arlington police contacted the Capitol police, they told the Arlington police they were already aware of him and his blog.

    It seems to me that the Arlington police are looking for some publicity to justify their budget.

  10. me:

    Oh. My. What an interesting post...

    (a) I think the guy's an asshole for making that statement. "I'd welcome it if more idiots shot Congresspeople no matter if innocent bystanders or little girls end up dead" gets anyone onto my "I wouldn't want to stop and help an accident victim and later discover I had saved you" list.
    (b) That he has his guns taken away and his website taken down (no matter if it was a voluntary action to prevent worse judical outcomes) based on an interpretation of a vague law is an outrage. That is precisely what the laws about free speech are supposed to prevent from happening.
    (c) I am super-disappointed by the statement that this is an us-vs-them issue: would it really have been better if this had been after the shooting of a republican and the guy they'd have brought the force of the law down onto would have been advocating the right to decide about abortion?

  11. Jim Clay:

    He did not say "I’d welcome it if more idiots shot Congresspeople no matter if innocent bystanders or little girls end up dead". He made it clear that it saddened him that bystanders were shot.

  12. Gordon:

    If they merely revoked his permit to carry without charging with a crime, I'd be in opposition, but maybe could think that within the right of the state. But to confiscate his property without being charged is clearly overstepping.

  13. Matt:

    There's no standard of what constitutes a "threat" in the relevant MA law, because threats are not mentioned at all. The only criterion is "suitability". Which is defined, essentially, as "whatever the local police chief thinks it means, at this moment".

    Continuing to possess firearms, once the police chief had changed his mind about Travis' "suitability" to have them, would have made him a felon, under MA state law. Hence the confiscation.

    The lack of any objective standard regarding who qualifies for a license, combined with the requirement of a license even for simple possession of a gun, even in one's home, is unlikely to survive legal challenge, in this post-Heller world, and indeed there's been a case making its way through the courts challenging the MA gun laws since before the Giffords shooting. But until Mr. Gura wins again (as I'm quite confident he will), residents of MA still have their fundamental rights held hostage to the arbitrary and capricious whims of bureaucratic hacks.

    The media coverage of this travesty is just more proof (as if we really needed any more) that the only place you'll still get honest and factual reporting in the modern news business is on the sports page. (And the only reason I trust _those_ guys is because a significant plurality of their readership is composed of people who watched the events in question occur live on television.)

  14. Uncle Bill:

    Does anyone have a copy of his original post? I can't see it, now that his site is down. I'd like to know exactly what he said.

    Also, is there any objective (or even semi-objective) report on the whole thing somewhere in the blogosphere? Such as, exactly what the police report was?

  15. Mesa Econoguy:

    Amy Bishop

    She's the Harvard-educated [likely leftist] wacko who shot up University of Alabama-Huntsville, killed 3 faculty members and wounded 3 others last year.

    She was errantly freed by Boston Police 23 years earlier after she "accidentally" shot her brother, killing him.

    Bishop and her husband had also been questioned in 1993 about a pipe bombing incident at Boston Children's Hospital.

    Too bad the MA police forgot to take away her guns. And pipe bombs.

    [h/t CC]

  16. txjim:

    My interest in woodworking is how I found TJIC. TJIC is how I found Coyote. I blame wood!

  17. Paul:

    Funny thing about being disarmed. They can only do it to you if you allow them to.

    This is not like getting a speeding ticket, folks. Being disarmed is an act of WAR against you. If you submit, don't complain later when you end up in a concentration camp or a gas chamber. There are certain things that must not be allowed, no matter the consequences; and this is one of them.

  18. me:

    @Jim Clay

    Thank you for the correction - I actually found a cached copy of his article, and, wow, was I wrong. Very different from the message suggested by "one down, 534 to go".

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