OPINION – When a feminist speaker recently canceled a scheduled engagement at Utah State University, her decision should have been easily understandable.
Instead, it has created significant confusion in the minds of some about what exactly the First and Second Amendments are and how they protect our natural rights.
The issue began when an emailed death threat received by USU officials promised to take out Anita Sarkeesian and others in what the writer claimed would be the “deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.” USU police took the threat seriously and promised to beef up security and to conduct backpack checks on attendees.
Given that Sarkeesian had received numerous other death threats that failed to materialize into anything specific, campus police felt the lecture would be fine to continue as scheduled.
Out of concern for her safety, Sarkeesian insisted that that attendees be subjected to pat downs and required to pass through a metal detector before entering the venue. University officials pointed out to her that attendees with a valid concealed firearms permit could not be legally prevented from attending the lecture.
At this point, Sarkeesian asked that police screen the audience members for firearms and only let them in if they had a permit. To their credit, USU police declined to accommodate her request because they felt it was unwarranted and too invasive.
This is when things started getting weird.
Sarkeesian decided that the risk was too great and chose to cancel her lecture. This was her call to make and, since it’s her neck on the line, she had every right to make it. But instead of placing the blame at the feet of her alleged cyberstalker, she chose to rail against Utah’s concealed carry laws and to urge other lecturers to boycott the state until those laws are changed.
This sent a number of her supporters into a predictable flurry of hand-wringing and breathless condemnations of Utah’s “insane” gun laws.
The most common refrain of concerned commentators was how disappointed they were to learn that Utah apparently “puts gun rights above free speech.” That’s a very curious sentiment considering that this issue had exactly nothing to do with gun rights or free speech.
Let’s start with the so-called free speech aspect. Freedom of speech, as guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is a limit on government interference in an individual’s right to speak freely.
It does not protect against the public, individually or collectively, rejecting or disagreeing with what someone is saying. Naturally, this does not excuse death threats or other types of criminal coercion. But the suggestion that Sarkeesian had an enforceable right to be heard is not correct. None of us do.
Government did not limit her opportunity to speak; she chose to cancel her event and then to boycott the state on her own.
She faces the same kinds of risks, in the form of death threats and intimidation, faced by numerous other public figures and sports stars who also occasionally attract the attention of the unbalanced.
Blaming Utah’s gun laws for making her feel unsafe on the USU campus represents a curious misdirection away from the person or persons who threatened her and toward law-abiding concealed carry permit holders.
At this writing, not a shred of evidence exists to suggest that the alleged threat-maker represents one of the hundreds of thousands of lawful concealed firearm permit holders in Utah. So why would Sarkeesian play up the presence of a legally concealed firearm as posing a potential threat to her?
For her to ask that authorities preemptively treat each member of her audience as a potential attacker without any specific suspicion or probable cause is not only wrong but an abridgement of their natural rights. By what right would she impose her will on others who had done no harm?
Special pleading about not feeling safe is not sufficient to justify the wholesale manipulation and control of others who pose no threat.
Thankfully, USU police understood this and declined Sarkeesian’s demands.
A peaceful individual carrying a lawfully concealed firearm is not forcing the exercise of their right on anyone. Since potential adversaries cannot know exactly who is prepared to stop them, the concealed carrier is providing a benefit to those who don’t carry and even those who disagree with Utah’s gun laws.
A general rule of thumb is that genuine natural rights aren’t a tool by which we can bend others to our will.
In the meantime, Utah will just have to get by without enlightenment from lecturers like Anita Sarkeesian.
She’s apparently chosen to put us on a drama-free diet.
- Hatch gives keynote speech on Religious Freedom at BYU Law School
- Editorial: Conceal carry; it’s no small decision
- Perspectives: That’s why we have the Second Amendment
- Colorado Supremes favor students on Concealed Carry Act
- Gov. Herbert vetoes constitutional carry bill
- On the EDge: Legislature moving backwards
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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