Before last weekend, I wouldn’t have thought to associate “liberal” dance protestors with “conservative” gun rights advocates. But they actually have a lot in common: a profoundly distorted – and patently wrong – understanding of their constitutional rights.
Here’s a quote from a young woman who attended Saturday’s “Dance Party @TJ’s” to protest a court ruling that forbade such expressive behavior inside the Jefferson Memorial: “We should be able to dance wherever we want to. What makes this country so original and special [is that] everybody is able to express themselves the way they want to and it doesn’t matter where they are.”
Now substitute “guns” for every reference to “dance” and you get the gist of what the most extreme gun rights advocates believe: “We should be able to [carry guns] wherever we want to. What makes this country so original and special is that everybody is able to [carry guns] and it doesn’t matter where they are.”
What’s missing from both of these formulations is the recognition that every right – including the “right” to dance and the right to gun ownership – has limits. We’ve long known that the First Amendment does not protect a lunatic’s right to yell “fire!” – or “bomb!” – inside a crowded theater unless he was alerting fellow theater goers to a real and imminent threat.
And just because a property is deemed “public” does not mean that anything goes. A federal courthouse is public property, but no one in their right mind would argue that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms prohibits the government from barring unauthorized individuals from bringing weapons inside. Likewise with utterly reasonable and modest restrictions at the Jefferson Memorial. Dancing is allowed on the grounds and steps of the “public” memorial but prohibited inside to preserve an air of contemplation that allows all present – not just those with happy feet – to enjoy their visit. Asking folks to leave their tap shoes outside isn’t a diminution of rights; it’s a nod toward civility and common sense.