…it’s an abuse of language to infer he was actually making actionable threats against anyone. As the president of the University of Rhode Island, it is your responsibility not to throw your faculty under the bus in the face of external pressure. By saying that URI “does not condone acts or threats of violence” and then immediately saying, “These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution…,” you create the impression that you agree Prof. Loomis was indeed making threats. I look forward to seeing your public apology to Prof. Loomis for your misbehavior.
Professor Loomis Is No Hero
I started this post by saying that there are no good guys in this story, and I meant it. Erik Loomis is no hero. He’s no free speech martyr.
It’s not just because he likes hyperbole about killing people who disagree with him — though that is hardly a way to encourage the marketplace of ideas. No, what I find the most repulsive about Erik Loomis is that he equates petitioning the government for the redress of grievances with murder and terrorism — a point on which he continued to double down even after he had time to cool off and retreat from his violent hyperbole.He echoed that even in his self-justifying post about his experience:
Do I want to see Wayne LaPierre punished in the way many of us wanted to see Tony Hayward punished during the BP oil spill or the way many of us wanted to see Dick Cheney punished during the Iraq War. Of course. That would mean real accountability for causing immeasurable harm to families, nations, and/or nature. Do I think the National Rifle Association is culpable for the murders of thousands of people in the United States and Mexico because of the policies they support? Yes. Do I think it is reasonable to call the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization? Although obviously using more than a little hyperbole, yes. It is defensible precisely because the polices they support facilitate the terror unleashed in Newtown, at the Clackamas Town Center, at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at the theater in Aurora, at Columbine.
But here’s the thing: in America, under the First Amendment, we hold people “culpable” for their effective policy advocacy by becoming a more effective advocate and convincing our leaders to move in another direction, or by convincing our fellow citizens to vote them out.
My position is in-between Ken’s and Loomis’s. I don’t want to get into a gun control debate, so let’s take a different, hypothetical issue. Suppose we are debating nuking Tuvalu, just for fun. To advocate nuking Tuvalu is rotten, but it doesn’t make you a murderer, even if the government later nukes Tuvalu. However, if you vote for the political party that (you should know) intends to nuke Tuvalu, then you typically* are morally responsible for their deaths. (So, for instance, most 2012 Obama voters will be partly responsible for the children he will murder over the next four years.)
So, if Loomis wants to call LaPierre a murderer, he should peg it on LaPierre’s voting behavior, not his speech. Also, certain forms of lobbying go beyond mere speech and are similarly culpable. Perhaps Loomis has these in mind. Loomis would need to defend other claims as well, such as the claim that our gun ownership laws are unjust, etc.
*I say typically because there can be an escape clause here if you’re engaging in justified strategic voting.
At any rate, this whole episode confirms my desire to title my fifth book Civic Enemies.