Jarvis Britton will celebrate Independence Day in prison. The unemployed 26-year old from Birmingham AL posted “Let’s Go Kill the President. I think we could get the president with cyanide! #MakeItSlow” on his Twitter account.
Smart. But not unique:
Mr. Britton was the latest in a recent series of social media users to overstep the boundary of legal free speech and face jail time for threatening the president’s life. Last month, a Twitter user in Charlotte, N.C., Donte Jamar Sims, was sentenced to six months for posting “Ima assassinate president Obama this evening!” among other threats. And Daniel Temple of Columbus, Ohio, is awaiting sentencing for saying on Twitter that he was “coming to kill” the president and “killing you soon.” — NYTimes
Wait a minute, you say. What about the First Amendment’s protection of free expression? You know, the one that begins “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…. “?
Federal law makes it punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine to threaten the life of the president or anyone else under Secret Service protection. The law does not require proof that the suspect intended to carry out the plot.
The cases based on such threats should be a reminder that there are limits on the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, said [Rick] Burgess, [Britton’s] lawyer. “Whether you meant it as a joke or not,” he said, “a Twitter message takes on a whole new meaning when it’s read in a courtroom.”
So despite what appears to be an unambiguous Constitutional guarantee, there are in fact limitations on free speech. It seems most people understand this. Most people at least intuitively grasp a that the right to free expression needs to be tempered by other factors. The old “Fire in a crowded theater” example. Slander. Misinformation in commercial speech, etc. Somehow our Constitutional protections survive these limitations.
So how come the same reasonable guidelines can’t be applied to the Second Amendment? You remember — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Whoa! All bets are off, right? The gunnies tell us over and over that you can’t monkey with precious Constitutional protections. Why, it just ain’t done.
Except when it is. And should be.
Happy Independence Day weekend, everyone.