Thuggish tactics and political discourse

Has our political conversation devolved into gangs of heavily armed bullies shouting others down?

Where are the conservatives? They seem to have disappeared, being replaced by startlingly thuggish right-wingers who are not doing the Republican Party any good.

As of this writing, the most recent example is the display of behavior truly more typical of the 1930s era Brown Shirts than traditional conservative Americans. I wish this statement were mere hyperbole, but it is not.

You probably heard about the attempts at intimidation by firearms fanatics at what would otherwise have been a peaceful demonstration by gun safety advocates in Concord on June 18. The purpose was part of the national commemoration of the six-month anniversary of the Newtown school massacre.

Organized by New Hampshire’s Project for Safer Communities, the speakers pointed out the number killed by guns since that tragedy. The clear purpose of the gun-toting hecklers was to disrupt a peaceful assembly and to not allow it to happen.

They screamed “liar, liar!” at Steven Silver, a minister from Lebanon, and tried to shout down a Manchester man whose daughter was murdered. They crowded the podium as people tried to speak peacefully. One man had a bullhorn with the goal of drowning out the speakers.

Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. What could be more conservative than to stand up for those rights as defined in the Constitution?

Displaying heavy weaponry at a gathering that called for no more victims is not exactly in keeping with traditional New Hampshire conservatism or civil discourse.

Just weeks before this unsettling display, another occurred. At a gathering of the fledgling New Castle Promise (named after Newtown Promise), disruption and intimidation was also the intent of the bullying gun fanatics who invaded the organizational meeting. In fact, they may have achieved some success by frightening some women who are mothers of young children.

I’ve long worked with and respected conservatism in New Hampshire. It has never been a movement of fanatic gun-toting bully boys. At least not until now.

The focus of these gun folks is in support of the embattled U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is clearly feeling the pressure because of her unwise and out-of-touch vote against background checks. The extreme level of defensiveness by her supporters clearly demonstrates the weakness of her position. The vast majority of citizens in our state demand background checks, and her fanatical defenders, by their bullying tactics, are not doing her any good.

These not-unscripted actions intended to intimidate and frighten are obviously signs of desperation. Resorting to rude, hateful, and threatening tactics will not win them friends. The issue is real, and we need discourse and solutions to the obvious epidemic of gun violence. Talking about closing the gun show loophole and requiring background checks is no threat to anyone’s rights.

The actions by such people are lending legitimacy to the recent statement of Ray Buckley, chair of the state Democratic Party, who recently observed that "the New Hampshire Republican Party has become synonymous with radical tea party extremism, and there has been an epidemic of shockingly inappropriate behavior by New Hampshire Republicans."

Has our political conversation devolved into gangs of heavily armed bullies shouting others down? Citizens’ right to own guns in their home is not in jeopardy. What people want is simply for public areas to be safe. With rights come responsibilities.

State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen is host of The Burt Cohen Show on WSCA Portsmouth and WNHN Concord.

Categories: Opinion