Marc Levine Legislators who push for gun safety face intimidation campaigns
The email landed in my inbox on Monday morning of last week. “The gun-grabbing tyrants are on the march,” it screamed in bold text, “but their defeat is possible with your support.”
The note was sent from a gun rights group, and it was timed to arrive on the day I introduced AB 18, legislation that would establish a statewide gun tax and use the money to fund violence prevention programs in California.
It wasn’t the first such email I received. A previous message had said I could join the group and support the struggle against people like me “for the small price of a box of ammo.” Needless to say, I did not contribute.
As a state legislator, I have contributed to California’s gun regulations, authoring a bill that closed a loophole in the assault weapons ban and voting for other common-sense laws.
Most Californians support gun safety laws. But others see every measure as an assault on their freedoms and a creeping erosion of constitutional rights. Some take it very personally, and they want to make it personal in return.
That’s apparently what “Doe Publius” had in mind when, in 2016, he or she created a “tyrant registry” and posted 40 lawmakers’ home addresses online after we voted to establish a database to track the sale of ammunition.
Our addresses would come down, this person wrote, only if we repealed the law “or upon the death of the tyrant.” There was nothing subtle about the message.
On the blog Real Write Winger, Doe Publius wrote that because of the “anti gun, anti Liberty bills passed by the legisexuals in the State Capitol and signed into law by our senile communist governor, isn’t it about time to register these tyrants with gun owners?”
The screed went on: “These tyrants are no longer going to be insulated from us. They used their power we entrusted them with to exercise violence against us if we don’t give up our rights and Liberty. This common sense tyrant registration addresses this public safety hazard by giving the public the knowledge of who and where these tyrants are in case they wish to use their power for violence again.”
After it was posted, some of my colleagues received anonymous phone calls of the “I know where you live” variety. Some reported a caller saying, “I bet you wish you knew who I am.” At least one such call was answered by a lawmaker’s child.
Those of us who choose public service agree to relinquish a certain amount of our privacy in the interest of government transparency. We are by definition public figures, accountable to our constituents.
But it seemed to many of us that a line was being crossed. While the blog didn’t overtly advocate violence against us, it seemed to inch uncomfortably close.
Our attorneys sent Doe Publius a letter, citing a section of California law that exempts the release of certain kinds of personal information and demanding that the post be taken down. The website publisher obliged, but the “tyrant registry” quickly popped up on another site.
In the end, a federal district court ruled that posting our addresses was indeed protected speech under the First Amendment. The blogger did not repost our addresses.
There is no doubt that the publishing of our home addresses was an attempt at intimidation. The author may also have intended the registry as a destructive call to action.
None of us has any intention of retreating from gun safety efforts merely because of invective or threats. We didn’t back away before Thousand Oaks, and we especially won’t back away after that tragedy. Even before I introduced my bill last week, two colleagues had signed on as joint authors and six more as coauthors.
Still, the intimidation campaign of recent years did prompt me to take one extra step before introducing the gun tax, a step that I didn’t feel necessary two years ago. This time I asked my wife if she was ready for everything that comes with gun legislation.
She said: Yes, it’s the right thing to do.
Assemblyman Marc Levine is a Democrat representing California’s 10th District. This originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.