My ambivalence about these tactics stems from my very strong opposition to semi-automatic weapons and other gun-related items that make it easy for distraught people such as Adam Lanza to kill so many people in such a short period of time. I want to see semi-automatic weapons made illegal. I also want individuals to decide for themselves to stop buying such guns. Economic pressure such as that by Cerberus, and that being considered by the California teacher’s retirement system, may very well help to delegitimize the sale of guns and ammunition clips that serve no proper purpose outside of military or law enforcement, which on its face seems like a good thing.
The risk is that such pressure is brought at the risk of chilling the exercise of constitutional rights—which now include the ownership and possession of at least some guns, as the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller. Whether or not we agree with the court’s reading of the Second Amendment’s highly ambiguous language, Heller is now the law, and Americans have the right to bear some arms under some circumstances.
Divestment actions, boycotts, and blacklists aimed at chilling the exercise of a constitutional right—whether it be the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, or the right to choose to have an abortion—can create a dangerous precedent. During the McCarthy period, blacklists and Red Channels, both enforced by private companies with the encouragement of some government entities, were economic tactics calculated to punish artists for the exercise of their First Amendment right to assemble with others in order to redress grievances.