This moronic story was making the rounds last night on Twitter, with some people tweeting nervously, “Is that legal?” Why, er, no. Even given the limitation suggested by Brady — he wants to make the symbol illegal as applied to federal officials, not necessarily illegal in all circumstances — he’d almost certainly be laughed out of court. Here’s the leading precedent on threatening politicians. It comes from an anti-war rally in the 60s, where a speaker said the following to laughter from the crowd: “They always holler at us to get an education. And now I have already received my draft classification as 1-A and I have got to report for my physical this Monday coming. I am not going. If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L. B. J.” The money passage from the Court’s (very short) per curiam opinion:
But whatever the “willfullness” requirement implies, the statute initially requires the Government to prove a true “threat.” We do not believe that the kind of political hyperbole indulged in by petitioner fits within that statutory term. For we must interpret the language Congress chose “against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964). The language of the political arena, like the language used in labor disputes, see Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers of America, 383 U.S. 53, 58 (1966), is often vituperative, abusive, and inexact. We agree with petitioner that his only offense here was “a kind of very crude offensive method of stating a political opposition to the President.” Taken in context, and regarding the expressly conditional nature of the statement and the reaction of the listeners, we do not see how it could be interpreted otherwise.
In other words, to be locked up for using threatening language, you have to mean what you say. If Brady’s crosshairs bill doesn’t make that intent requirement exactingly clear, the bill’s probably dead on arrival in court; even if it does make that clear, then, as Kelly suggests, there’s no need to single out crosshairs or another symbol for special punishment. The issue would simply be whether a jury finds, based on whatever language or symbols he used, that the threatener wanted his threat carried out. But then, to take this idiotic bill seriously as a legal matter is to miss the whole point here. Brady doesn’t care about crosshairs; he’s using this as a way to keep pushing the media narrative that Palin’s midterms crosshairs map “targeting” Giffords is somehow responsible for Loughner’s killing spree. That map isn’t remotely illegal per the blockquote above and Brady surely knows it, but he wants to keep this Palin/tea party storyline going vis-a-vis the murders. Kelly kinda sorta accuses him of that too, wanting to know why he’s so worried about crosshairs right now when there’s zero connection between that symbol and Jared Loughner. Answer: Because he wants there to be a connection. And this is a way to create one.
I really do hope that Brady introduces this bill, though, and that Boehner brings it up for a vote. I’m dying to see how many “progressives” are ready to make symbols off-limits for First Amendment protection in the interest of scoring a point on Sarah Palin. Exit quotation from Ace’s co-blogger DrewM: “Liberals were aghast Ari Fleischer suggested ppl ‘watch what they say’. Now they demand we watch what clip-art we use.”