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Inapt comparison of Freedom Riders to gun rights activists

Saturday, May 10, 2014
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Inapt comparison of Freedom Riders to gun rights activists

At the end of his discourse on the alleged unconstitutionality of the NY SAFE Act, Art Henningson [April 24 letter] implies an analogy between opposition to resistance to the gun control act and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act, and further implies that the struggle against gun control is equivalent to the efforts of the Freedom Riders to counter segregation.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen these comparisons trotted out in this debate. Let’s set aside the obvious disproportion of those analogies, and illustrate some of the dangers of using them without a clear understanding of history.

Take the comparison to the Freedom Riders. A brief reminder of the facts: This interracial group of nonviolent activists rode buses through several Southern states in 1961. When they attempted to desegregate bus stations along the way, they were met by violent resistance; future Rep. John Lewis was beaten almost to death; they were arrested by local authorities and they eventually had to be evacuated by federal agents.

But let’s remember why they were there: to promote the enforcement of a federal civil rights law that desegregated bus and train stations connected to interstate travel. This was a law that most southerners considered odious and a violation of their constitutional rights.

The violent mobs that met the Freedom Riders, and the law enforcement officials who aided and abetted those mobs, did so believing that both tradition and the Constitution justified their resistance. They saw the imposition of federal civil rights law as tyrannical and were willing to employ violence to counter it.

Read that way, the comparison isn’t one that puts the rhetoric of gun advocates in the best light. I’d suggest that gun advocates refrain from reaching back into the history of slavery, segregation, and civil rights to bolster their arguments. History doesn’t always put them on the side of the good guys.

Andrew Morris

Schenectady

James Schlesinger was one of a kind

In the summer of 1982, I was a historical ranger at Saratoga National Historical Battlefield Park.

While manning the desk at the visitor’s center one afternoon, a family of four approached. I immediately said, “You look just like [Secretary of Defense James] Schlesinger.” His wife responded, “He is.”

I stood up and arranged for him to see the movie — he requested to see it a second time. I posted a ranger outside the theater door and arranged for a police escort on the perimeter road. He appreciated the VIP pack I made up for him.

I mentioned that as he was a former secretary of defense, I had included a list of all the units — American, British and Hessian (German) — that took part in the “Turning Point of the Revolution.”

Before he left, he touched my name tag, and I said, “It’s Greek and means ‘many spears’ and that my ancestor fought at Troy (Trojan War).

I had introduced him to our superintendent at the outset and am glad I ceased talking when I first blurted out, “you were secretary of defense, CIA director, energy secretary... what are you doing now?”

James Schelsinger was the greatest public statesman I have ever met. He had Harvard written all over him. In Veritas.

John Nicholas Polydouris

Latham

Enough, already, with flap over Benghazi

If you can print one more opinion on Benghazi ... did I miss something?

Vincent Carelli had an excellent letter [May 7]. The media, even Washington, forgot; but Fox News reported right after the incident that the ambassador [Christopher Stevens] was asked if he needed more security. His reply was that he had sufficient. Then a week later, he was attacked.

Put it to rest and campaign on the issues that are current — both parties.

Herbert Thorne

Schenectady

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comments

May 10, 2014
10:36 p.m.
+0 votes
jjhehir says...

Herb, terrorists attacked an embassy of the United States of America. Our ambassador and three other Americans were killed in the attack. No one was held accountable. You are right it’s old news. Let’s move on.

May 11, 2014
7:04 p.m.
+0 votes
rswanker says...

jjhehir — agree that someone should be held accountable. Unfortunately, the current Republican outrage seems focused on proving that somehow the scandal was how the White House was managing press releases (which they all do, right?) — rather than *why* something like this was allowed to happen to begin with. Doesn't seem like we're looking in the right places. And although I will concede that any investigation must start somewhere.

 

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