Mimesis Law
28 May 2017

Linc Sample and Your Hierarchy of Causes

September 14, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Although one homemade “Black Rifles Matter” sign probably wouldn’t get a second look in much of the country, it’s stirred up some controversy in Maine:

A Maine town’s tourism sector has come under fire after some visitors have been complaining about a large, hand-painted sign on a private lawn that reads “Black Rifles Matter.”

Linc Sample, the sign’s creator, told NECN on Monday that his work in Boothbay Harbor is about gun rights, not race. He was inspired to post the sign after reading an ad in the local paper that supported a ban on assault weapons.

Had Sample put up the sign in other parts of the country, he might’ve drawn criticism for not making it large enough. It wouldn’t make it any less offensive to people who are concerned about the legitimate issues central to the Black Lives Matter movement, of course, but there’d be fewer of those people around to see it.

Sample’s biggest problem was that he put up the sign in a little New England tourist town frequented by big city northeastern folks who probably don’t value the Second Amendment the way he does. They probably take the Black Lives Matter movement more seriously. Many of them couldn’t care less about the right to bear arms, and they certainly don’t want it flaunted in their face when they’re vacationing. Samples cause isn’t theirs.

That the yachting crowd apparently doesn’t like people making jokes about a movement dealing with something quite serious and of concern to them is clear. Sample’s concern is obvious too, but the thing that he worries about, his trigger (hard to tell if his pun was intended) is people trying to take his guns:

“That’s really a trigger for me — the assault weapons ban,” Sample told NECN.

Sample said he used “Black Rifles Matter” – a plan on “Black Lives Matter” – to make an impact. He said if anything, the Black Lives Matter movement should be “flattered” he used the phrase.

Sample shouldn’t expect a thank you letter from the Black Lives Movement anytime soon, but he’s right about his play on words making an impact. He made the national news with a sign. Not a lot of people can say that. Just as some Black Lives Matter activists keep the movement alive and in the spotlight by doing things that offend and inconvenience, Sample is doing basically the same thing.

Sometimes there’s an argument to be made that any attention is good attention. Sure, Sample upset lots of people, but he also probably reached a lot of people who agree with his sentiment. Complaining about him might have not just showcased his cause, but revealed other sympathizers too:

“People are ignorant. They shouldn’t be putting things out like that,” Paul Mayor, who was visiting Maine from Connecticut, told the station. “It’s taking a shot obviously at Black Lives Matter.”

Another tourist, Jeremy Plasse believes that the town is doing the right thing by leaving the sign up.

“Massachusetts has a ban right now, and I think they should lift it,” he added.

Please doesn’t think the town did the right thing because of the First Amendment or some other limit on government power, but rather because he agrees with Sample’s view on a gun ban. Others probably feel the same way. Sample got people thinking. Some only think about their position on gun control. Some will only think about how seriously they take Black Lives Matter and how it shouldn’t be treated lightly. Others might see free speech as an issue too.

As is often the case, people reacted so absurdly to Samples one sign that they aren’t doing their position any favors:

Boothbay Region Chamber of Commerce Director Rick Prose said that they’ve received a few complaints from visitors.

“Some of these people have cut their vacation short and left early,” Town Manager Thomas Woodin said.

Boothbay Harbor officials said Sample has the proper permitting and is exercising his First Amendment rights, despite some calling for the sign’s removal.

It’s hard to take people seriously when they ruin their own vacation and leave town because a sign hurt their feelings. Whether they lead such sheltered lives that they cannot bear to see something offensive, or if they’re trying to make a point by taking their tourism money elsewhere, it isn’t going to make much of a difference to Sample. It isn’t like he’s a business they can refuse to visit. He’s just a guy who put up a sign they don’t like, and he doesn’t even seem to care that much:

Sample said he usually changes the sign and will soon replace the Black Rifles Matter sign that has drawn some scrutiny.

It’s important to note Sample isn’t changing the sign now. He’ll change it when he’s good and ready. Maybe he would’ve changed it sooner if it hadn’t gotten him so much attention. Maybe he’s keeping it up just a bit longer to make it abundantly clear that it has nothing to do with his censors. It seems Sample is a good activist. He’s going to leave it up as long as it furthers his cause.

What’s interesting about Sample’s situation is what’s at the root of both his reaction and the reaction to him. Sample probably believes there’s a real threat to his right to bear arms. He probably doesn’t hang around with black people who are routinely mistreated by the police. The people who are so upset because of his sign probably don’t either, but in their hierarchy of other people’s problems, Black Lives Matter matters more than the civil liberties of gun owners.

Cops are killing black people. It’s a real problem. There’s a powerful movement trying to address that. It’s possible that some real good is going to come of it, change that means a lot to many people. There are strong emotions involved. Mocking or even just making light of the movement or the issues that led to it are going to upset people.

On the other hand, many people in the government at all levels all over the country really do want to restrict gun ownership. It would be a taking of people’s property. The government would be telling law-abiding, responsible gun owners that at least some part of their hobby is now illegal. Many even view guns as life-saving, essential to modern survival. In some places, guns really do play a factor in personal safety. The idea of a gun ban bothers people who just really care about individual rights and limits on government power in general too.

In the end, neither position is ridiculous. What Sample did was push his cause by capitalizing on the widespread recognition of another cause. If you’re offended by it, that’s really just an indicator of which cause you feel is more important.

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