Civil Liberties

The Travis Corcoran Saga


Last week, law enforcement officials in Arlington, Massachusetts seized the (legally owned) guns of Travis Corcoran, a blogger and owner of an online comic book store. They also revoked Corcoran's gun permit. They were responding to posts on Corcoran's blog, TJICistan, put up shortly after the Tucscon shootings which could be interpreted as a threat against members of Congress. (Corcoran's blog is no longer online.) In particular, Corcoran posted the phrase "1 down, 534 to go," followed by an excerpt of a news account of the shootings. He then added:

It is absolutely, absolutely unacceptable to shoot "indiscriminately".

Target only politicians and their staff, and leave regular citizens alone.


On Friday, I put up a post on my personal blog about Corcoran and about the reaction from ThinkProgress blogger Alex Seitz-Wald. Seitz-Wald and I discussed Corcoran, partisanship, and violent rhetoric yesterday on The Alyona Show. You can watch video of our discussion below.

More on Corcoran: Over the weekend, someone sent me the three posts that got Corcoran into trouble. I'm not going to repost them in their entirety because I'm not sure of the circumstances under which his blog was taken offline. But after reading them, it seems clear to me that the initial post was a crass, insensitive attempt at humor, and nothing more—akin to posting a joke about killing lawyers, but posting it, say, hours after someone just shot up a law office.

That first post is the one quoted in national media coverage of Corcoran. But in the next two posts, Corcoran explicitly says the first post was a joke. He also concedes that it was "tasteless" and "callous", though he also weirdly refuses to apologize for it. Those next two posts also lay out Corcoran's politics, as well his theories on the morality of armed insurrection. I don't agree with portions of the posts, but on the whole they're pretty thoughtful. Corcoran is also a devout Catholic, and he bases his opinions about armed anti-government resistance on Catholic Just War Doctrine. He writes about armed revolution on a continuum, endorsing, for example, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the American Revolution, but also explaining why he believes political assassinations like the one Jared Loughner attempted in Tucson are immoral and shouldn't be condoned.

Of course, thoughtful as those posts were, there's also the matter of timing. Yes, it's interesting and provocative to debate which armed uprisings throughout history were justified and which weren't, or how tyrannical a government would need to get before such an uprising becomes morally justified. But 24 hours after an attempted political assassination that killed five people, while the country is still reeling from that attack, and just after you've posted a comment for all the world to see about shooting politicians and their staff . . . this is not the time to have that discussion.

But here's the important thing: None of this is criminal. Nor should it be. I can see why law enforcement officials might have initially been concerned with Corcoran's first post.  But it should also have been immediately clear upon reading Corcoran's subsequent posts (to which law enforcement authorities presumably have access) that he was joking, albeit in a particularly tone-deaf and socially retarded manner. He explicitly denounces political assassinations like the one attempted in Tucson in those posts, and he explains why.

So far, there have been no criminal charges filed against Corcoran. But from what I can tell as of this writing, they're leaving him in limbo about the possibility of charges in the future. He has also had his property seized and his Second Amendment rights suspended. The post quoted above was either a criminal threat, or it was protected speech. If it was protected speech, you can't take Corcoran's property and revoke his gun rights as punishment for writing something that was rude, but not illegal. (A sheriff in Florida Iowa recently learned this very lesson.)

Corcoran was crass, offensive, and tone-deaf. But it shouldn't be illegal to be any of those things. Unless there's more to this than just what Corcoran wrote on his blog, law enforcement officials ought to clear his name, return his guns, and reinstate his gun permit.