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Know Your Rights, Even When the ACLU May Not

Yesterday, a story popped up on Photography is Not a Crime (another great blog highlighting rights of the law-abiding that are frequently trampled) about a low level ACLU representative getting angry at a photographer for taking photos on a public Massachusetts street that she just happened to be working on that day.

The girl decked out in her ACLU gear didn’t just inform the photographer that she’d rather not have him take her photo, she tried to claim trumped up charges that he was engaged in a criminal act by taking a photo that just happened to have her in it.

This doesn’t surprise me coming from ACLU representatives because I witnessed a group of ACLU “volunteer observers” at the 2004 Pittsburgh NRA meeting trying to intimidate NRA supporters who were snapping photos of the anti-gun protests taking place on the public space outside of the convention center with similar threats.

One girl in particular, probably an older college student or recent graduate, was particularly aggressive in claiming that gun rights supporters had no right to take any photos at all on the public sidewalk and that she would report us to the police if she thought we took any photos of her sitting on the sidewalk.

I just point out this story because it’s useful to understand that the underlings who may be representing ACLU in some form at any gun-related events may try to use the same false charges that photography in public places is a crime against gun owners to try and intimidate them from documenting an event or participating one way or the other in public protests. I have never seen another ACLU volunteer observer team at an NRA meeting again, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.

11 Responses to “Know Your Rights, Even When the ACLU May Not”

  1. Crotalus says:

    The ACLU has always been anti-gun, so this is no surprise

    • Bitter says:

      That’s not a completely accurate statement, but this is about the attitudes of their representatives on photographers. Since I open with a recent action taken against a Canadian photographer simply snapping some shots on a visit to Massachusetts, this is clearly not limited to pro-gun people.

  2. Sigivald says:

    That the ACLU has “volunteer observers” (presumably from the local chapter?) at the NRA convention is… baffling.

    What does even that local chapter think needs “observing” by people in ACLU “regalia”?

    Is the idea that the NRA convention will end up tramping someone’s civil liberties somehow? (Which is tricky for a private organization having a convention to do, of course…)

    Makes me wonder what story they told themselves about why that was a good idea.

    • Bitter says:

      Yeah, maybe they realized that it was a total waste of time since I didn’t see them associated with any of the protests the last time it was in Pittsburgh. Either that, or they realized they were earning a bad reputation for protecting rights if these people wearing their “volunteer observer” official outfits (they all had ACLU shirts) were out there making threats that they would ask the police to violate the rights of others. :)

      That was my first NRA convention, but I have never seen any other host city ACLU chapters turn people out, either.

    • Bitter says:

      Interestingly, I did just notice a recent comment at PINAC from someone who says that the Pennsylvania chapter of ACLU is really weird about their policies on public photography.

  3. Matt says:

    Fascinating that a group so keen on defending First Amendment rights in a variety of spheres doesn’t understand the basic concepts of its application in the public space.

    Yet these same people are all in support of photographers filming abuses of others in public such as by the police and then defending those actions as rightfully legal when challenged by their targets. Such folks retreat quite happily and correctly behind the legal idea of “no privacy in a public space” when it is them doing the filming.

    You’d figure they’d remember that when the lens is pointed at them. Too many people have trumped up concepts of what they believe their “rights” entail but no understanding of how it they really work.

    To me it just shows ignorance or outstanding hypocrisy. Given their stance on the 2nd Amendment and how the national ACLU organization feels about defenders of that right, I have no compunction about shrugging my shoulders at their perceived offense at having the one above it applied them.

    • Bitter says:

      I saw that the Massachusetts chapter has accepted the responsibility for the worker’s actions, and they claim they have corrected her. I haven’t seen that they’ve issued an apology, but they do appear to have told the chick to stop effectively threatening people with reporting them to cops just because they are doing something she doesn’t like.

  4. Brad says:

    Fascinating. That story about the NRA convention.

    Now I already knew that the ACLU is a very schizophrenic organization with some state-level groups actually friendly towards RKBA while the national group maintains its bizarre hostility and even rejects accepting the fact of DC v Heller. But I had never before heard of any ACLU org actively allying with or supporting any anti-gun group!

    • Bitter says:

      To be fair to them, it wasn’t any kind of formal partnership. I suspect you could sum up the situation as a bunch of their low level volunteers & staffers went to “observe” a protest, but several of them started running their mouths about an issue they knew nothing about and happened to personally support the anti-gun protest. That doesn’t make it right, and ACLU still bears some responsibility for needing to make sure that all of their volunteers and staff know that making such threats is not okay, but it doesn’t create a formal ally, either.

  5. Andy B. says:

    I can’t speak about personalities today, but I think I’ve told the story before about how ACLU officers here in PA were very helpful to us with the First Amendment aspects of a Second Amendment issue about 13 – 15 years ago.

    I think this is an example of the flip side of what we talked about the other day, about small groups of gun rights advocates behaving like blowholes, that we hope don’t reflect on the rest of us or our organizations. Have you ever wished some loudmouthed jackass wasn’t wearing his NRA hat or T-shirt while he carried on at a public meeting?

    I think the ACLU probably has theirs, too, coming from the other end of the spectrum. In Pennsylvania, the ACLU has very, very few actual employees, so people in the street identifying themselves as “ACLU” are almost certainly “volunteers” — just like the NRA members you see at political rallies. Did they appoint themselves spokesmen? There is a good chance.

    Thinking further, out loud, on the left the NRA has become more and more identified with non-firearms issues and personalities they find abhorrent; so the motivations of ACLU groupies targeting the NRA may in fact have little to do with firearms issues per se. They just see the NRA as one more wingnut organization in the great rightwing loony-bin. Not fair, of course, but one of the hazards of guilt by association, as our ideological wars escalate.

    • Bitter says:

      I understand that distinction. In the first case in Massachusetts, that is apparently not the case. She was a paid worker from what I read. In Pittsburgh, I can’t say for sure, but I do know that it was a formal organized event by ACLU. Whether the main woman issuing threats was the volunteer or higher level organizer, I can’t say.

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