James Yeager is the owner of Tactical Response, a weapons training center in Camden, Tennessee. His business trains people in weapons use and tactical skills — a sign on door of the business warns that the staff is trained to kill.
In response to reports that the Obama administration might take executive action to impose additional restrictions on individual rights under the 2nd Amendment, Yeager posted a You Tube video in which he said, among other things, “I’m telling you, if that happens, it’s going to spark a civil war, and I’ll be glad to fire the first shot,”
In response to Yeager’s comments — and in blatant violation of both the 1st and 2nd Amendments — the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security suspended Yeager’s carry permit. TDS&HS Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in a news release announcing the suspension, “The number one priority for our department is to ensure the public’s safety. Mr. Yeager’s comments were irresponsible, dangerous, and deserved our immediate attention. Due to our concern, as well as that of law enforcement, his handgun permit was suspended immediately. We have notified Mr. Yeager about the suspension today via e-mail. He will receive an official notification of his suspension through the mail.”
Perhaps the “number one priority” of the TDS&HS ought to be upholding the 1st and 2nd Amendments of the US Constitution. And perhaps Commissioner Gibbons ought to be more concerned about upholding the oath of office he took upon assuming control of his department, in which he swore to “support the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States”.
This suspension is clearly and unequivocally a violation of Yeager’s 1st Amendment right to free speech. As decided by the United States Supreme Court in the 1965 Brandenburg v. Ohio case, the government cannot punish an individual who engages in “inflammatory speech” unless it is directed to inciting, and is likely to incite, “imminent lawless action“.
Yeager’s comments were unquestionably “inflammatory”. Nevertheless, they are constitutionally protected against punishment by the State of Tennessee by the 1st Amendment, as applied to the states through the 14th Amendment.
In Brandenburg, a per curiam (unanimous) decision, the court said, “Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” (emphasis added)
Because comments were conditioned on uncertain future events (“if that happens”), they cannot be taken as “inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and cannot be “likely to incite or produce such action”. As the Brandenburg court also noted, “The line between what is permissible and not subject to control and what may be made impermissible and subject to regulation is the line between ideas and overt acts.” (emphasis added)
In unlawfully punishing Yeager for the exercise of his 1st Amendment rights, the state of Tennessee has also “infringed” on Yeager’s 2nd Amendment right “to keep and bear arms” — a constitutional “two fer”, if you will.
Yeager has since revised his You Tube video to remove some of the more inflammatory comments. He is now referring all questions about the situation to his attorney and intends to pursue a legal review of his license suspension.
The Huffington Post article about Yeager’s diatribe is here:
The MSNBC post regarding the suspension of Yeager’s handgun carry permit is here:
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security website is here:
The Wikipedia article on Brandenburg v. Ohio (which discusses the Supreme Court 1st Amendment decisions on this issue which preceded Brandenburg) is here:
The Brandenburg decision is available on Justia.com here: