By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
Glens Falls Ward 3 Common Council member Diana Palmer co-wrote a new article published in The Atlantic Magazine.
“The Second Amendment Has Become a Threat to the First,” published on Oct. 27, is based on original research she did for her doctoral dissertation.
Dr. Palmer earned her Doctorate in Law and Public Policy this year from Northeastern University, in a hybrid program that combined virtual studies and in-person intensives several times a year. She defended her dissertation in June.
The article subhead says, “Firearms are having a documented chilling effect on free speech.”
“What most people do not realize is that the Second Amendment has become, in recent years, a threat to the First Amendment. People cannot freely exercise their speech rights when they fear for their lives,” the article says.
Dr. Palmer told The Chronicle, “I’m not taking a position on firearms, or the Second Amendment” — the right to bear arms. “My research was specifically on the impact of knowing guns would be present in a situation of protest in a constitutional democracy.”
She says, “I had read a lot of articles on the topic of armed protest. Many reference the idea of guns having a chilling effect, but it was more a theory, without data. I was surprised nobody had conducted research on the subject.”
Her co-author, Timothy Zick, is a William & Mary Law School professor, with a forthcoming book called Managed Dissent: The Law of Public Protest.
He had explicitly written about the lack of empirical data on the subject.
Dr. Palmer said she reached out to him with her research findings, resulting in this article, “which we thought would add value to the discussion.”
Her dissertation was called “Fired Up or Shut Down: The Chilling Effect of Open Carry on First Amendment Expression at Public Protests.”
Her findings were that respondents were less inclined to attend a public protest for a cause they felt strongly about if they knew guns could be present.
“The thing I think is really notable,” Dr. Palmer says, “is this wasn’t something found along partisan lines.” She said the “chilling effect” held for “Republicans, Democrats, all sides of the spectrum and political views, even among gun owners, and from all areas of the country.”
She surveyed more than 1,200 people across the country, including several open-ended questions to gauge responses.
The Atlantic article explains: “Participants were asked about their willingness to participate in protests in two groups. In the control group, firearms were not mentioned….In the experimental group, they were….The participants in the experimental group were much less willing to participate in expressive activities than participants in the control group to whom firearms were not mentioned.”
The article concludes: “Across the board, people don’t think it’s a good idea to have guns at protests.”
Dr. Palmer said, where political points of view did show up was in reasons people gave for their hesitance — fearing Antifa, and Black Lives Matter or the Proud Boys or Trump supporters, for example.
“There is still polarization, but the chilling effect goes across party lines,” Dr. Palmer says.
“It’s not just about the danger that people might get hurt. It’s an important point to bring to the forefront of the conversation over guns in public, that there is a risk to people participating in democracy, by losing their voices.”
Dr. Palmer notes that there the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to hear case on November 3, on how the Second Amendment applies to carrying guns in public.
Mr. Zick was interviewed on MSNBC after the article came out. Dr. Palmer said she was in a virtual “green room,” but not called upon to speak. “But most of what he talked about was my research, because that’s the part that’s new.”
She said she hopes her research — and more like it — is seen as relevant in such instances as the Supreme Court case.
Dr. Palmer is a marriage and family therapist at True North in Glens Falls. She ran unopposed on Nov. 2 for a second four-year term on the Common Council.
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