From The Law vs. Ethics Files: The ‘Be My Guest, Rob My Anti-2nd Amendment Neighbor’ Sign

Gun Lawn Sign

I can’t seem to find out for certain if anyone has been so vile and foolish as to actually put up the sign shown above. (That photo is obviously fake.) Even if there are genuine photos posted somewhere, I doubt that such a sign would ever be left up for long. I could be wrong.

It’s probably not protected speech, as the sentiment invites violence toward another citizen. It is undoubtedly unethical speech, just like signs that say “My neighbor’s door sticker saying the house has burglar alarms is a bluff” or “The lady next door is beautiful and incapacitated” or “The little girl next door is excessively trusting.”

Yet the sign shown above is sold on line. Selling a sign with a dangerous, hateful and irresponsible message is legal. This one is also completely unethical. I know: it’s a joke.  I don’t care. To sell a sign that you know might cause harm if anyone used it as a sign is still indefensible, especially since we know how many Americans voted for Donald Trump.

In other words, there are a frightening number of hateful, reckless fools out there.

The company selling these abominations is called Zazzle.

Treat the company appropriately.

20 thoughts on “From The Law vs. Ethics Files: The ‘Be My Guest, Rob My Anti-2nd Amendment Neighbor’ Sign

  1. It’s Zazzle. They don’t really sell the sign as much as they manufacture it. It works like Café Press, where people upload designs, and other people can order it put on t-shirt, signs, stationary, and the like. So no one from Zazzle actually designed that sign. They have several million designs and acknowledge that they do not review any designs at time of upload. Depending on circumstances, they will take items down for copyright infringement, or at their sole discretion. So you can lodge a complaint about the design to them if you want, and they are quite likely to take it down.

      • It’s definitely protected. The exception you are thinking about is “incitement” which requires the speech to be directed to inciting imminent lawless action. This sign, and I’d say just about any sign, would fail to fall into this exception, it simply can’t satisfy the imminence test.

        So yes, I agree it might as well have a “p.s. I’m an asshole” appended to it, but I’m afraid if you took that case on a contingency you’d probably be anti-SLAPP’d out of court in most states, and would just lose in others. I think this is another case where law and ethics diverges, and I also don’t think that’s really a bad result.

        • I’m not arguing a criminal act at all. I think it’s a tort. It could cause fear and anxiety, and qualify as the intentional infliction of emotional distress, for example. Would you make the same argument if the sign disclosed the combination of a neighbor’s safe?

          • I think the safe combo is distinguishable. I’d say it’s probably covered by some torts and in some states statute, but probably not IIED. I have a tough time seeing a situation where a sign would constitute IIED.

            Civil suits are still subject to first amendment protections. It’s a high bar to get past to show that someone caused you harm by exercising rights protected by the first amendment. I’d say this is a prototypical case for an Anti-SLAPP because the speech is, at least arguably, political, making the speech subject to broader protections. I’d say the sign comes off as rhetorical moreso than an actual statement of fact…would a criminal really be inclined to act in reliance on the sign’s promises?

            Assuming the sign were a statement of fact, and criminals would so rely, what I think is a little ironic (I never know if I am using this word properly, but I’ll go out on a limb here), is the question in this post proves the point the sign maker undoubtedly wants to make. One of the many theories offered in defense of gun rights is that the idea that any individual may be armed acts as a deterrent to people committing crimes. Banning all guns removes that deterrent. By notifying potential criminals that an individual homeowner who wants to ban all guns doesn’t own guns, all the sign is doing is subjecting that homeowner to the very scenario that he seeks. Is it reasonable for him to feel emotional distress, unsafe, or threatened, simply because he is being put in the situation he so desires?

            • All the cases I can find involve derogatory signs, not signs that invite crimes or violence. I would be unsettled by such signs. I would expect my neighbor to be.

              But your point about it getting extra leeway as political speech is a good one, and may indeed be decisive.

              • I am curious what you think about the latter part. If I am demanding banning all guns, which would necessarily put the world on notice I don’t own them (assuming I am a law abiding citizen), can I reasonably be disturbed by a sign notifying people I don’t currently have guns? Is it ethical to demand the benefit of my neighbor’s currently-held right when I am trying to get that right taken away?

                • Well, to begin with, I disagree with the assumption that wanting to ban guns necessarily announces that you don’t have one, any more than supporting the Second Amendment means that you do have one.

                  • If guns were banned, you would presumably not own one. So the situation he is calling for is one in which everyone would be on notice he doesn’t have one, not necessarily that he currently doesn’t have one.

                    • He would also apparently be under the delusion that if they were banned, nobody could shoot him.

                      What you wrote was: If I am demanding banning all guns, which would necessarily put the world on notice I don’t own them (assuming I am a law abiding citizen), can I reasonably be disturbed by a sign notifying people I don’t currently have guns?

                      And yes, you could, because without said sign there would be no reason for even those aware of your position to assume that you were not armed anyway.

                      My father, decorated WWII hero, hated guns, and would have banned them if he could. He also kept at least four that I know of in the house. And he was a good shot.

                      He would regard that sign as a threat to the safety of his family.

                  • Would it be weird if all guns were banned, and the secret service no longer had guns to protect the president? Would they use whips or knives or what would they use? Would the president be okay with being protected from thugs running around with guns, by guys that just carried knives? I bet he’d frown on the situation.

  2. From what I remember of Ken White’s series on true threats, I’m pretty sure that’s protected speech. While the implications of the sign are clear, it doesn’t literally tell anybody to do anything illegal, and even if it did, it’s pretty clearly intended as satire to make a political point. Dick move, but probably not a crime.

    • I’m not that sure. I’ve tried to find a case on point. So far, no luck. There’s material difference between a threat (“I sure wish someone would kill the jackass next to me”)and creating a dangerous situation. “That house has a lot of jewelry in it, no alarms, no gun and no dog.” I think this sign arguably creates a dangerous situation

  3. This is the 2nd Amendment version of the classic T-Shirt: “I’m with stupid.”

    It is a joke; or it is true; or it is a trap, as that house has no guns, but the neighbor is armed to the teeth.

    -Jut

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