08/24/2009 09:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ballot Box vs. Box of Bullets

With a loaded AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle strung casually over his shoulder, a 9-millimeter Beretta pistol strapped to hip, and a bullet clip in his back pocket, Christopher Broughton stood yards from our president at a rally in Arizona this past week. Who was this person, and what was his goal in showing up looking like a character from Kill Bill Volume 2? Perhaps his goal was to show that he was not a fan of Present Obama's health insurance reform? Or perhaps Christopher armed himself to show that he had the right to carry the weapon? Was President Obama's rally even about gun ownership? Regardless, the presence of an obviously armed attendee endangers the president and potentially chills free speech and free assembly.

Having worked at the White House, and on a Senate campaign with the former First Lady (now Secretary of State), I have supreme confidence in the power, prowess and capability of the Secret Service to protect President Obama. One way to be identified in a crowd at a presidential rally is to carry a semi-automatic rifle and handgun. From the moment he was within the perimeter of the event, if not before, I imagine he was being monitored. Far more dangerous is the unknown would-be assassin, not advertising their agenda like a neon night in Vegas. How much effort from limited police resources was spent baby-sitting this likely harmless fellow, as opposed to looking for real threats to the president?

What strikes me as more dangerous, still, is the public's reaction -- or lack thereof. Where is the public outrage? The United States has lurched through the dramatic and abrupt early end of a presidency a number of times. It is a crippling period of disruption and public convulsion. As a nation we use the ballot box, not a box of bullets to judge the policies of a president or any elected leader. That is our strength, our brand that we export to the rest of the world. Yet, here was a man with a semi-automatic assault rifle hanging off his shoulder at a presidential rally on health care -- and there was not a serious murmur about a law, rule or regulation that might exempt our national leader from such assertions and threats.

As serious is the potential chilling effect this would have with public discourse. What if fifty people had shown up with semi-automatic assault rifles? A hundred? Would non-weapon bearing people come out to a town hall with their Congressional representative or president? If they did show up, how loud would you yell at someone with a loaded weapon on the other side of the debate? The country seems unable to draw a reasonable limit on the exercise of a right for the collective good.

Positions about the Second Amendment aside, surely the nation can agree that the sanctity of the life of the president is beyond partisanship, rhetoric or demagoguery. The muted reaction of Congress, the news media and the public is the most troubling sign yet of an inexplicable fear about confronting an obvious problem with a moderate solution. I would propose that no one gets to carry a gun anywhere near a president unless they work for the president. This fellow was carrying his arsenal to threaten and intimidate, not to express a position on health insurance reform. This matter is not about policies on the Second Amendment or whether you agree with the president's health insurance reform, its about our national fidelity to the idea of politics by democracy, not politics by guns and intimidation.

In the future, if you want to prove a point about the Second Amendment, please break out some sign boards and sharpies -- words have never killed presidents.