Commentary: Guns, taunts shouldn't halt health care debate

The debate in Congress over how to reform health care coverage in the United States has drawn intense interest and passion. Members of Congress — from Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, to Wally Herger, R-Chico, to Dan Lungren, R-Gold River — are seeing hundreds, even thousands of people at town hall meetings, with opponents of reform proposals outnumbering proponents.

Such dissent is what First Amendment guarantees of free speech, peaceable assembly and petitioning government for a redress of grievances are all about. Even angry, intolerant speech is a constitutional right.

But civility, respect and persuasion are another matter. Those who care about the outcome of the health care issue should not allow the shouters to intimidate them into silence or staying at home.

In particular, Americans ought not to allow themselves to be intimidated by guns at public forums — which have turned up in New Hampshire, Arizona and other places. In a press release titled, "WEARING THEIR RIGHTS ON THEIR HIPS; Gun Advocates Attend Town Halls Openly Armed," the Gun Owners of America actually encourages guns at rallies as "an opportunity for Americans to push back a little harder against the tide of big government."

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.