Jesse Jackson Ally Calls for "Snuffing Out" Gun Store Owner:

The Second Amendment Foundation is complaining about this incident:

Chuck's Gun Shop, 14310 S. Indiana Ave., was the target of the protest [march led by Jesse Jackson]. The protesters blamed Chuck's, which is just across the border from Chicago, for many of the guns on the city's streets....

Jackson and Revs. James Meeks and Michael Pfleger encouraged the crowd to push for stricter gun laws. They vowed that the rally was just the beginning and that civil disobedience was possible....

The SAF reports,

In a stunning audio recording of Pfleger’s remarks, the pastor of St. Sabina’s Church can clearly be heard stating, “John Riggio ... we’re going to find you and snuff you out.” Moments later, Pfleger added, “We’re going to snuff out John Riggio, we’re going to snuff out legislators that are voting ... against our gun laws and we’re coming for you because we are not going to sit idly.”

The SAF argues that this is a death threat, and demands that the Justice Department investigate Pfleger for this.

My sense, from having listened to the audio, is that Pfleger meant "snuff out" as referring to lawfully driving Pfleger out of business using protest and social condemnation. This is a public, peaceful rally. The speaker does not have a history of violence. The surrounding statements relate to political actions. I know of no pro-gun-control violence against gun store owners; a statement such as this might be interpreted differently against the backdrop of such violence.

And of course whether something is intended to be understood, and is likely to be understood, as a threat does turn on context. The newspaper story, for instance, further reports: "About 30 counterprotesters stood outside the store. One man carried a sign that read, 'Jesse — How many armed guards do you have?'" In some situations, "How many armed guards do you have?" might be a threat, suggesting that you don't have enough guards to protect you against my retaliation. In this situation, it pretty clearly means "Isn't it unfair that you employ armed guards, but you're not respectful enough of law-abiding citizens' rights to arm themselves to guard themselves?"

This having been said, "snuff out" does seem like a pretty poor choice of words, since it sometimes means "kill," especially when used about a particular person. "Let's snuff out Jesse Jackson," for instance, would likely convey at least a possibility of physical menace, and a considerably stronger possibility than involved in the "armed guards" statement (which might be interpreted as threatening, but only with a good deal more indirection).

It's ambiguous enough that, in many contexts, people should understand it as likely not being a threat. But the ambiguity also suggests that it may rightly, and needlessly, worry people who think a less benign meaning is intended. Nor is there even the justification that there's something particularly logically or rhetorically apt about the statement that makes it an especially valuable way of conveying the message.

I see little justification in general for trying to drive out of business a particular gun store, at least in the absence of some evidence — and none is mentioned in the newspaper article — that it is somehow unusually lax in, say, checking buyers' backgrounds or stopping obvious straw purchases. That the gun store is particularly near Chicago is hardly justification itself; driving it out of business would simply require criminals to go a little further down the road. But at least there is a plausible argument to be had on these points. There seems to me no justification for putting the debate in terms often associated with murder.

UPDATE: Reader Brett Bellmore suggests that the call might be for illegal "civil disobedience" as well as legal protesting and social pressure; the article says, "Jackson and Revs. James Meeks and Michael Pfleger encouraged the crowd to push for stricter gun laws. They vowed that the rally was just the beginning and that civil disobedience was possible." I hadn't focused on possible civil disobedience against the gun store (I suppose a sit-in at a gun store would be conceivable but rather unusual). But if such action does turn from "possible" to "real," for instance involving blocking the door of the store or some such, then the action would indeed be illegal.