Maine family posts 'Black Rifles Matter' sign, sparking outrage

A Maine family put a 'Black Rifles Matter' sign on private property. Is it offensive?

Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
Different types of rifles are displayed at Wyss Waffen gun shop in the town of Burgdorf, Switzerland August 10, 2016.

A family in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, has been criticized for a sign on their lawn reading "Black Rifles Matter," sparking debate over First Amendment rights in the US. 

The sign has been criticized by some who say that the play on words referencing the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests police brutality against black Americans, is offensive to passersby and should be removed. But its defenders argue that the sign is on private property and therefore protected by the owner's civil liberties. 

"There have been some people that have asked me to take the sign down and I don't respond to that very well," Linc Sample, the man who put up the sign, told CBS affiliate WGME. "It's my property, it's my sign." 

The sign, Mr. Sample says, is meant to protest bans on assault-style weapons, not to send a message about the Black Lives Matter movement. But many have interpreted the statement as the latter, and aren't happy about it.

"People are ignorant; they shouldn't be putting things out like that," Paul Mayor, a visitor to Boothbay Harbor from Connecticut, told New England Cable News (NECN). "It's taking a shot obviously at Black Lives Matter." 

Boothbay Region Chamber of Commerce director Rick Prose and town manager Thomas Woodin told NECN that there had been some official complaints lodged by visitors to the region, with some even cutting their vacations short because of the sign. But, Mr. Woodin points out, Sample has all the proper permits for the sign, and its message is protected by his First Amendment rights to free speech. 

"There isn't much the town can do about it," Woodin said. 

Those who are opposed to the sign's message say that the play on words is harmful in making light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Y'all really think our systematic oppression is a joke, don't y'all?" wrote one Twitter user with the handle @blackboyfly.

But in larger discussions of free speech versus offensive language, some argue that controversial statements deemed politically incorrect are necessary to spur conversations on sensitive – and important – topics such as racism. 

"The only way we will, as a nation, solve problems of race, religion, homosexuality ... is to avoid turning ... these issues into a 'third rail' such that expression of a prohibited view ... kills a career or endangers one's position," Harvey Silverglate, an attorney and civil liberties advocate in Cambridge, Mass., told The Christian Science Monitor in 2014. "Race problems require truly free speech and free thought to solve them, not the hypocrisy of political correctness."

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