Former Agent: Gun-Toters Creating 'Atmosphere of Danger' for Obama

As many as 12 people openly carrying guns showed up at President Barack Obama’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix, Arizona, on Monday, adding to concerns about the recent trend of private citizens bringing weapons to presidential appearances.

Those people are “creating an atmosphere that could be dangerous to the president,” a former Secret Service agent told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Monday night.

Joseph Petro, author of Standing Next to History, a memoir of life in the Secret Service, told viewers of The Rachel Maddow Show that these types of incidents were not something the Secret Service typically encountered — until now.

And Petro laid some of the blame with the politicians and pundits who have whipped parts of the public into a frenzy over health care reform. “I would argue that the vitriolic political rhetoric we’re hearing from seemingly responsible people is stimulating a lot of these foolish stunts,” Petro said.

Bringing guns to political rallies “could incite or encourage one of those individuals at the [political] fringe [into] doing something dangerous or perhaps violent against the president,” he said. “Maybe the politicians should look at lowering some of the rhetoric to try to create a more positive atmosphere.”

On CNN Monday, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein said: “I’ve been doing this [covering political rallies] for almost 40 years now and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Klein argued that, just as there are limits to First Amendment protections in order to maintain public safety, there should be limits to Second Amendment rights for the same reasons.

“There should be a Second Amendment equivalent of the First Amendment’s shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater,” he said. “There is a right to bear arms, but there’s also a right to protect the president and a right to sanity. This is clearly getting quite out of hand. In general what we’ve seen in the past month is pretty frightening.”

Added Klein: “We’ve seen the celebration of ignorance and misinformation in this health care battle, and this — more than almost any other issue I can think of — is one where we need to be clear-headed.”

This video is from CNN’s Rick Sanchez, uploaded to YouTube by TalkingPointsMemo, August 17, 2009:

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