Despite the sincere and sustained attempts by the people of Newtown to have serious discussions about the many issues that have come eddying into the public realm from the deeply personal grief and shock of the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook School, the continuing conversation has been intermittently interrupted by those more interested in provocation than progress toward understanding and consensus. The most recent instance of this was a robocall generated by the National Rifle Association, urging state residents to tell their legislators “to oppose any legislation that tramples on your Second Amendment rights and inhibits your inherent right to self-defense.” The NRA’s blunderbuss, tin-eared approach blanketed Newtown with the calls. Ours is perhaps the one town in the nation that needs no reminder to have and express an opinion on the issue of gun control. But in the roiling gun debate, such sensitivities are quickly lost.
Regardless of what one might think of the NRA robocall — and we have yet to find anyone who cherished those moments spent with the unnamed NRA flack at the dinner hour — the affront of having politics pushed into our homes through our telephones continues because, alas, politicians make the laws. Forget that the national and state do-not-call registries offer few protections from auto-dial sales pitches by private companies who find it more lucrative to shrug and apologize on those rare occasions when they are prosecuted than to seek opt-in permissions beforehand. Political robocalls, however, are perfectly legal, protected on First Amendment grounds by the politicians themselves, whose robust freedom of speech never seems to leave room for anyone else’s edgewise word.
The indignation over the NRA robocall has been spread pretty thick. It was tone-deaf, ill-timed, and an easy target for those politicians seeking to ridicule the ham-handed tactics of the NRA. What they may have missed, however, is that most people are indignant at having to answer, or deftly avoid, these kinds of political calls in their own homes no matter what the cause or crusade. Political junk mail is easily recycled. DVRs allow us to fast forward through the worst of the election season. But robocalls intrude on our lives in a particularly irritating way.
Why can’t our legislators can take some of that excess indignation over the NRA call and apply it to a greater affront: the continuing proliferation of political robocalls of every sort? Convincing politicians to abridge their right to deliver their opinions by every technology available to every last unwilling ear may seem as fruitless as asking the NRA to put down its guns. But it just may be possible to combat the robocall with the personal call — to every legislator who will answer the phone. The message can be short and sweet: Don’t call us, we’ll call you.