JEFFERSON CITY, MO. A Missouri state lawmaker wants to legalize physical force against those who desecrate the American flag, saying the nation's symbol "deserves more respect than the protest message of some liberal hippie."
Rep. Sam Gaskill, R-Washburn, and a former Vietnam fighter pilot, defended his bill Monday, insisting the measure would prevent the defilement of an important symbol rather than promote violence.
"You should be able to take hold of the flag and take it off the ground and rescue it," Gaskill said. "If the guy doesn't want to let go of it or he swings back then the person ought to fight back."
Asked if the bill would allow someone to take aggressive action against another person, Gaskill said: "I'm sure they could."
A similar bill sponsored last year by Gaskill failed to escape committee. This year's version was filed as part of Missouri's legislative pre-filing period that opened Friday. The Legislature convenes Jan. 3 and runs through May 18.
Gaskill's latest effort would allow the use of physical force if "the person reasonably believes" such force is necessary to prevent "the defilement or dishonorable destruction" of the flag.
A person using such physical force could not be charged with theft or assault under the bill, which does not allow for the use of deadly force.
Marsha Richeson, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union's Missouri operations, fears the bill would end up "encouraging violence and lawlessness." She added that peaceful protest "has been, of course, dear to Americans since the beginning of the country."
Gaskill said his bill attempts to accomplish what Congress seemingly can't constitutional protection of the flag.
In March, a U.S. Senate attempt to give the American flag constitutional protections fell short, with supporters failing to move dug-in opponents who said the measure would crimp free speech.