Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sticker stock

I'm not big on plastering stickers all over my car, turning it into some sort of rolling billboard. I'm more than capable of speaking for myself.

There is, however, one sticker on the rear window of my daily driver:


According to Plutarch, "Μολὼν λαβέ" -- or, "Come and take them!" -- was the response of Spartan King Leonidas to Xerxes of Persia at Thermopylae. Xerxes, whose forces greatly outnumbered the Spartans, had offered to spare the lives of Leonidas and his warriors if they laid down their weapons and surrendered.

In military history, "Μολὼν λαβέ" is equivalent to U.S. General Anthony McAuliffe's reply -- "Nuts!" -- to a German commander's invitation to surrender at Bastogne during World War II. And in the face of repeated attacks on American citizens' Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, "Μολὼν λαβέ" has become a latter-day "sign of the fish" (ἰχθύς) among defenders of the Second Amendment.

The significance of the sticker on my car is no secret in our home -- the subject of Second Amendment rights often comes up around the family dinner table -- but I was a bit surprised when our older spawn asked my permission to put an identical sticker on his own car.

I was instantly proud of his desire to express support for our right to keep and bear arms, but it didn't take me long to envision that sticker prompting school authorities to consider him a threat to safety and security -- constitutionally guaranteed free speech is one thing, post-Columbine reality another, and Μολὼν λαβέ could be perceived as a dare, a taunt, a prelude to school violence.

So, with that explanation, I said "no" to our spawn's request. Predictably, he didn't understand my logic, but he accepted my decision and left the room disappointed.

Not wanting to squash completely our spawn's apparent enthusiasm for the principle, I spoke with my wife about proposing an alternative to the Μολὼν λαβέ sticker. She liked the idea, and we summoned him back into the room.

We told him that if he wanted to put a National Rifle Association sticker on his car, he'd have our complete and unequivocal support -- but since only NRA members can rightfully display such an emblem, he'd first have to become a member (dues paid with his own money, of course). His choice.

He joined the NRA online before his head hit the pillow that night.

Now he's doing more than just making a shallow (if sincere) statement with adhesive-backed vinyl -- he's invested, literally, in the defense of our Second Amendment rights. His investment also creates incentives and opportunities for education, giving him a better chance of becoming an informed advocate.

And the world has one less poseur.