The paradox in limiting speech in any way - including "threats" is that there are lines of distinction between credible threats and people blowing off steam.
That isn't a paradox. I would agree that some statements are clearly threats, some are clearly not, but there are statements that are ambiguous, whose intent are not so easy to determine. Determining if it is a real threat involves determining the state of mind of a person - and that is often going to be subjective. No way around it - that is simply the reality we live in. If someone chooses to interact with others in a way that comes across as threatening, they need to take responsibility for their choice of words.
so why do we need new laws against "perceived" threats? or worse, against symbols....
when you get into the subjective (perceived) you have gone to far.
All words are symbols - they are just vibrations of the air, or ink on paper. But they also carry meaning - that is where the problems arise, because language symbols are often imprecise. If someone says something that can reasonably be interpreted as a threat, it can be a problem, even if they are not seriously threatening someone. If someone says they are going to harm you, you might laugh it off if it is an old friend joking around or a comedian imitating a mobster. On the other hand, if you perceive it as a real threat, you are justified in using force to protect yourself - up to the point of killing the other person in some cases. And how you react may be judged by a jury - if they think your perception is valid, you will not suffer any penalty, but if they believe that your perceptions leading to self defense were irrational, you might lose your freedom and possessions.
A classic case is the guy who shot a trick-or-treater who was cutting through his yard. Said he told the kid to leave, the kid was wearing a pumpkin on his head, the kid didn't speak much English, it was dark. The kid kept walking, the man shot, and the jury found him not-guilty. Tragic loss of life? Yes. But the man had a right to protect himself, he said he perceived a threat, the jury agreed with him. Other juries have dealt with similar cases in different ways, finding that the homeowner was too quick to shoot, didn't have enough of a basis to act. Would hate to be on such a jury - its all about the subjective mind of the shooter, what he really knew, what he felt, and what he should have felt.
And are you suggesting that we should not take military action against perceived threats? That the police should not un-holster and possibly use their weapons when they perceive a threat against them? Really?? Very few military or police responses can be said to be objective. Yet we still have a military, we still have police, and they interact with people every day in a subjective fashion. Most of the time there is no problem, but someone who jokes about grabbing a policeman's gun or having a bomb on an airplane might not get the laff they expected. Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but wanted Iran and other countries to think he did ... that bluff cost him after 9-11, even though he never directly threatened the United States. He was perceived as a threat.
no amount of legislation protects from nuts.
Not sure about that. A relative has food allergies, and her safety has been noticeably enhanced by laws that require food products to indicate when they may contain traces of nuts. :evil:
You are right that no one can abolish violence with a stroke of the legislative pen. But legislation can facilitate the investigation of people who really are threatening people who work for the government, and encourage other people to choose their words more carefully so they aren't wrongfully perceived as threats. I've heard it said that "An armed populace is perforce a polite one." Guess what? The government is made of people and they are armed too, government people are being shot by nuts, and anyone who makes a statement that might be perceived as a threat is going to get some special attention - regardless of whether this law passes or not, regardless of who controls the White House or Congress. It isn't about liberal or conservative, it is about responsible behavior and the consequences of making threats.