WITH AN ESTIMATED 300 million guns already in circulation—and the Damoclean sword of the Second Amendment overhanging all debate—even Americans most aggrieved by the Oregon massacre or the on-air killing of those two Virginia journalists sense the futility of seeking an outright gun ban.
So the discussion devolves instead to the more modest, conciliatory proposition: How do we keep guns out of the hands of the mentally disturbed?
That even the normally obstructionist NRA is on-board here is both telling and ironic. Telling because the organization regards the likes of Chris Harper-Mercer or Roanoke shooter Vester Flanagan as useful and diverting scapegoats. Ironic because, while the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby have shrewdly branded themselves as the “good guys with a gun” who stand, intrepid, between the rest of us and mayhem, the most cursory look past their sloganeering may cause you to reconsider your definition of “disturbed.” The pro-gun movement itself is steeped in a dangerous, insurrectionist paranoia that upholds the legitimacy of a bullet-based defense of personal sovereignty via rhetoric that is (a) way right of the Tea Party and (b) not all that different in tone from the “manifestos” left behind by some of America's more notorious recent massacrists.
The chief flag waver for such thinking is Wayne LaPierre, head of the 4 million-member National Rifle Association. It was LaPierre who once labeled federal agents “jack-booted government thugs.” In point of fact, that was March 1995, or one month before Timothy McVeigh laid waste to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The intervening decades—despite their mounting gun carnage—have only emboldened LaPierre. His June rant for the NRA's house organ, American Rifleman, stoked fear of a central bureaucracy that poses grave danger to all who value freedom. He suggested that private gun ownership is vital in case armed rebellion becomes necessary, and stopped just short of inciting violence against President Obama himself. In a column that would be hard to pack more densely with revolution-tinged sound bites, LaPierre decried the “relentless ramping up of President Barack Obama’s rogue agenda to destroy our unique American freedoms.” He observed that
President Obama has put his “lawless executive actions into overdrive to carry out his vendetta against our civil rights” and “has become a dangerous and desperate loose cannon on the deck of the ship of state.”In LaPierre's view, the “outlaw” Obama administration prosecutes its malfeasance through the “totally corrupt U.S. Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service, weaponized to destroy political opposition.” (Not to mention Obama's “takeover of the Internet.”) He went on to observe that if presumptive Democratic contender Hillary Clinton were to win the White House, today's “lawless bureaucracy” would “metastasize,” enforced by a “guerrilla army of gun-ban ideologues.” LaPierre closed by reminding his audience that “more than 100 million gun owners need to see a threat to their guns, but they also need to perceive a larger threat to what this country is all about.”
So you see? Obama and Hillary are the rogues, the outlaws. They're the ones on the wrong side of the American Dream, the ones who needs to be reined in...or worse? (Obama even alluded to this mindset during his intense post-Oregon speech.)
This is not mere political opposition. It's the building of a case for why Obama and his philosophical allies embody the very circumstances under which citizens are empowered by the Second Amendment to “take back” their country.
Nor is this a one-man crusade. Larry Pratt, president of Gun Owners of America (300,000 members) makes LaPierre sound subtle. He recently told a radio audience, “The Second Amendment was designed for people just like the president and his administration. Our guns are in our hands for people like those in our government right now that think they wanna go tyrannical on us.” Lest anyone miss the point,
Pratt continued, “The Second Amendment is not about hunting, it’s not about target shooting, it’s about Democrats who want to take our rights.”The incendiary rhetoric even has its champions within government itself. Like Pratt, former Texas Rep. Steve Stockman once averred, “The very purpose of the Second Amendment is to stop the government from disallowing people the means to defend themselves against tyranny.” During her failed 2010 bid for Harry Reid's Senate seat, Sharon Angle notoriously called for “second amendment remedies” to counter the “ever-growing tyrannical U.S. Government.” (What else could that possibly mean but revolt?) In opposing a new energy tax in 2012, Rep. Michele Bachmann said she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue.” As that year's election cycle reached its climax, the Virginia Republican Committee called for armed rebellion if Obama won re-election.
Meanwhile, everyday citizens are paying attention. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), we are witnessing a rebirth of the so-called Patriot movement that, during the 1990s, gave America not only Tim McVeigh but such historic rallying cries as Ruby Ridge and Waco. That early movement eventually burned itself out. But in 2012, SPLC documented 1,360 active anti-government Patriot groups—an eight-fold increase over 2008, when it listed just 149 such entities. These groups conduct paramilitary exercises and mock raids. They send out blast emails with ominous titles like “Why Obama Will Not Finish His Second Term.” Moreover, such themes are no longer limited to outliers who live off the grid. A simple Google search yields myriad op-eds and letters-to-the-editor from an informal (but philosophically homogeneous) coalition of dentists, truck drivers and sheriff's deputies. These are not, in other words, the equivalent of Afghanistan's cave-dwelling insurgents, but rather people with landscaped homes, wide-screen TVs and college tuition to pay. They are, quite possibly, your friends and neighbors.
Increasingly, too, anti-government interests maintain loose ties with local branches of respected civic organizations like Kiwanis and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Oath Keepers, recently in the news for their heavily armed presence in Ferguson during the one-year anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting, consist almost entirely of military veterans and present and former cops, says SLPC. The oath they keep is to defy any law that they—answerable only to themselves—deem unconstitutional. Other civic groups that once occupied themselves with the composition of the local school board now have morphed into "sovereign citizen" mini-think-tanks.
It's enough to make one think: With good guys like these...