The NRA’s leadership embraces an insurrectionist ideology that asserts that the intent of the second amendment is to permit American citizens to shoot and kill federal agents and law enforcement officers in the event that they believe those agents are attempting to facilitate or impose some form of government tyranny. This dangerous doctrine, that flirts with committing treason, is the cornerstone of the gun lobby’s opposition to any and all forms of gun control. This ideology is explicitly expressed by many of the NRA’s congressional supporters. For example, freshman Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida, an NRA endorsed candidate in 2012, refusing to yield any concessions on gun control, recently told a reporter that it was the birthright of every American to have “the same equipment as the military.” Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre argued that, “without any doubt” Americans need the firepower to fight back against the government if government agents come knocking at the door. In 2009, at the CPAC Convention, LaPierre stated bluntly that “Our Founding Fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules.”
In 2010, Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle nearly voiced thinly veiled approval for the assassination of her Democratic opponent, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, when she stated that “If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” The same year, Allen West’s future chief of staff bluntly remarked “If ballots don’t work, bullets will.” Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann insisted in 2009, that she wanted her constituents “armed and dangerous” to fight an energy tax bill
The most frightening part about this insurrectionist ideology is that the people who adhere to it, already believe we are living under tyranny or headed rapidly in that direction. With this in mind, many of them already contend that the time for armed insurrection is now or at least it is coming very soon. For example, the day after Barack Obama’s historic election victory in 2008, NRA board member and former Montana sheriff Jay Printz authored a blog post that stated menacingly, “Well, my friends, it looks like we had better put in a good supply of powder and lead!!!!” and on the same day he posted an image that stated, “When they come for your guns…give them your bullets!”
In 2011, Schaeffer Cox, head of the Second Amendment Task Force and the Alaska Peacemakers Militia was arrested with four of his followers and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, and arson. He was sentenced to a 25 year prison term. Cox believed the US was sliding into tyranny and he bragged, incorrectly I might add, that he and his supporters had the government “outmanned and outgunned.” Cox’s petition to justify overthrowing the US government was signed by NRA board member and Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young.
In March of 2012, a Republican Committee county chair in Virginia published a newsletter that exemplifies the insurrectionist philosophy of the gun lobby and the Republican far right. The newsletter argued that America under Obama was so tyrannical that if he could not be voted out in November, armed insurrection would become necessary. It read, in part, “We have before us a challenge to remove an ideologue unlike anything world history has ever witnessed or recognized … The ultimate task for the people is to remain vigilant and aware that the government, their government, is out of control, and this moment, this opportunity, must not be forsaken, must not escape us, for we shall not have any coarse [sic] but armed revolution should we fail with the power of the vote in November. This Republic cannot survive for 4 more years underneath this political socialist ideologue.”
This year, the Wisconsin branch of the NRA circulated a newsletter calling for armed revolt against the US government. The newsletter argued that “elections are not the solution to our problem; elections are the problem” and it called for toppling the US government. When the definition of tyranny extends to a democratically elected president, and elections are defined as the problem rather than a solution, the strident voices calling for armed rebellion are not patriots but rather they are more akin to traitors ready and willing to betray the democracy we live in to pursue their own selfish and misguided ends.
Nobody has expressed the NRA’s insurrectionist philosophy more eloquently than board member, serial convicted wildlife poacher and “past his prime” misogynist rock musician Ted Nugent, who while hoisting two machine guns on stage during a concert screamed with unbridled hostility “Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary! You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.” Nugent concluded his vicious hate-filled rant by shouting the word “freedom!”
Rejecting insurrectionist guerrilla war fantasies and restoring reason to the gun debate
The debate over regulating guns is a contentious one and a necessary one in a functioning democracy. Individuals have a right to self-protection and to recreational hunting and target shooting. However, neither self-protection nor recreation require unlimited access to military grade weapons, and citizens have a right to a reasoned debate on what gun law reforms might be necessary in the wake of tremendous tragedies like the Aurora theater shooting, the Sikh temple murders and the Sandy Hook massacre. Such difficult debates warrant a public discussion on the merits of gun legislation and what measures can be done to improve public safety without violating the constitutional rights of American citizens.
Reason does not however dictate that we continue to indulge the paranoid rantings and delusional fantasies of militant fanatics whose grasp of reality is so thin that they make comparisons between Barack Obama and tyrants like Adolf Hitler, with no sense of irony and no acknowledgement of hyperbole. In these twisted fantasies, any attempt to curtail any type of weaponry or to require any type of background check is tantamount to tyranny. No government agency is intent on disarming the American citizenry simply by advocating a few sensible pieces of legislation designed to curb gun violence. The idea that the US federal government is determined to disarm and enslave us, has no credible evidence on its side. The fact that gun-toting ideologues can not distinguish between a text like “Mein Kampf” and a text like “The Audacity of Hope”, is but one of the flaws of the insurrrectionist line of thinking. Passing an energy tax, raising corporate income taxes or enacting an expansion of government assistance for health care does not constitute tyranny. Setting a limit on magazine sizes no more leads down the slippery slope to gun confiscation than setting a speed limit leads to automobile confiscation.
The notion that citizens need to have military style weaponry to fight their government implies that the government is intent on waging war on the citizenry, a notion that is on the surface absurd. Yes, our government does sometimes violate the civil liberties of some of the nation’s citizens and we as a nation must collectively be vigilant in fighting government excesses. However, the paranoid fantasy that we need to resist our government by force or that the idea that any one citizen has the right or the ability to wage war on the government and win is simply lunacy.
President Obama has not committed his Munich Beer Hall Putsch nor instigated his version of Krystallnacht, and any suggestion that this nation’s government is on a march to disarm the population and enslave us in concentration camps because we do not have enough AR-15s at our disposal is not a serious argument and it does not belong in a reasonable debate among women and men deciding the future of our nation. The fact that a powerful gun lobby’s board of directors and their allies in Congress embrace such nonsensical paranoia is not sufficient reason to treat their arguments as if they hold intellectual merit, no matter how often they are repeated on the cable news networks.
If the men and women in the NRA leadership and their Congressional supporters want to fantasize about waging guerrilla warfare against the federal government they have the freedom to do that and nobody has yet taken the guns away from Wayne LaPierre, Ted Nugent or Don Young despite their incendiary rhetoric. However, when they throw their tantrums and launch rhetorical firebombs at the government, we do not have to accept their claims of patriotism and let them wrap those arguments in the American flag. In a functioning democracy, armed insurrection is not a form of patriotism it is treason and the NRA leadership is flirting with treason when they embrace paranoid insurrectionist fantasies and abandon all reason in the process. It is time we call it what it is and stop treating such arguments as intellectually valid or morally defensible.
By: Keith Darling-Brekhus