Joshua Horwitz: "Second Amendment Remedies"
[Joshua Horwitz, J.D., is Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Mr. Horwitz is a graduate of the University of Michigan and received his law degree from the George Washington University. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the co-author of a book, Guns, Democracy and the Insurrectionist Idea, that was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2009. Mr. Horwitz has spent nearly two decades working on gun violence prevention issues.]
Shortly after Second Amendment rallies took place in the Washington, D.C. area in April, I blogged about how the Republican Party is increasingly becoming co-opted by Tea Party activists that believe they have a constitutional right to use firearms to counter the results of our democratic process. Since then, Tea Party candidates with extreme views on the Second Amendment have achieved victories at the polls, winning the Republican nomination in two high-profile U.S. Senate races.
On May 18, Tea Party darling and lifetime National Rifle Association (NRA) member Rand Paul made national news when he won the Republican nomination for the Senate in Kentucky. Paul was already well known for his strong Libertarian views and lineage (he is the son of U.S. Representative and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul). But he -- inadvertently -- elevated his profile even further when he came out publicly against a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prevents private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race.
That Paul would criticize such important and longstanding federal protections was disturbing enough. But to make his position more palatable on the Rachel Maddow Show -- at least in his mind -- he suggested that his interpretation of the Constitution would also allow business owners to keep gun-carrying individuals off their property. For all practical purposes, Paul elevated individuals who elect to carry loaded guns outside their homes to the same protected class as race, gender or ethnicity. Paul proposes to give people who pick up a gun the same special legal status as Americans who were being sold as property just 150 years ago. Since when did gun-toters become an heir to that legacy?
It wasn't long, however, before another Tea Party candidate eclipsed Paul in the headlines. On June 8, Sharron Angle won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Nevada, setting her up for a showdown with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the November elections.
Angle is known for a number of bizarre statements and policy positions, but of perhaps greatest concern is her advocacy for armed insurrection. In January, she told conservative radio show talk host Lars Larson the following,"You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that's not where we're going, but, you know, 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." She reiterated this idea just two weeks ago, telling the Reno Gazette-Journal that a recent increase in gun sales nationwide"tells me that the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn't that they are so distrustful of government? They're afraid they'll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways ... If we don't win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?"
This notion that gun owners are super-citizens with the right to violently overturn elected government was given the National Rifle Association's intellectual imprimatur at their national convention last month in Charlotte. 2012 Republican presidential nominee hopeful Newt Gingrich was called in to make it clear that"the Second Amendment is in defense of freedom from the State."
In Gingrich's revisionist version of history,"The Founding Fathers were all warriors." Not only is that statement patently untrue (many of our Founding Fathers never fought in the Revolutionary War), but it also conveniently ignores the fact that two of the greatest soldiers in our country's formative years -- generals George Washington and Alexander Hamilton -- were ardent Federalists with little patience for those seeking"freedom from the State." Washington rode out at the head of 13,000 militia to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion after citizens in western Pennsylvania threatened violence in response to an unpopular federal excise tax. Later, Washington made it clear that,"the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government."
The notion that Washington or any of our Founding Fathers would have seen democratically-enacted laws as the pretext for violent revolution is both groundless and irresponsible. Furthermore, as MSNBC host Chris Matthews noted on June 16 in his assessment of America's"New Right":"What's scary today is the language being thrown about. Words have consequences. You cannot call a president's policies 'un-American' as Sarah Palin has done; or refer to the elected government as a 'regime,' as Rush Limbaugh persists in doing; or the president as 'a foreign usurper,' as the Birthers do; without giving license on some day to real trouble. This April was the 15th anniversary of Oklahoma City. It is well to consider what happens when people act on what they hear, when the hatred of our own elected government becomes explosive."
If Matthews is right, and more violence is coming, the Republican Party has two options: 1) Firmly denounce the ridiculous idea that there are"Second Amendment remedies" to questions of policy, or; 2) Own up to their role as co-conspirators in the rising level of insurrectionist violence we see in our country today.
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