The Gun-Rights Movement Fed America’s Insurrectionist Fever DreamsRoundup
tags: far right, Second Amendment, guns, gun rights, National Rifle Association, Capitol Riot
FIRMIN DEBRABANDER is a professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art and the author of Do Guns Make Us Free? and Life After Privacy.
Much of the blame for last week’s horrific assault on the Capitol lies with the president and his allies; that much is clear. But another force in society has done more than its part, inculcating insurrectionist fantasies in the American mind for decades: the gun-rights movement.
Since the 1990s, the idea that Americans would need to band together and violently overthrow the government has been the key to establishing and expanding the market for guns. It has also been used to justify citizens’ right to march around in public with assault rifles slung casually over a shoulder or hoisted high at angry protests. The argument for self-defense only goes so far, you see. If people want a gun to defend themselves and their family, then handguns will do—and preferably small ones, which you can easily store or conceal, so as not to invite aggression. And a self-defense argument largely limits guns to the household; that’s where you would be most intent on protecting your family, after all. This was not good enough for gun manufacturers eager to sell absurdly powerful firearms, such as semiautomatic rifles, which are properly at home on the battlefield.
After the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, when a man slaughtered first graders with a semiautomatic rifle, the stage seemed set for an assault-rifle ban. The public-health case against them was strong: Semiautomatic rifles are designed to kill lots of people in a matter of seconds. They have no place in civil society.
But gun-rights advocates were busy making gun ownership about something else entirely: freedom—specifically freedom from incipient tyranny. If you, or we, are faced with looming autocratic rule and the destruction of our fundamental liberties, then public safety is hardly a concern. Weeks after the Sandy Hook shooting, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre told Congress that our Founders enshrined the right to bear arms in the Constitution because “they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again.” Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America was more blunt: “Our guns are in our hands for people like those in government right now that think they wanna go tyrannical on us, we’ve got something for ‘em.”
Conservative commentators echoed them. Andrew Napolitano, for example, quickly dismissed public-health and practical concerns over assault rifles: “Today, the limitations on the power and precision of the guns we can lawfully own … [assures] that a tyrant can more easily disarm and overcome us. The historical reality of the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms is not that it protects the right to shoot deer. It protects the right to shoot tyrants, and it protects the right to shoot at them effectively, with the same instruments they would use upon us.”
With arguments like these, the gun-rights movement cleared the path for insurrection. It blew a hole in the rule of law—and Donald Trump’s would-be soldiers clamored through it. And then scaled the walls of Congress.
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