Read: Seven autumns of mourning in Newtown
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.
Politicians, ironically, have played up the insurrectionist argument for guns, in part because it’s what the ardent pro-gun voting bloc, having been primed by the NRA and its allies, wants to hear—and it drives them reliably to the polls. Soon after Sandy Hook, Senator Tom Coburn echoed Napolitano, saying the purpose of the Second Amendment was to “create a force to balance tyrannical force.” On its face, this sounds preposterous: How can armed citizens—even with assault rifles—“balance” our government should it lapse tyrannical? The U.S. government has tanks and drones and missiles at its disposal, after all.
David A. Graham: The insurrectionists would like you to know that they’re the real victims
Gun-rights extremists are hardly cowed by the prospect of facing the U.S. military. A popular essay that made the rounds in gun-rights circles a few years back is titled “Armed Revolution Possible, Not So Difficult.” Where on earth did the author—Bill Bridgewater, the former director of the National Alliance of Stocking Gun Dealers—get this preposterous notion? From the Vietnam War. Bridgewater contends that the North Vietnamese demonstrated how ordinary citizens with little more than assault rifles could topple the world’s most sophisticated army. Never mind the fact that the U.S. lost the war for many complex reasons; for their efforts, the North Vietnamese endured immense suffering.