Watching the political fallout from the shootings in Connecticut — and the subsequent gun attacks in Pennsylvania and western New York — there’s one crucial detail that the media isn’t sharing with its audiences.
Again and again, reporters like NBC’s David Gregory ask in a bland and willfully naive sort of way why anyone would defend the need for assault rifles and military style ammunition clips.
But the motivation for preserving the wide availability of these weapons is clear and unambiguous. A significant segment of the conservative movement views them as a necessary check on the power of the Federal government.
Indeed, for many on the right, preserving access to powerful military-style weapons is necessary not to protect people from criminals and mass-murderers.
(How many times have people used a Bushmaster assault rifle to defend their condo or shop from a burglar?)
Instead, the chief utility of these assault rifles and large ammunition clips is to make possible armed resistance to the United States government — or, according to some, the United Nations.
The theory goes that so long as average citizens are armed to the teeth, potential despots (in recent years President Barack Obama has filled this role in the conservative imagination) who would turn America into a tyranny will be held in check.
This fantasy of a war of resistance against shadowy dictators in Washington DC has become a staple for conservatives. In 2010, Mother Jones profiled the growing “resistance” movement that formed after Barack Obama’s election
Activists told the magazine that they feared a day when “President Obama finds some pretext—a pandemic, a natural disaster, a terror attack—to impose martial law, ban interstate travel, and begin detaining citizens en masse.”
That same year, US Senate candidate Sharron Angle talked about the possible need for “Second Amendment remedies” if a conservative political agenda doesn’t prevail in Washington.
Conservative media, in particular, trumpeted the fact that gun sales surged after Obama’s election and again when he was re-elected last month.
Military historians have even role-played what a conflict between the US military and its own armed citizens might look like.
If you think I’m exaggerating, check out this portion of a recent essay by influential conservative columnist Erik Rush, who appeared on Fox News after the shootings in Connecticut to defend free access to military-style weapons.:
It is of the utmost importance that Americans become aware of the dedicated efforts that are being made to transform us from citizens into subjects, and that we are already at war.
This is a war we have not seen the likes of previously and that will challenge notions of war for centuries to come.
Even if we did not have the Second Amendment to stand on, I would still support gun rights, because guns are not the issue – power is.
Next will come edged weapons control, then blunt weapons control, then compulsory periodic assessments of citizens by government psychologists.
There are millions of Americans for whom “it can’t happen here” has been well-inculcated into their worldview; these have been conditioned to operate at the basest of intellectual levels.
They are also the ones who will blindly obey any laws enacted by government, whether these imperceptibly erode their liberties, or require their reporting neighbors to secret police.
There are also Americans – some misguided, some ideologues – who work every day of the week in the cause of compromising our liberties.
They are just as dangerous and criminal as those who would stifle any of the liberties contained in the Bill of Rights.
Rush concludes with the argument that those who disagree with his perspective might need to be, well, killed.
“I suppose suggesting that we shoot them wouldn’t be taken very well,” he writes, “although that is precisely what it came down to 236 years ago.”
This kind of rhetoric is hardly new. In the 1990s, popular conservative talk radio host instructed audiences on the best tactics for battling Federal ATF agents.
“If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms insists upon a firefight, give them a firefight,” Liddy said. “Just remember, they’re wearing flak jackets and you’re better off shooting for the head.”
It’s important to point out that this isn’t controversial stuff on the right. Reporting accurately on the conservative view that guns are a civil liberty issue and a crucial check on “big government” isn’t liberal bias.
It is simply factually accurate — and a vital piece of context.
Of course, it’s also important to note that other groups reject this idea. The American Civil Liberties Union concluded in 2008 that in “our view, neither the possession of guns nor the regulation of guns raises a civil liberties issue.”
And it’s also necessary to investigate what this kind of political stance might mean for the future of the conservative movement.
The notion that white suburbanites might some day need to rally against a shadowy overlord in Washington DC might be a great motivator for a fringe survivalist movement, or talk radio hosts, or for certain right-wing politicians.
But it’s hard to see the “coming war of resistance” plank as a pathway into the hearts of the vast majority of Americans.
Indeed, as Republicans try to make new inroads among women and minority groups and Roman Catholics (the American bishops support gun control) it’s a particularly tough platform to work from.
Still, many on the right believe sincerely that banning access to Bushmaster-style assault rifles and 30-round clips would leave Americans vulnerable — to criminals and mass murderers, and also to the expanding power of government.
This is the political and ideological frame that’s been missing in the gun control debate in recent weeks.
Tags: gun control