Among gun some gun rights advocates, talk of “control” and “regulation” can eventually end up at “conspiracy”.
Some are convinced national political leaders want firearms confiscation.
But why would the U.S. government want to take everyone’s guns?
To begin, according to the government, it doesn’t. Mainstream proponents for gun-control do not call for disarmament — only the most extreme do, but what’s actually being asked for on Capitol Hill is universal background checks with every gun purchase and a ban on assault rifles like the one used two weeks ago in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, which claimed the lives of 49 people.
Erika Soto Lamb, Chief Communications Officer for Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s most prominent gun-control group — largely funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — told The National Memo, “We believe – along with a majority of Americans including gun owners and NRA members – that the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with common sense public safety measures that will save lives.”
Why so suspicious?
Ladd Everitt, Director of Communications for the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told The National Memo he deals with the suspicion daily. He attributes the paranoia to the National Rifle Association’s public relations team, particularly the organization’s Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, who Everitt said does an incredible job of spreading misinformation.
Everitt said disarmament is a myth propagated by the NRA and its core members, who share a foundational belief in insurrectionism. This crowd, Everitt said, is “profoundly anti-government… They want to be in opposition with the government.”
Everitt thinks the insurrectionist myth is largely driven by fear stemming from changes in culture and demographics. The influence of America’s white majority, and that of white males in particular, is waning as other groups achieve more social power and growing in numbers. The shift of political capital, Everitt said, breeds the fear that creates insurrectionism.
It creates plenty of false equivalences, too: Insurrectionists frequently point to Nazi Germany as a historical example of the relationship between disarmament and totalitarianism. The Nazi Weapon Law of 1938 prohibited Jews and other persecuted peoples from gun ownership.
Everitt said the pro-gun rebels believe in the sovereign right, at the individual level, to shoot government officials perceived as tyrannical — “like Timothy McVeigh,” he noted, referring to the domestic terrorist who killed 168 people, including 19 children, in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
McVeigh loved guns and hated the government. He was a Gulf War veteran with an exceptional record of soldiering, especially as a marksman. In 1992 McVeigh tried out for the Special Forces but quit after three days and left the Army. He became a transient, roaming the country, buying and selling weapons at gun shows and vocalizing disdain for government, which he believed was a threat to his rights and guns.
That summer saw the bloody standoff between the FBI and white separatist Randy Weaver, who was charged with selling illegal sawed-off shotguns. Weaver’s wife and son were killed. CNN observes the event became “a rallying point for McVeigh and others immersed in the militia movement.”
Then “Waco” happened. McVeigh travelled to the Texas city to protest the federal siege of a Branch Davidian religious compound where the group’s leader, David Koresh, stood accused of possessing illegal weapons and refused to give himself up, but he left before the April 19 firefight that killed 80 Davidians. Two years later to the day, after stewing for years, McVeigh carried out his murderous bombing-plot against the government.
Twenty years later, in an article for Huffington Post, Executive Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Josh Horwitz argued the NRA had brought McVeigh’s insurrectionist idea into mainstream conservatism. It was easy for Horwitz to display the connection between McVeigh’s political philosophy and that of the NRA:
Speaking to a student journalist at Waco in 1993, McVeigh said “The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. You give them an inch and they take a mile. I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government. The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.”
In an April 1995 NRA fundraising letter, sent six days before McVeigh bombed the Federal Building, the Washington Post reports LaPierre wrote, “It doesn’t matter to [the government] that the semi-auto ban gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us.”
“Not too long ago,” LaPierre wrote, “it was unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens,” but under “Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.”
Fear mongering has been the NRA’s PR modus operandi for decades. The organization addresses disarmament on its website, asking “What kind of government cares more about appeasing Islamic terrorists than defending the constitutional rights of its citizens? A government that would disarm us during the age of terror.”
But the NRA wasn’t always this way.
A May 1995 article in the New York Times says the organization was founded in 1871 by a group of former Union officers who wanted to nurture excellent marksmanship in soldiers. This was the NRA’s focus for nearly 100 years, but with the rise of crimes rates in the 1960’s the group shifted its attention to gun violence.
Then, in 1968, the passage of America’s first noteworthy gun-control law compelled the NRA to become “the prototype of the modern single-issue lobby, turning out dedicated supporters at the voting booth to reward or punish candidates based solely on their voting records on gun-control.”
The NRA assigns grades based on whether a politician’s performance is in line with the group’s mission to protect citizens’ unfettered access to firearms. As of December 2015, The Guardian reports, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had a D- and former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton an F. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had an A+.
NRA candidates mimic LaPierre’s insurrectionist warning calls of encroaching despotism. The Washington Post reports that in October, Cruz warned voters that “Obama is coming for our guns.”
Cruz said, “Obama’s aides have alerted the press that if Congress won’t cooperate, Obama will use executive actions to, ‘keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn’t have access to them.’ By ‘others who shouldn’t have them,’ Obama means you and me.”
The fear of disarmament fostered by Republicans and the NRA seems far-fetched, but the paranoia is not unfounded; in fact it’s quite traditional.
Concern for firearm confiscation was birthed into the American cultural lexicon with the ratification of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791. Federalists, and their drafting counterparts, the Antifederalists — think (very roughly) Democrats and Republicans, respectively — agreed that private gun ownership was a necessary and most efficient means of resisting the standing army of a tyrannical government, which, like all governments, was possible in the United States.
Antifederalist George Mason, co-author of the amendment, professed that history had shown disarmament to be “the best and most effectual way to enslave” the populace. And Federalist Noah Webster, in one of the original Federalist pamphlets, argued the amendment was unnecessary because, not only was the Constitution designed to prevent tyranny, but disarmament must occur before a standing army could seize control, and such a possibility was negated by the population’s possession of arms. The people simply wouldn’t allow it.
Federalist James Madison, who would become the fourth U.S. president, echoed Webster’s sentiment, writing that the Constitution was air tight, and a standing army would be opposed by “a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from amongst themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by government possessing their affections and confidence.”
Obviously, they added the amendment, which states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The pro-gun crowd, and the Supreme Court, interpret this to mean gun ownership should always be legal because liberty requires it. Some from the gun-control camp will claim the Second Amendment doesn’t actually guarantee the right to gun ownership, that it provides the right to raise a militia with arms provided by Congress; and that all this got twisted around over the years, through interpretations and reinterpretation yielding a voluminous record of writings and rulings.
Today, the U.S. has a standing army, and American citizens have become accustomed to private gun ownership, which perhaps the founders took for granted.
Debunking the Myth
The Constitution remains the backbone of the gun lobby. The National Rifle Association hangs its hat on the Second Amendment. They won’t bend an inch. Any increase in regulation, they say, is the first step down the slippery slope to universal background checks, which they allege would be used to create a national gun registry that would give the Feds an itemized list of every legally owned firearm in America.
On January 22, 2013, in response to a White House proposal for universal background checks, Wayne LaPierre told a crowd in Reno, Nev. that President Obama “wants you to believe that putting the federal government in the middle of every firearm transaction — except those between criminals — will somehow make us safer”:
“That means forcing law-abiding people to fork over excessive fees to exercise their rights. Forcing parents to fill out forms to leave a family heirloom to a loved one — standing in line and filling out a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork, just so a grandfather can give a grandson a Christmas gift. He wants to put every private, personal transaction under the thumb of the federal government, and he wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry.”
“There are only two reasons for that federal list of gun owners,” LaPierre said, “to tax them or take them.”
LaPierre very ominously paints gun-control like a hellish trip to the DMV that ends in totalitarianism — and perhaps it is, but come on… Either way, FactCheck.org reports LaPierre’s claim that universal background checks would create a “massive federal registry” is simply untrue. In fact, such a registry would be illegal. Here’s why:
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to keep guns out of the wrong hands and ensure timely transfer of firearms to eligible buyers. The FBI says “more than 100 million such checks have been made in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials” of gun purchases. Most people pass background checks, and the records created by the checks are destroyed by law, which states “The NICS is not to be used to establish a federal firearm registry; information about an inquiry resulting in an allowed transfer is destroyed in accordance with NICS regulations.” The Brady Act bans federal agencies from keeping “any record or portion thereof generated by the [NICS] system,” and bars the “registration of firearms, firearm owners, or firearm transaction” of individuals cleared by the background check. Congress has further added language to annual spending bills that force the FBI to destroy records of gun transfers within 24 hours of validation.
President Obama’s plan to expand criminal background checks would include all sales and transfers of firearms “with limited, common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes.” The president’s proposal states no intention of changing current law to generate a federal gun registry; when asked if it would, the White House said no, Obama’s proposed gun laws would not change any regulations, but would simply bring all gun transactions into the existing NICS.
As Ladd Everitt of the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence pointed out, a handful of states already require background checks, and no registry has been created.
However, on Thursday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed into law a bill requiring state police to enroll gun purchasers into an FBI criminal monitoring system after they register their firearms as already mandated, Reuters reports.
Amy Hunter, spokeswoman for the NRA’s institute for legislative action, told Reuters, “As you can imagine, the NRA finds this one of the most extreme bills we’ve ever seen.”
The law gives Hawaiian police the ability to determine whether a gun owner should be allowed to possess a firearm after being arrested for any charge.
Hawaii state Senator Will Espero, a gun owner and Democrat who co-authored the legislation, called the law “common sense legislation that does not hurt anyone.”
“It just means local police will be notified,” he said.
Ige’s office also signed into law two additional firearms bills. One establishes convictions of stalking and sexual assault as offenses that would ban a person from owning a gun, and the other forces gun owners diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder to surrender their weapons.
The NRA will likely sue the state.
One wonders whether the founders considered such provisions when drafting the Second Amendment.
Photo: AR-15 rifles line a shelf in the gun library at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst