Really Telling It Like It Is

A recent op-ed in the New York Times considered the passions of the gun lobby.

The column was written by Will Wilkinson, Vice-President for Research at the Niskanen Center. I first encountered Wilkinson’s writing when I was doing research for my most recent book;  I’ve been consistently impressed with his thoughtfulness and the quality of his various analyses.

The column was headlined “Why an Assault Weapons Ban Hits Such a Nerve With Many Conservatives,” and the sub-head was “The premise of Trumpist populism is that the political preferences of a shrinking minority of citizens matter more than democracy.”

Wilkinson began by describing the blowback encountered by Beto O’Roark over O’Roark’s proposed assault weapon buy-back program. One Texas lawmaker issued a not-very-veiled threat to use his own weapon on O’Roark, and there was predictable hysteria from the usual suspects.

“So, this is — what you are calling for is civil war,” Tucker Carlson of Fox News said of Mr. O’Rourke’s comments. “What you are calling for is an incitement to violence.” On ABC’s “The View,” Meghan McCain maintained that “the AR-15 is by far the most popular gun in America, by far. I was just in the middle of nowhere Wyoming. If you’re talking about taking people’s guns from them, there’s going to be a lot of violence.” On Twitter, the conservative writer Erick Erickson said: “I know people who keep AR-15’s buried because they’re afraid one day the government might come for them. I know others who are stockpiling them. It is not a stretch to say there’d be violence if the gov’t tried to confiscate them.”

Wilkinson notes the obvious: no such program is likely to go into effect, absent an overwhelming electoral outpouring of majoritarian sentiment.

In that light, all of these ominous “there will be violence” warnings clearly imply that it simply doesn’t matter whether or not mandatory buyback legislation is enacted by duly elected representatives of the American people with an extraordinary popular mandate, because the wildly outvoted minority would nevertheless be right to regard the law as an intolerable injustice that warrants retaliatory violence. Just ask them.

Wilkinson then considers what this reaction signifies. As he points out, democracy is what we do to prevent political disagreement from turning into violent conflict. Trumpism, however, considers government legitimate only when it agrees with  white Christian conservatives.

Who, you may sensibly ask, granted Tucker Carlson’s target demographic veto power over the legislative will of the American people? Nobody. They got high on their own supply and anointed themselves the “real American” sovereigns of the realm. But their relative numbers are dwindling, and they live in fear of a future in which the law of the land reliably tracks the will of the people. Therein lies the appeal of a personal cache of AR-15s.

Weapons of mass death, and the submissive fear they engender, put teeth on that shrinking minority’s entitled claim to indefinite power. Without the threat of violence, what have they really got? Votes? Sooner or later, they won’t have enough, and they know it.

Nearly every Republican policy priority lacks majority support. New restrictions on abortion are unpopular. Slashing legal immigration levels is unpopular. The president’s single major legislative achievement, tax cuts for corporations and high earners, is unpopular.

Public support for enhanced background checks stands at an astonishing 90 percent, and 60 percent(and more) support a ban on assault weapon sales. Yet Republican legislatures block modest, popular gun control measures at every turn. The security of the minority’s self-ascribed right to make the rules has become their platform’s major plank, because unpopular rules don’t stand a chance without it.

As Wilkinson notes–and as rational people know–this isn’t about self-defense. Nobody needs a gun that can shoot 26 people in 32 seconds to ward off burglars.

The Second Amendment doesn’t grant the right to own one any more than it grants the right to own a surface-to-air missile.

I particularly loved these two paragraphs:

They’ll tell you their foreboding “predictions” of lethal resistance are really about preserving the means to protect the republic against an overweening, rights-stomping state. Don’t believe that, either. It’s really about the imagined peril of a multicultural majority running the show. Many countries that do more to protect their citizens against gun violence are more, not less, free than we are. According to the libertarian Cato Institute, 16 countries enjoy a higher level of overall freedom than the United States, and most of them ban or severely restrict ownership of assault weapons. The freedom to have your head blown off in an Applebee’s, to flee in terror from the bang of a backfiring engine, might not be freedom at all.

I’m not too proud to admit that in my misspent libertarian youth, I embraced the idea that a well-armed populace is a bulwark against tyranny. I imagined us a vast Switzerland, hived with rifles to defend our inviolable rights against … Michael Dukakis? What I slowly came to see is that freedom is inseparable from political disagreement and that holding to a trove of weapons as your last line of defense in a losing debate makes normal ideological opposition look like nascent tyranny and readies you to suppress it.

Clarity. Sanity. Why do I despair about the likelihood that Wilkinson, et al will prevail?


  1. “Wilkinson began by describing the blowback encountered by Beto O’Roark over O’Roark’s proposed assault weapon buy-back program. One Texas lawmaker issued a not-very-veiled threat to use his own weapon on O’Roark, and there was predictable hysteria from the usual suspects.”

    O’Roark outright THREATENED AMERICANS with his adamant, “Hell yes; we are coming for your AK-15s and your AR-47s!” This was NOT a proposed buy-back program or a proposed law to stop the sale of these weapons to the public; not only Republicans own those assault weapons, Democrats, Independents, Green Party as well as those who have never voted and never intend to vote. Understand; I am TOTALLY AGAINST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ALL OF THESE MILITARY LEVEL WEAPONS. But I am also against a loud threat which in no way resembles a campaign promise to support legal action by government to stop mass killings. We have tried for decades to convince the so-called conservatives, who believe the NRA and our current administration, that no one is coming to take ALL of their guns away. O’Roark blew that away with his AK-15 level threat.

    I am a former handgun owner; I waited the required 7 days to pick up my paid for weapon after going to Indianapolis Police Department to be fingerprinted and sign a document giving permission to run a full background check, local and NCIC. My uncle was Don Davis of Don’s Guns who lobbied for years to get Indiana to require the same background checks to purchase all long guns that was used regarding handguns. Instead; Indiana lowered background checks on handguns and Uncle Don went back to selling guns and made a few more million…which is the basic reason the NRA and the Republican corporate administration refuse to support full background checks nationally. It is the right to MAKE MONEY they are protecting; not the right to protect lives or they would support proposed legal measures to stop the mass killings in this country.

    As always; it is FOLLOW THE MONEY!

    “The Second Amendment doesn’t grant the right to own one any more than it grants the right to own a surface-to-air missile.”

    “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.”

  2. Too many people, Justice Antonin Scalia for one, think that there are two thoughts involved in this amendment. If that were the case, there would be either a period or a semi-colon after the word “state,” instead of the comma. With the comma, it is clear (or at least would be clear if people paid attention) that the second phrase is directly related to the first phrase. In addition, if we consider Conservatives’ favorite phrase (The Original Intent of the Founding Fathers), we have to conclude that the amendment pertains to national defense, because at the Constitutional Convention, none of the discussions pertained to self-defense. The discussions were about the relative merits of militias versus a standing army to defend the country if England decided to try to take back its “possession.”

  3. To Pascal’s comma argument requires our English and history teacher to join the party. Ever wonder why the NRA never mentions an act of Congress soon after the turn of the 20th Century?

    The Militia Act of 1903 (32 Stat. 775), also known as “The Efficiency in Militia Act of 1903”, also known as the Dick Act, was legislation enacted by the United States Congress which created an early National Guard and codified the circumstances under which the Guard could be federalized.

    That act of legislation left the Second Amendment somewhat barren. Basically, the state federalized the citizen soldier and abandoned the notion of the militia the NRA attempts to immortalize to the frenzied adherents of the vanishing prairie of penile envy only ownership of an AR-15 seems to quench.

  4. Guns are made for one thing and one thing only… to kill. If you manufacture guns you are telling the world that you are OK with killing. If you sell guns you are telling the world that you are OK with killing. If you own a gun you are telling the world that you are OK with killing.
    Just because it is legal doesn’t make it moral or ethical. Just ask the victims of Round Up, Purdue Pharma, and vapors.

  5. That militia is called for in Article 1, Section 8, which essentially describes the National Guard, leaving the organization and manning of the militias to the states while requiring that the various militias be available to the Federal Government in the event of an attack.

    The real problem we have in America is that half of us don’t vote. All of the polling tells us that the majority of Americans favor more liberal points of view on a broad range of issues. The only polls that don’t support that are those done on a Tuesday in November.

  6. the only Affirmative Action(s) this culture wants is for guns and corporations. I wonder how many years it will take to fix the mess we are in? I fear daily that my children or self will be injured or killed by the violence of people in love with their petty fears and resentments. People are also using their cars as weapons now. Or other folk locked in a violent underclass relegated to crime to survive. With reality television shows so popular, one ia titled “Survivor” is it any wonder that heathy civil actions that nurture healthy humans debased. Our public schools, higher ed, health care, pensions, mercifulness are out of fashion and more pretty much anecdotes when they happen. Think KickStarter as a way to choose who can be saved from financial disasters. Basic human rights are debased and too many are now trapped in cruel futures. All this rush to depravity because of stingy fear based white folks.

  7. “ Trumpism, however, considers government legitimate only when it agrees with white Christian conservatives.”

    The above statement, copied from today’s blog, is the best description of those ignorant people that I have ever seen. It may prove to be quite handy if I happen to have the misfortune of hearing one of their ignorant remarks in person.

  8. This comment jumped off the page, “Trumpism, however, considers government legitimate only when it agrees with white Christian conservatives.”

    I presume that all Americans across the political spectrum believe that a government which agrees with them is the only legitimate government. The problem is we don’t have a legitimate government…period.

    As noted already, the government is negatively influenced by the Gun Lobby which is a union of gun owners. They pass money along to politicians who support their cause and withhold monies from those who don’t; regardless of how many people vote or the electoral college.

    It’s part of the corruption racket in Washington and statehouses across the country. It’s Oligarchic rule so regardless of the 90% of American people who support background checks, our corrupt government will side with the NRA because they control the purse strings.

    The gun industry isn’t far removed from our MIC who is pushing us toward a war with Iran. First, they have to manufacture consent through our various corporate-controlled media channels. This was done when they jacked up gas prices because Saudi Arabia claimed Iranian drones attacked their oil fields even though Yemen already took credit. War is profitable to the MIC and their stock prices.


  9. Beto is a desperate, self centered, idiot. “They’re coming for your guns!” has been a silly NRA talking point forever. It could be easily pushed back against because no one was talking about mandatory confiscation. Now, he’s made it a rallying cry. He’s so desperate to get out of the polling basement he’ll latch onto anything. He made a stupid NRA/conservative nutcase line seem like it could be true. He’s helping turn out conservative voters.

    He took something that, as the article mentioned, was not really going to happen and made it seem possible. Thanks Beto for throwing some gas onto their fire, you doofus.

  10. I applaud Beto’s courage on the mandatory buy-back program. I am less concerned about the fears of some gun owners than the safety of our country’s citizens.

    It’s “O’Rourke”.

  11. Having an intelligent gun debate in this nation is an oxymoron. The gun “thing” is just plain stupid. I’ve also researched this situation and found two basic things to drive this issue.
    (1) The would-be Southern states required the language of the Second Amendment to read as it does, so they could form posses to chase runaway slaves and to quell slave rebellions. The overall purpose, of course, was to have an armed militia in waiting in case the British decided to invade again….which they did.
    (2) White, Christian Europeans “conquered” this continent by way of the gun. North America was populated by nearly 50 million aborigines who knew the land and knew how to fight a guerrilla-style war. BUT, along with small pox and measles, the Europeans brought their firearms as an “equalizer”. Then, government policy allowed for the slaughter of the major food sources of the native Americans. They fought back and the guns killed them to the point of near extinction.

    That remains the underlying pillar of gun passion in this country. It is a culture of killing the “other”. Full stop. Yes, Beto screwed the pooch with the gun fondlers. He handed the Republicans their favorite talking point on a platter. That said, it really wouldn’t matter. The AR-15 owners will literally resist losing their precious penile substitutes because they have such a tight grip on them. Pun intended.

    At least Colt got the memo and is ceasing manufacturing those deadly, anti-human instruments of death.

  12. So the gun nuts are threatening violence if the gummint comes after their machine guns? So? We already have violence (see some 40,000 deaths per annum) in a political atmosphere where the will of the people is subjugated to the pathology of a dwindling minority. It doesn’t take a machine gun to kill a groundhog, a burglar, a mountain lion, or a 7-11 clerk, and Beto’s observation, while giving the NRA’s fear line a boost, has merit in that if there is violence in gathering up these weapons from hell and while there will still be murders committed from use of conventional weapons, there will be many who will not die as a result of such an aggressive program. Policy change may therefore be based upon a recognition that there will be violence with or without an aggressive buyback program and come down on the side of removal of such lethal weaponry and the risks of enforcement.

    From a political theory viewpoint, are we going to allow minorities not only on AR-15s but any other issue to dominate policy? Shall we give credence to those who consider stopping at red lights an infringement on their liberty? Don’t they want to live in an organized society? How far does this Trump-approved institutional lawlessness go in thwarting majority rule, the essential underpinning of democracy?

    Thus if experience proves policies adopted by the majority wrong, they can be corrected, but if people are dead because of the failure of the majority to make and enforce policy that could have prevented their deaths, that condition cannot be corrected. Let’s not allow fear to dominate enforcement of policy, whether in re guns, drugs, the environment or whatever, by doing our part in making democracy work.

  13. There is power which allows a minority to impose what is best for them on the majority and there is freedom which has the goal of limiting the exercise of power to minimize what imposes on the freedom of others.

    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    We got here by being more influenced by entertainment media creating a culture of power than we are by the Constitution, our guarantee of freedom.

    This is simple to specify and intellectually harder to maintain as human population approaches the limits of sustainability.

  14. Amendment I

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    Now we all know, the First Amendment has been limited in various ways. There are laws against libel and slander. There are various limitations other limitations on Freedom of Speech. We cannot peaceably assemble on an Interstate Highway, many towns and cities require parade permits.

    So the idea that the Second Amendment cannot limited is bogus. O’Rourke, went a bridge too far. The idea of a buyback program should not be dismissed.

  15. Since the government did not sell me a weapon, how can it but it ‘back’ from me ?

    I’ll set a price, then. S1,000,000 per weapon. Cash or bullion. Thanks.

  16. Many of the people who side with the NRA rather than the Constitution are of the same mind as those who sided with the Confederacy against the United States.

  17. “The Militia Act of 1903 (32 Stat. 775), also known as “The Efficiency in Militia Act of 1903”, also known as the Dick Act, was legislation enacted by the United States Congress which created an early National Guard and codified the circumstances under which the Guard could be federalized.”

    Mucho Kudos to Norris Lineweaver for mentioning this very important and totally overlooked essential truth and crucial component of American military history that completely deflates the main argument of all these crazy and near-crazy AR-15 lock and loaders for having the weapons they lust after. The Indiana National Guard, as do every state’s National Guard, already has the job and the power you seek thanks to the Dick Act of 1903. Think of something a little more rational and less violently illogical to get your jollies than being highly armed pests. Maybe basket weaving or stamp collecting.

    Finally, someone actually mentioned the Dick Act. Thanks again Norris!!!!!

  18. Darn – I was hoping for some ground to air missiles to protect me from the government, some old fashioned machine guns to protect me from my neighbors (along with grenade launchers), and just for back-up a tactical thermonuclear device. You mean I can’t have those?

    Maybe the strict constructionists should understand that the Second Amendment only applies to the weaponry that existed at the time it was passed – wouldn’t that be more consistent with their “orginalism” – buy all of the flint locks you want.

    The problem with our country is not “guns”, it is the “gun culture”, that fetish we have that brings hysterics every time someone suggest that you can’t have every gun you want and have it immediately. This doesn’t exist in other gun owning countries, just ours.

    Yes, we can ban assault weapons, like we did in the past, like we did with tommy guns. Yes, the government can take your property and pay you what it thinks it is worth (and yes you can challenge the taking and/or the price in court). They can do that to build a mall, stadium, or “great, great wall” (Trump doubled his “greats” when he learned that China already had a Great Wall)

    Final thought – Beto didn’t add fuel to anything – As Mayor Pete said in one of the debates, they are going to call us “radical socialists” no matter who we nominate. Equally, the NRA is going to say “they are coming for your guns” no matter what any Democrat says.

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