Days after nine people were massacred on an Oregon college campus, TV news people and politicians were doing the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. CNN was refusing to name to killer to cut down on his notoriety; pundits went back and forth on the need for spending on mental health; and national politicians were silent on the need for meaningful gun control regulations, except for some like presidential aspirant Jeb Bush who said, simply, “Stuff happens.” Not mentioned often enough in the rhetoric is the fact that despite whatever mental illness he suffered, the Oregon killer was able to acquire 13 guns legally.
Similar incidents are occurring with increasing regularity all over this country, in places where Americans should be able to drop their guard: houses of education (swarms of campus shootings during the past few years), religion (nine were murdered in a South Carolina church in June) and culture (three murdered in a Louisiana screening of Trainwreck; 12 murdered and 70 injured in an Aurora, CO, screening of The Dark Knight Rises). At what point do these horrific events become labeled for what they really are: a national crisis — and acts of terrorism? Why isn’t there a domestic equivalent to Homeland Security to track and get help for someone whose accumulation of weaponry and online chatroom rants about an unhappy girlfriend-less life added up to a ticking time bomb?
The answer is obvious. Much the way that twisted interpretations of Muslim faith have been used to excuse abhorrent acts abroad, the Second Amendment right to bear arms has placed gun control in the untouchable category as the National Rifle Association uses money and clout to turn politicians into cowards and buck-passers. It is especially galling when one looks at the rhetoric spouted by the NRA officials who are setting the national agenda and standing in the way of sensible gun control measures such as reducing the size of rifle magazines, closing the gun show loophole, creating a national firearms database and expanding background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Hollywood can play a position of influence during the next few months, and hold some sway over meaningful gun control measures as White House aspirants and other pols parade through town, glad-handing for money and exposure. There will be some who point the finger at violence in TV shows and movies and call it the root of the problem, but violent films play in countries all over the world, and those with meaningful gun control laws don’t have near the same death rates as we have here. The decision-makers in this town have an opportunity to press an issue that all but a minority knows is right and necessary.
And they might consider the words that NRA officials speak publicly to their membership. Once an organization for hunters and sportsmen, the NRA’s own public statements make it seem like its members are gathering guns and ammo for the coming of a Second Civil War. As NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said himself: “The people have a right, must have the right, to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.”
LaPierre is hardly alone in voicing that sentiment.
- Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and current board member and lobbyist, maintains that guns – not elections – should be the final arbiter of American freedom. “Second Amendment rights are the means with which the people retain sovereignty,” she said. “Give up your power to remain free and you are no longer free. Just because a government was ‘democratically’ elected does not mean it is a righteous government or that the electorate got the government they thought they were electing.” Just after becoming the NRA’s first female president, Hammer told The New York Times in 1996 that instead of getting rid of all firearms to end the national debate over gun control, why not just “get rid of all liberals?”
- Ron Schmeits, a former NRA president currently on its board of directors, warned that the NRA stands ready to seize control of the government if it has to. “Thomas Paine once said, ‘It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government,’ ” he claimed. “NRA will heed his warning even if no one else will.” There is, in fact, no record of Paine, the influential revolutionary and pamphleteer, having ever said or written that. Even so, it is a popular quote that NRA leaders use time and again to justify readying for insurrection.
- Fred Romero, the NRA’s former field representative for Southern California, once said: “The Second Amendment is not there to protect the interests of hunters, sports shooters and casual plinkers. The Second Amendment is there as a balance of power. It is literally a loaded gun in the hands of the people held to the heads of government.”
- “We are at war,” wrote Sandy Froman, a former NRA president and a current member of the NRA board of directors, in America’s 1st Freedom, an official NRA publication. “Our freedom is at stake. The Second Amendment is America’s original homeland security and you, my fellow NRA members, are at the heart of our national defense.” Not the Army or the Navy; not the Marines or the Air Force; not the Coast Guard or the National Guard. The heart of our national defense, she says, is the NRA and its 5 million armed members.
- “The armed citizenry is the final bulwark against tyranny. That’s why the Second Amendment was written. It was not written to protect squirrel hunters,” said David Keene, a former NRA president and a current member of the NRA board of directors, in a February 4, 2013, interview with the Daily Caller, a right-wing news and opinion website.
NRA leaders see themselves – and the armed citizenry they claim to represent – as “the Militia” described in the Second Amendment, which states: “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.”
- “We need to remind ourselves,” says NRA board member Buster Bachhuber, “that whether a gun bill reduces crime or not is not the object of the game. In the mind of Thomas Jefferson, the Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting or so-called sporting purposes, but all about maintaining freedom in the face of tyranny.”
This is a dangerously false misreading of the Constitution and the Second Amendment — shared, it seems, by NRA leadership and by millions of its members.
- “Collective firearms ownership by a population is an insurance policy against government oppression and extreme abuses of power,” says NRA board member Scott Bach, president of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, the state’s official NRA affiliate. “King George wasn’t anywhere near this tyrannical,” Bach says of President Obama, comparing him to the British tyrant against whom the 13 Colonies rebelled in 1776. “There’s a storm on the horizon,” Bach warned, “and it’s the most ominous one of our lives. Something has happened to our nation. It’s been happening little by little, and we haven’t even seen it coming. But now it’s here, and it’s big, and it seems to have unstoppable momentum. I’m speaking of the brutal and deliberate destruction of Freedom itself, in all its aspects.”
- “What the Second Amendment does, it protects us from a corrupt government,” says NRA board member Maria Heil. “And everybody needs to realize that. It’s the threat – if you want to call it that – it’s the threat to keep the government in line.”
- “The only reason (the U.S. government hasn’t) been able to defeat us, it’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of people,” says NRA board member Manny Fernandez. “Because we have what they don’t have. We have the people, and in the end, we have the guns.”
- In 2010, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, spoke about the true meaning of the Second Amendment at the NRA’s annual convention in Charlotte, NC – where guns were not allowed. “It’s not in defense of hunting,” he told the 20,000 roaring NRA members present that day. “It’s not in defense of target shooting or collecting. The Second Amendment is defense of freedom from the state.”
- “We own arms to resist any type of takeover, and we will do that,” says Richard Pearson, a member of the NRA’s nominating committee and the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, the state’s NRA affiliate. “Firearms are the basis of freedom in the United States. Firearms are what got our freedom, and firearms are what maintain our freedom.”
With a “tyrant” (their words) in the White House, NRA leaders speak openly talk overthrowing the government.
- The day after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008, NRA board member Jay Printz blogged on the right-wing American Daughter Media Center website: “Well, my friends, it looks like we had better put in a good supply of powder and lead!!!!” and posted an image that read, “When they come for your guns…give them your bullets!”
Printz wasn’t the only one so brazen. In 2012, NRA board member Ted Nugent got a visit from the Secret Service after making a veiled threat against President Obama at the NRA annual convention. “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Nugent remains a member of the NRA board.
- “For those who are thinking of equipping your own private army,” said former NRA board member Jeff Cooper, now deceased, “the Socom 16 appears to be the best thing now available.” The Socom 16 is a semi-automatic rifle – the civilian version of the fully-automatic military M-16. “Perhaps it is indeed time for the militia to take over,” Cooper said. “Remember that according to the Founding Fathers, the Militia is constituted of all the people, except for a few public servants.”
The ‘Militia’ is mentioned six times in the Constitution, and it does not mean – at all – what the NRA thinks it does. It is not, as NRA leaders claim, an “armed citizenry” of ragtag soldiers to be called into action to re-take the government in the event a despot has seized control of the country and imposed tyrannical rule. It is, in fact, just the opposite; as defined by the Constitution, the Militia is a well-regulated armed force to be called into action – by Congress, under command of the President – to repel the very kind of insurrection that NRA leaders are preparing for.
- “The threat of a tyrannical takeover of the United States is ever-present,” says former NRA president Kayne Robinson. “Our Founding Fathers said they created the Second Amendment for several specific reasons; first, as a force shield of armed citizens so powerful and vast as to not ever dare to subvert freedom in America, so that people could never turn our government into an instrument of tyranny against its people.” That’s just as true today, he says, as it was in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War. “Governments in the Founders’ lifetime had regularly turned vicious on their own people,” he says. “The danger of tyranny was great in the 1700s, but the record shows that the danger of tyranny is very great today, too.”
- Former NRA president Jim Porter believes that the standard military rifle will be the ideal weapon for citizens to use when it comes time for the militia to overthrow an American tyrant. “The very reason that they started the National Rifle Association was to teach and train the civilian in the use of the standard military firearm,” he said in a 2012 speech at the Wallkill Rod and Gun Club in New York state, “and I am one who still feels very strongly that that is one of our greatest charges that we can have today, is to train the civilian in the use of the standard military firearm so when they have to fight for their country, they’re ready to do it. Also, when they’re ready to fight tyranny, they’re ready to do it. Also, when they’re ready to fight tyranny, they have the wherewithal and the weapons to do it. I charge you ladies and gentlemen that that is a very important charge for all of us to take up. It’s a sacred duty for all of us to maintain.”
- “NRA members know tyranny when we see it,” said NRA CEO and EVP LaPierre. “‘Tyranny.’ That’s Obama’s word. The president is right about one thing: Many people are, indeed, warning about tyranny lurking just around the corner.”
At what point will this country’s actual leaders stop giving a pass to such ideals and govern in the best interests of its citizens. The ones who aren’t obsessed with imaginary insurrections. The taxpayers who want to be able to send their children to school to better themselves — the real American dream — without worrying they will be prey for someone who has been able to operate under the radar and legally amass an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons, all because of a special interest group that has been calling the shots too long.
Will it take the formation of a gun control PAC group to embolden pols whose courage puts them on hit lists because of special interest money? Should schools themselves begin a mental health screening process, barring admission to those who don’t pass? Somebody, do something.