Skip to comments.GUN CULTURE THREATENS DEMOCRACY : Gun lobby threatens our very way of life
Posted on 05/21/2005 10:42:38 PM PDT by Dan from Michigan
CSGV: GUN CULTURE THREATENS DEMOCRACY
Op-Ed Challenges "Guns Equal Freedom" Formula
Gun lobby threatens our very way of life
The price extracted by guns is simply too high
By JOSH HORWITZ
SPECIAL TO THE REVIEW-JOURNAL
When the National Rifle Association's top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, addresses the crowd at "FreedomFest 2005" at the Bally's/Paris Resort in Las Vegas today, he will be preaching a message that has served his organization well: guns equal freedom.
As LaPierre puts it, "The Second Amendment is the fulcrum of freedom in our nation, because freedom and the Second Amendment are mutually interdependent. They are the 'chicken and the egg;' neither can exist without the other."
LaPierre can expect a friendly reception from the right wing activists at FreedomFest. Aggressive support for gun rights provokes none of the intramural squabbling that sometimes threatens to divide social conservatives and their libertarian allies in the GOP.
By framing the gun debate as a choice between protecting liberty and the illusion of safety, the gun lobby has painted itself as a defender of basic American values.
Too often, gun control advocates walk into the trap and concede that values like democracy and independence must be sacrificed to fight gun crime.
"At what point will Americans agree that the price exacted by guns -- the gun lobby's 'price of freedom' -- is simply too high?" asks Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center.
This formulation is not smart politics, because Americans rightly treasure freedom. More importantly, it fails to hold LaPierre and the gun lobby accountable for a philosophy that is at odds with freedom and the institutions that support it.
The most recent example of the tension came last month, when Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill that allows people to use deadly force -- including guns -- when faced with a violent threat, even when a confrontation could be avoided by simply walking away. The new law goes far beyond self-defense, which was already a well-established right in Florida, to invite vigilantes to substitute their judgment for the judicial system.
David Kopel, a leading gun rights theorist, acknowledges the potential tension between an expansive right of self defense like the one embodied in the new Florida statute and the rule of law, but dismisses the concern out of hand, arguing that "people's taking the law into their own hands has always been a core principle of the American legal system, and the American attitude toward guns is simply one manifestation of that principle."
This warped conception of popular sovereignty is at the root of the most egregious anti- democratic proposition advanced by the gun lobby: that citizens need to arm themselves to safeguard political liberties against threats by the government.
Kopel has called guns "the tools of political dissent," and LaPierre wrote in 1994 that "the people have a right, must have a right, to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government."
As famed legal scholar Roscoe Pound observed, however, "A legal right of the citizen to wage war on the government is something that cannot be admitted. ... [because] bearing arms today is a very different thing from what it was in the days of the embattled farmers who withstood the British in 1775. In the urban industrial society of today a general right to bear arms so as to be able to resist oppression by the Government would mean that gangs could defeat the whole Bill of Rights."
The standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco -- often cited as proof that the government can and does abuse its power -- illustrate why armed resistance is a dead end. Randy Weaver and David Koresh may have had good reasons to distrust the government, but they had no right to use private arsenals to keep the police at bay. Our system includes democratic safeguards, such as juries, that do not rely on the private force of arms.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, the gun lobby toned down its rhetoric, casting an armed citizenry as a deterrent to oppression rather than a potential rebel force against a democratic government. "The Second Amendment is America's first freedom because it is the one right that protects all the others," LaPierre says.
This argument sounds reasonable but is no different in substance that what gun rights absolutists were saying before Oklahoma City. If they believe in the right to take up arms to resist government policies they consider oppressive, even when these policies have been adopted by elected officials and subjected to review by an independent judiciary, then they are opposed to constitutional democracy.
When LaPierre talks about guns and freedom, he wraps himself in a flag that the NRA is simultaneously ripping to shreds. Protecting vigilantes from criminal prosecution and urging citizens to stockpile weapons for a showdown with the government are more than just threats to public safety -- they are threats to our democracy and our way of life.
I stand corrected. You are right, of course.
NRA = Metro-sexuals with guns..