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‘Guns are a way to exercise power’: how the idea of overthrowing the government became mainstream

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Lois Beckett writes in the Guardian:

osh Horwitz has been an American gun control activist for nearly 30 years. In 2009, he co-wrote a book warning that the idea of armed revolt against the government was at the center of the US gun rights movement.

Now, after a year that has seen heavily armed men show up at state capitols in VirginiaMichiganIdaho and elsewhere to confront Democratic lawmakers over gun control and coronavirus restrictions, more Americans are taking gun owners’ rhetoric about “tyrants” seriously. Some of the same armed protesters who showed up at Michigan’s state house and at a pro-gun rally this summer were charged last week with conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s governor and put her on trial for tyranny.

Other members of the “boogaloo” movement have allegedly murdered law enforcement officers in California and plotted acts of violence across the country in hopes of sparking a civil war.

Horowitz spoke to the Guardian about how mainstream the idea of insurrection has become in American politics, and why lawmakers have failed to challenge it for decades.

The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

You argue in your book that the idea of violent insurrection against the American government is at the heart of American gun culture. What do you mean by that?

There’s a belief among some American gun owners that the second amendment is highly individualized and was placed in the constitution as an individual right to fight government tyranny. Therefore, each individual has the right to own whatever and however many weapons they want, free from any government interference. A licensing law or a universal background check law would mean the government knows who’s got a gun. If you believe there’s an individual right to insurrection, you can’t have any gun laws.

The drive to purchase semi-automatic assault weapons, like AR-15s, those weapons are often not purchased for self-defense, but for fear of government tyranny.

When the NRA says, “Vote Freedom First”, it’s not “Vote self-defense first”. They mean you get to decide when the government becomes tyrannical. The problem is that one person’s tyranny is another’s universal healthcare bill.

Is this concept of “insurrection” as the reason Americans should have unrestricted gun rights a very fringe idea?

It’s not every gun owner. But this movement is way larger than people think. And guns are now seen by a large portion of that community as a tool for political dissent.

When National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre says things like, “The guys with the guns make the rules”, or politicians and elected officials say, “We will rely on second amendment remedies”, what they mean is that people with guns will, in fact, set the political agenda and settle political disputes. That is a profoundly undemocratic idea. As Abe Lincoln famously said, “Any appeal from the ballot box to the bullet box must fail.” We are a country based on the rule of law. Guns don’t make you a super citizen with the ability to make special rules or have special political influence because you happen to be armed.

Where does this “insurrectionary idea” come from? When did it take hold?

The idea that individuals have the right to fight against tyranny is as old as the republic. But you can trace the modern incarnation of this principle to the early 1990s, and the rise of the militia movement during Bill Clinton’s presidency, when national gun violence prevention laws, including the assault weapons ban and background checks, were instituted. There’s a path from Ruby Ridge and Waco [deadly standoffs between citizens and federal agents, both involving illegal gun charges] to the Oklahoma City bombing. The Michigan militia is where Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, got this start. He was making his living at gun shows. He bought fully into the gun rights agenda, and he ended up killing a lot of kids. I started to pick up the resurgence of this idea in the mid-2000s, at the end of Bush’s presidency and the beginning of Obama’s presidency.

How does racism play into this idea of “insurrection” and its place in US politics?

There is a big racial element to this. White men, especially, are feeling that the political reins of power are pulling away from them, and their grip on power is falling away. Guns are a way to exercise power, let’s face it. Power over policy. Power over people.

You first published Guns, Democracy and the Insurrectionist Idea in 2009. What kind of response did it get?

People didn’t react the way that I hoped, by saying: this is going to be a big deal unless we move forcefully to oppose it. Instead, a lot of elected officials, including a lot of Democratic elected officials, acquiesced to the idea of an insurrectionary second amendment. People running for president in 2004 and 2008 would use lines like, “The second amendment isn’t for hunting. It has to do with protecting ourselves, our homes, our families and our country from tyranny.” Nobody followed up with: “What do you mean? You think it’s OK to shoot politicians?”

This year, we saw the Michigan legislature taken over, the Idaho legislature taken over, and it’s like – there’s no opprobrium. There’s a sort of, “boys will be boys” response.

Why has politicians’ response to rhetoric about violent revolt been so muted?

I think there’s the idea that if this really happened, the US army would just mow these people down. “Oh, it’d be suicide if they did that.” But the US military should not be deployed in civilian places to begin with. What are we going to do, have tanks on our own soil? We’re not going to do that. The other thing is that this movement is really well armed. There’s a lot of firepower in civilian hands: .50 caliber sniper rifles, AR-15s, AK-47s.

If they really did it, it would be very, very complicated.

How significant are the numbers of US military members and police who personally believe in this insurrectionist idea themselves? This year, US military veterans and active duty service members have been charged in a number of violent plots, including some that were allegedly designed to spark a civil war. . . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s important.

Later in the interview:

What do you think should be done now in response to all of this public conversation about insurrection?

Number one: there needs to be a clear public response, that people who exercise this “right” are not patriots, but traitors.

The second piece is . . .

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2020 at 5:49 pm

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