“The imagined need to reserve the option to use force against the government is a central justification invoked by gun rights advocates in opposing legislation or regulation that would place any restriction, no matter how mild, on access to firearms.”
I wrote those words seven years ago in Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea, a book I co-authored with Casey Anderson. In that publication, I highlighted the dangerous anti-government rhetoric espoused by the fringe extremists of America’s pro-gun movement and warned that if this idea became widespread, it would threaten our democracy. Over the last eight years, the gun lobby has made this mindset mainstream. This week, violent revolution became a new talking point for the Republican presidential nominee — Donald Trump.
Trump’s statement, which seemed to suggest that gun owners could or should assassinate Hillary Clinton, is horrifying. Politicians, journalists, and commentators of all political ideologies were quick to condemn or distance themselves from Trump’s words. Even Bob Owens, editor of the pro-gun website Bearing Arms, tweeted that what Trump said was “neither nuanced nor clever” but a “threat of violence.” Owens, presumably under pressure from pro-gun extremists, later deleted the tweet and posted an editorial titled “No, Donald Trump Did Not Suggest Hillary Clinton Should Be Assassinated.”
Outside of Trump’s own campaign and surrogates, there was one group that unequivocally backed Trump’s statement — the National Rifle Association. Though it is shameful, this should not come as a surprise. The NRA has been promoting violent uprising against a tyrannical government for years; Trump has simply taken their message to its largest audience yet.
A month prior to 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the NRA sent out a fundraising letter that read:
“It doesn’t matter to them that the [federal Assault Weapons 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, it was unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens.”
The NRA’s attack on federal workers led former President George H.W. Bush to discontinue his lifelong membership.
You would think such a public rebuke would cause the NRA to back away from this unsettling language. Not so. Over the last two decades, they have doubled down on their insurrectionist philosophy and continued to bring this violent language into the mainstream.
We saw it in 2010 when Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle called for “Second Amendment remedies” to settle political arguments.
We saw it in 2011 when Sarah Palin published a map with crosshairs over elected officials who supported President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
We saw it in 2012 when Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst said that she believed in the right to carry firearms for protection “whether it’s from an intruder, or from the government, should they decide my rights are no longer important.”
We saw it in 2016 when presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz stated in a fundraising appeal that the Second Amendment is the “ultimate check against government tyranny.”
We saw it yesterday when the NRA released a $3 million ad buy — the largest the Trump campaign has received to date — mocking Hillary Clinton’s protection by the Secret Service. The ad aired only one day after Trump’s comments demonstrated the very need for such protection.
The idea of an armed rebellion has made its way onto the national scene. At the NRA’s annual convention, presidential candidates and elected officials address their rabid gun-loving constituency and promote insurrectionism as a real possibility. Donald Trump did not invent this insurrectionist idea — he just provided its largest platform.
While some might dismiss Trump’s statement as “a joke” or “just words,” such language has real-life consequences. Gunmen have assassinated four United States presidents. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was injured in an assassination attempt by a gunman who railed against the government. The NRA and Donald Trump are not joking — they are actively encouraging violence.
For weeks, Donald Trump has been baiting his followers by telling them the fall election will be rigged. In doing so, Trump is sowing seeds of discontent. Coupled with his suggestion that an assassination attempt is within the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, Donald Trump and the NRA have led our country into dangerous territory.
Addressing a crowd in 2009, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “Our Founding Fathers understood that the guys with the guns makes the rules.” This is a gross distortion of the ideals that shaped our nation. Despite what the gun lobby has told us, the Founders never advocated the NRA’s toxic philosophy; in fact, they actively worked to suppress insurrectionists. State militias acted quickly to quash insurrectionist movements like Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.
The NRA has led us to believe this is the America the Founders envisioned. History tells us a different story. George Washington referred to the leader of Shays’ Rebellion — Daniel Shays — as a “subject fit for a mad house.” We can only imagine what the father of our nation would have to say about Donald Trump.