Will We Ever Have Sane Gun Laws?

Not Without Moving Beyond Violent Political Talk

The slaughter in Tucson hasn't shaken us out of bad political habits.

Instead of promoting a sober conversation about the dangers of violent political talk, it has reinforced divisions between left and right. Even responsible conservatives have dismissed any suggestion that Saturday's attack is reason enough to condemn the threats of violence that have become standard to the discourse at the extremes of their side of politics.

More importantly: We have not focused at all on how the militarized rhetoric on the right is tightly connected to our national failure to enact the gun regulations that might have saved lives in Arizona.

The descriptions of President Barack Obama as a "tyrant," the intimations that he is "alien" and the suggestions that his presidency is illegitimate are essential to the core rationale for resisting any restrictions on firearms. The conversation of American conservatism is being shaped by the assumptions of the gun lobby to a much greater degree than mainstream conservatives should wish.

For a long time, liberals hoped that by persuading opponents of gun control that we harbored no hostility to the vast law-abiding majority of gun owners—or to hunting or to rural culture—we might forge a consensus around rational firearms laws to protect innocents.

But in part from e-mail exchanges with ardent foes of gun control over the years, I came to realize that the real passion for a let-anything-go approach to guns has little to do with culture or hunting. It is rooted in a very peculiar view of how America has maintained its freedom. Rep. Ron Paul, as is his wont, expressed it as plainly as anyone.

"The Second Amendment is not about hunting deer or keeping a pistol in your nightstand," the Texas Republican declared in 2006. "It is not about protecting oneself against common criminals. It is about preventing tyranny. The Founders knew that unarmed citizens would never be able to overthrow a tyrannical government as they did.... The muskets they used against the British army were the assault rifles of that time."

And at a Washington rally last year on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) linked this view to the current occupant of the White House.

"Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution, and they're right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States—and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us," he declared. "It's not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It's not about the ability for me to protect my family and my property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it's all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States."

Is it any wonder that the gun lobby argues that restricting high-capacity magazines is just one step down the road to dictatorship?

Let's salute Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) for breaking with gun-lobby orthodoxy by suggesting legislation that would make it illegal to carry a weapon within 1,000 feet of elected or high-ranking federal officials at publicly announced events.

But by Broun's logic, isn't King's proposal just a way for big government's servants to protect themselves from, shall we say, accountability? And if the rest of us ask for comparable protection, this just proves to gun control's opponents that any single restriction leads down a slippery slope to eviscerating all gun rights--and, eventually, to tyranny.

Of course most conservatives don't subscribe to Broun's theory. What I don't understand is why the highest priority of so many who are not Brounites has been to resist any questioning of far-right rhetoric by pretending that doing so is the equivalent of holding those who speak that way responsible for what someone else did.

No. Jared Loughner, the accused killer, is accountable for his own actions. His politics are confused at best and he clearly has mental-health problems. That is what most liberals are saying.

But, yes, this is the time to acknowledge that there is something deeply wrong with the militarization of American conservative rhetoric. Doing so is not—and there are many problems with the term—what Sarah Palin has called a "blood libel." The approach to guns, violence and "tyranny" promoted by loud voices on the right has been instrumental in blocking measures that could at least have contained the casualties in Tucson—or at Virginia Tech or Columbine. Extremism in defense of feeble gun laws is no virtue. 


(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group


Related: Killings in Tucson, by the Editors
Tragic Prophet
, by E. J. Dionne Jr.
Forward Motion, by Joseph D. Becker

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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The real test will be if Congress can at least reinstate the ban on extended clips That the Tucson perp was able to fire 33 bullets and was tackled by an old colonel and an old lady while trying to re-load tells us that the extra 22 bullets he fired would NOT have been fired and the damage so much less. The hundreds of Glocks sold days after the massacre insures that more massacres are CERTAIN. not probable but certain. The clips come from Austria so the ban is easy as can be.  

The other gun myth you site needs to be exposed too. Rand Paul has no military experience. His fantasy that a rag tag citizen army with their rag tag arms could be an effective force needs to be exposed. Maybe a Marine captain could tell him that a Marine company of 250 Marines would make chopped liver out of 2000 of his fantasy right wing up risers.

Armaments production and sales are big business with major dollars at stake.  The NRA is, next to the Chamber of Commerce, one of the best funded bullies on the block.  There are few if any members of the House or Senate who have the intestinal fortitude to take a stand in contradiction to the wishes of the NRA and their fellow travelers.

Carolyn McCarthy is indeed the voice of one crying in the wilderness - with little support from her peers.  http://carolynmccarthy.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=155&sectiontree=189,155&itemid=1717

A breathtakingly weak Revolutionary War patriot analogy by Ron Paul--

"The muskets they used against the British army were the assault rifles of that time."

Yes, in the sense that muskets were the top of the line firepower of their day. Much more importantly, no, in the sense that a single musket could kill or wound at most three or four people per minute, only if wielded by a highly trained and disciplined militia member. In contrast, the modern assault rifle can kill literally dozens of people in seconds, when wielded by any adolescent or adult strong enough to aim in the general direction of their targets.

Paul's thoughtless comparison proves the opposite of his actual conclusion. If there was even some reason to interpret the 2nd Amendment as applying mainly to organized (local or state) government militias in the 1790s, there's overwhelming reason to interpret it that way in the era of cheap and easy-to-obtain and -use assault rifles.

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