Skip to main content

NRA's paranoid fantasy flouts democracy

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
updated 10:07 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Waldman: Obama announced gun curbs; gun advocates said it'll be tyranny
  • NRA ad calling Obama "elitist" because his kids get protection is not sane view, he says
  • He says some gun advocates urge resistance to duly authorized law enforcement
  • Waldman: Freedom is guaranteed by law, not gun owners

Editor's note: Paul Waldman is a contributing editor at the American Prospect and the author of "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success." Follow him on his blog and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- When President Obama announced on Wednesday his proposals to curb gun violence, no surprise: Gun advocates condemned it as the first step in a rapid slide toward tyranny.

The night before, the National Rifle Association released an ad calling Obama an "elitist hypocrite," because, the ad says, he's "skeptical about putting armed security in our schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school." (Obama had said in an interview last month that he was "skeptical" that the "only answer" was putting more guns in schools.) Republicans and Democrats alike condemned the NRA for using the president's children in a political attack ad, but the ad was actually quite revealing.

Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

A sane person might argue that the president and his family require special protection because they face threats the rest of us don't. But the NRA and many of its most fervent supporters don't see it that way. As far as they're concerned, all of us are just as threatened as the person in the Oval Office. The fact that you're an ordinary person and not the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth doesn't mean you haven't already been targeted by an al Qaeda death squad or a murderous drug gang, so you'd better be prepared, not just with a gun but with an entire arsenal of military-style weaponry.

But the real threat in the fantasy world some gun owners have spun inside their heads isn't terrorists. You know the people I'm talking about: the "doomsday preppers," the angry tea partiers talking about "watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants," the folks who can't talk about guns for 30 seconds without bringing up Hitler (who, for what it's worth, didn't actually disarm the German people, as so many gun advocates believe). What's important isn't just that these folks are paranoid, it's who they're paranoid about: the United States government.

Opinion: Real hypocrites are at NRA

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Take, for one vivid example, James Yeager, the CEO of a Tennessee company called Tactical Response. In response to the prospect of stricter gun laws, he posted a YouTube video saying, "If that happens, it's gonna spark a civil war, and I'll be glad to fire the first shot. ... I'm not letting my country be ruled by a dictator. I'm not letting anybody take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I'm gonna start killing people."

And who is it, exactly, whom he'd be killing in this fantasy of his? His neighbors? No, he'd be killing the duly constituted authorities of the United States. He's talking about -- maybe dreaming about -- the day when police officers or members of the U.S. military come to his door, so he can kill them. (Yeager later apologized after Tennessee officials suspended his concealed carry permit.)

OK, so this guy is an extremist. But there are thousands, maybe millions, of gun owners out there whose sentiments are only a notch or two more restrained. These people talk a lot about liberty and freedom and love to call themselves patriots, but they seem to have a real problem with democracy. In a democracy, if people are proposing a law you don't like, you criticize it, you argue against it, you campaign against it, you vote against the politicians who support it. But if you believe in democracy, you don't threaten to start killing people if it passes. You don't say that if you don't like a new law, you'll start an insurrection to overthrow the government.

Obama pushes universal background checks
Obama's gun plan and the NRA's ad
White House calls NRA ad 'cowardly'

Yet that's exactly what some people are saying, and it isn't just some lonely nut with a webcam and a YouTube account. People like him are spurred on by a conservative media that encourages them to believe that every Obama administration effort they disagree with isn't just something objectionable, it's the very definition of dictatorship.

Opinion: Gun control is on all of us

If you're a regular listener to conservative talk radio, you've heard Barack Obama compared to Hitler and Stalin innumerable times, over every issue from health care to taxes (after Obama's press conference, one Fox News Radio host tweeted, "Freedom ends. Tyranny begins."). Since his election in 2008, supposedly respectable politicians have talked about simply refusing to obey laws they don't like, and some even proposed seceding from the union.

To be clear, most gun owners aren't stockpiling canned goods and assault rifles in preparation for some kind of societal breakdown that will give them permission to act out the violent fantasies they've been nurturing for years. But many would say that their "right" to own any and every kind of firearm they please is the only thing that guarantees that tyranny won't come to the United States.

Well, guess what: They're wrong. In today's world, most tyrants aren't overthrown by an armed populace. Nonviolent revolutions can result in a quick transition to democracy, while violent insurrections often result in long and bloody civil wars.

And here in America, it isn't 1776, and it won't ever be again. The founders may have thought citizens should be able to keep a musket if they wanted, but they also wrote into the Constitution that the government had the obligation to "suppress insurrections." They hoped that our freedom would be guaranteed by our laws and institutions, not by a guy down the block with an AR-15 and a chip on his shoulder.

They certainly didn't set up our democracy in the hope that every time any group of people didn't like a law that democracy produced, they'd abandon any pretense of support for our system of government and start killing the cops and soldiers who protect us. There's a word for people who dream about doing that, and it isn't "patriot."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Waldman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT