BradyWatch: getting it totally backwards

Dennis Hennigan is trying to convince us that the NRA endorses political violence and that gun owners are a threat to society because their arms give them the capacity to force their will on others. Here’s the key passage:

According to [NRA vice president Wayne] LaPierre, when it comes down to it, the only freedom that really counts is the right to be armed – without it, “liberty is but an illusion.” In the NRA’s world, we are only free to the extent that our guns allow us to impose our will on others. Here are LaPierre’s words:

Hennigan has it precisely backwards; guns represent freedom not because they give us the ability to forcibly impose our will on others, but because they give us a means to resist when others try to forcibly impose their will on us. When LaPierre once said, “The guys with the guns make the rules,” he was in fact referring to the government, not the citizens; he was saying that an armed government can do what it pleases to an unarmed citizenry, up to an including genocide, because the citizens have no capacity to contest the government’s decision.

As usual, it comes down a conflict of worldviews. In Hennigan’s world, citizens don’t need arms because the government protects them with their own. In LaPierre’s world, unarmed citizens can be targets for corrupted governments intent on purging “undesirables” or quashing opposition. I don’t think it takes a history major to see which world we actually live in. Ask Jews living in Germany in the 1940s if they would have preferred arms to state-enforced weaponlessness.

I am reminded of a dissenting passage written by 9th Circuit Chief Justice Alex Kozinski in Silveira v. Lockyer:

All too many of the other great tragedies of history – Stalin’s atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few – were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.

My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

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