It made national headlines last week when 45 senators sided with the National Rifle Association and voted against a bill that would have significantly enhanced public safety in this country by requiring background checks on private sales of firearms at gun shows and other "commercial" venues. What escaped notice was a remarkable speech that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) gave that morning on the floor of the Senate.
Announcing that he would vote for a renewal of the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, Reid told a story about a conversation he had recently had with a friend in Nevada:
He asked me if the police have assault weapons. He asked me if United States military personnel have assault weapons. I said, "Yes, of course they do." And he said, and I quote, "If they have them, I want them." I thought about what this statement means. It means that there should be no limits on the kinds of weapons private citizens are allowed to own. I asked myself whether I believe that to be true. The police have riot gear and tear gas and battering rams. Should civilians have those, too? The military has rockets and machine guns and tanks and fighter jets. Should civilians have those, too? I decided the answer is no. In a civil society, where we have to balance individual rights with public safety, there should be limits on the kind of destructive weapons people are allowed to own ... The desire to arm ourselves against the young men and women who willingly risk their lives to defend our freedoms overseas is not a reason to oppose an assault weapons ban. The wish to arm ourselves against the police who keep our streets safe is not a reason to oppose an assault weapons ban ... The United States military is not out to get us. Federal law enforcement and local police departments are not out to get us. These conspiracy theories are dangerous and they should be put to rest ... I will vote for the ban because maintaining law and order is more important than satisfying conspiracy theorists who believe in black helicopters and false flags. And I will vote for the ban because saving the lives of young police officers and innocent civilians is more important than preventing imagined tyranny.
Senator Reid's friend is certainly not the only one who has bought into insurrectionist ideology, which is the cornerstone belief of the modern pro-gun movement. Just two days after Reid's speech -- and four days after the bombing in Boston -- the Republican Party of Benton County, Arkansas, published a newsletter featuring an editorial by Chris Nogy, the husband of Benton County GOP Secretary Leigh Nogy. In the editorial, Nogy addressed the adoption of Obamacare in Arkansas and wrote:
The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives ... If we can't shoot them, we have to at least be firm in our threat to take immediate action against them politically, socially, and civically if they screw up on something this big. Personally, I think a gun is quicker and more merciful, but hey, we can't.
The following day on April 20th former Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh spoke at a pro-gun rally in Hartford, Connecticut. Vanderboegh gained infamy in May 2010 when he urged pro-gun activists to "break the windows" of Democratic Members of Congress who supported Obamacare. District offices across the country were vandalized, including the Tucson office of then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
In his Hartford speech, Vanderboegh focused not on health care, but on Connecticut's tough new gun laws, which include a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Vanderboegh's message for those attending the rally, which was organized by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, was, "Defy. Resist. Evade. Smuggle." Vanderboegh declared his intention to break the law by smuggling high-capacity ammunition magazines into Connecticut, cited my organization as one of his "despicable" enemies, and opined that "a civil war is staring us in the face." Most ominously, Vanderboegh stated, "When democracy turns to tyranny, the armed citizen still gets to vote."
Vanderboegh also referred in his speech to his "friend" Kurt Hofmann. I posted here at Huffington Post about Hofmann just before the November 2012 elections after he wrote the following about the need for individuals to learn the art of making improvised explosive devices in his column at examiner.com:
I suggest that readers download Army Technical Manual 31-201, the Improvised Munitions Handbook. Other possibilities include Kitchen Improvised Explosives, Parts One and Two... The reality... is that the country is best served when oath-breaking public officials like [U.S. Senator Dianne] Feinstein are terrified of the wrath of the people. If knowledge of improvised explosives in the hands of every potential militiaman in the country helps foster that fear, so much the better.
[Nor is Hofmann the only pro-gun activist encouraging gun owners to build IEDs. Pro-gun blogger Miguel Gonzalez of Miami, Florida, for example, posts bomb-making information under the sarcastic heading, "The Josh Horwitz Insurrectionist Library."]
Following the recent terrorist attacks in Boston by the Tsarnaev brothers, who wreaked havoc with pressure cooker bombs and firearms, Hofmann was excited, writing in his column at examiner.com:
If one or two men can so thoroughly shake the security apparatus of the United States, the idea that the Second Amendment's protection against tyranny is outdated, because the U.S. is now a modern superpower, and therefore "resistance is futile," is simply not going to hold up. Imagine, after all, what even a small militia group of perhaps a dozen members could do, if the battle were not between terrorists and a country whose people can still convince themselves that they're relatively free; but between a determined and angry citizenry who will no longer submit to enduring a long train of abuses and usurpations, and the government perpetrating those abuses. Now imagine a couple dozen of those militia groups. Now imagine hundreds of them.
National tragedies like the Boston bombing are moments when all segments of American society come together to emphasize the values that we hold in common. Patriotic citizens from coast to coast rallied around our government after witnessing the courageous actions of first responders and law enforcement in Boston. The notion that some would see this instead as an opportunity to divide us -- to foment a civil war -- is deeply disturbing. Haven't we been visited by enough violence in recent months?
The irony also shouldn't be lost on us that the real "well regulated Militia," the National Guard, was deployed to Boston during the tragedy to protect Americans citizens and keep the peace. Indeed, the Second Amendment's author, James Madison, spoke eloquently about the threat posed to our nation by armed mobs and internal rebellions (i.e., Shays' Rebellion). As did the man who led our forces to victory in the Revolutionary War, George Washington, who told his fellow citizens, "Your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and ... the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other."
Those who tell us otherwise distort the meaning of our Constitution and intent of our Founders. More ominously, they create a climate which fosters acts of domestic terror. Like Harry Reid, we should all stand against the Insurrectionist Idea and embrace reforms which will make tragedies like Newtown and Boston things of the past.