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Gun Ranting: Good Fun, or Treason?

John Wilkes Booth saw himself as ridding the nation of a tyrant, but the nation mostly saw him as the treasonous assassin of their elected leader. See how this works? It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it.
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If you hoard weapons for the express purpose of overturning the elected administration, then you are many things. A patriot isn't one of them. Blind adherence to a single amendment does not make you a champion of the Constitution itself. Violent intent towards the duly-elected government does not make you a friend to the nation. There is in fact an accurate word for this species of plotting: treason.

Yes, I know -- it's a matter of arming civilians against tyranny. That in itself is not a monstrous concept, and you find something of that in the Founders' fear of a standing army, and hence in the Second Amendment itself.

Note, however: you don't get to define "tyrant" any which way you'd like. John Wilkes Booth, for example, clearly thought that Abraham Lincoln fit the description. After shooting the president, he famously announced: "sic semper tyrannis" ("thus always to tyrants"). Hence, he was simply exercising his constitutional rights, right?

Sadly for Booth, Americans did not much agree with his assessment of Lincoln. Booth saw himself as ridding the nation of a tyrant, but the nation mostly saw him as the treasonous assassin of their elected leader. See how this works? It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it.

Booth was surprised to discover that his opinion was not so popular. Then he was shot in a burning barn. Sic semper to guys like John Wilkes Booth.

You regard Obama as a tyrant? (Many gun hoarders do, including ex-rock-star Ted Nugent, who is, among other things, a lot less handsome than Booth.) As long as you do not act upon this demented interpretation of current events, then you're safely this side of Booth territory. Even if you resemble him notionally.

I think we can say, however, that history will not side with you should you loudly proclaim your desire to assassinate your elected commander-in-chief. Decent people will not remember you, fondly, as a patriot doing calisthenics with the Second Amendment. They will regard you as an enemy of the state, contemplating treason. And, unfortunately for you, they will be correct.

You do not have to succeed to be remembered in this way. Guy Fawkes did not, when you think about it, go all that much further than today's most malignant gun hoarders: he collected lethal materials (in his case gunpowder, not Glocks), and he plotted.

The difference, of course, is that very few of today's macho schemers intend to follow through with their expressed plans. Fawkes would undoubtedly have lit the match, given the opportunity. Moreover, most Second Amendment blowhards are careful to express their plans contingently: it's only if the administration does something terrible -- say, grabs their guns -- that they will topple it by force. This eventuality requires, they insist, that the nation always swim in a vast cesspool of ordnance. But there's a possibility that they will in fact refrain from armed insurrection.

Most of these guys are more in the line of James Yeager. Mr. Yeager, if you have not yet had the pleasure, is the man who went viral (and I use that term in its proper medical sense), with a YouTube rant about his intention to commit mass murder should his guns be grabbed. He announced that he was going to "start killing people" should his fantasy version of the Second Amendment be circumcised.

Now, what's interesting about James Yeager is that his guns were in fact grabbed.

Yes, Yeager's handgun carry permit was suspended, after this virulent rant, by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. This wasn't the federal government, but it was an entity acting in accordance with the current administration in Washington, and these officials did indeed make a point of infringing upon Yeager's right to bear arms.

And here's the thing: James Yeager did not start shooting people.

This man, who gives baldness a bad name, just isn't all that putsch-happy when he's not on YouTube. He does happen to be the CEO of a company called "Tactical Response," but despite the attitudinal goatee and the righteous tattoos, he's probably no more of a threat to the nation than the Star Wars Kid.

I expect that Yeager is the norm, among today's plotters: very few of them constitute a genuine political menace. All that they have in common with Guy Fawkes, or John Wilkes Booth, or Timothy McVeigh, are scary words and scary weapons.

I don't mean to say that the Homeland Security people did wrong here. It would in fact be nice to see the federal Department of Homeland Security take their cue from the boys in Tennessee. The best way to ensure the safety of Americans is not to remove their shoes at the airport, but to remove their guns at the threat to kill people.

I'd rather see the nation's grandmothers permitted their shoes, and the nation's Yeagers deprived of their Colts. It's a subtle distinction: the footwear of a little old lady who is not the CEO of Tactical Response vs. the hardware of a buff ranting guy who is the CEO of Tactical Response. Even if the buff guy turns out to be all bluster, it's reasonable to worry about his capacity to kill.

The threat to employ lethal weapons against the elected government, by the way, is not a protected right. It would seem to be covered by both the First and Second Amendments, but most jurists consider the Constitution unfriendly to traitors.

Only one circumstance would render this threat constitutional: the rise of a genuine tyranny. Again, however, the crucial distinction here is genuine. You do not get to decide that -- because you don't like the man elected by your fellow citizens -- you are therefore enslaved to a tyrant, and have the constitutional right to storm Washington with semiautomatics.

Even if this duly-elected president enacts rigorous gun controls, you still don't get to decide that he's fair game for a coup d'état.

Your conviction is admirably dim in the first place: that you can go up against this imagined tyranny with your personal stash of Bushmasters. You may believe this, but I expect most of your gun dealers (and I use that term in its proper criminal sense) don't. To them, your delusions are a means to an end: your courageous fear of slavery ensures that you remain enslaved to their product.

But this brave medieval stupidity has to be made simply irrelevant. Should you loudly announce that you're arming yourselves with the intent to "start killing people" when aggrieved, then your fellow citizens -- the sane ones -- should pledge to make your life appropriately hellish.

Ted Nugent's bombast -- despite the militia-speak and the nod to patriotic history -- is the opposite of patriotic: "If you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies.... When a man can dictate to another man an unarmed helplessness, such a dictator is dangerous." Ted made it very clear that the word "dictator" here referred to President Obama: "He is an evil dangerous man who hates America and hates freedom and we need to fix this as soon as possible."

Sane gun enthusiasts recognize that Ted is as much of a hazard to them as to the rest of us. His buddies are as dangerous to the children of hunters as they are to the children of holistic massage therapists. Moreover, Nugent-like ranting is a menace to sane people's Second-Amendment rights: it is because of these Yeageresque extremists that we see a radical abolitionist approach to all civilian weaponry.

Personally, I have no problem with guns used, for instance, to keep predators from livestock. I have absolutely no problem with competitive marksmen: may you win a gold medal. Okay, I have a bit of a problem with hunters, but that has nothing to do with guns -- it's predicated on a softness for innocent creatures. In short: I have no problem with guns per se. I expect that most Americans agree with me.

I do however take issue with the NRA's inane, disingenuous slogan: "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." Properly stated, this should be: "Guns don't kill people; bald tattooed survivalists with the treasonous intent to commit mass murder because they fear and loathe the democratically elected administration -- when combined with unfettered access to semiautomatics -- kill people."

It's not any one ingredient, you see. It's a sort of brutal cake mix. This threat of a soufflé.

And the NRA, to pursue this lousy metaphor, is the baker from hell.

Note, however, that silly language -- although all the rage -- is not always so benign. Even though musing about sedition is the new black, we should stress that the law does have a way of dealing with this, when musing crosses that subtle line into threatening. Revoking James Yeager's gun carry permit is pretty mild, relative to the punitive measures that the nation has at its disposal when faced with a credible threat of treason.

Clowns like Alex Jones should probably be permitted to wax seditious the way that he did on Piers Morgan's show. A certain kind of rhetorical lunacy is a grand American tradition, and parody -- even self-parody -- is protected by the First Amendment.

Whether Ted Nugent is a clown or a dangerous clown is for the Secret Service to determine (and they seem unsure). It's not always clear when entertainment becomes intent. It is, however, a crucial distinction. James Yeager appears, for instance, to have put one muscular toe over the line. And we should not weep that his Second Amendment rights are now a bit less absolute.

In fact, we the sane should insist upon this: treasonous posturing is not something to be treated casually. Yes, you have the right to own guns. You have the right to announce that you own these guns for reasons of self-defense. The Constitution even permits you, apparently, to announce that you've amassed weapons in order to do battle with tyranny.

When, however, you announce that the current duly-elected president and his administration are precisely the tyranny against which you are amassing weapons, this -- while risible in some respects -- should not be shrugged off as a healthy exercise of constitutional rights. It should be seen for what it is, and dealt with appropriately.

You truly intend to take up arms against a sea of imagined troubles? You're in for a world of pain.

This is the ninth installment of "NRA vs. USA", a series by Douglas Anthony Cooper dealing with gun control and the Newtown Massacre. Part One, "This is What You Take to a Gun Fight" is here. Part Two, "Walking in the Shoes of Our Slain Children" is here. Part Three, "A Proven Way to End the Gun Slaughter: Will We Fight For it?" is here. Part Four, "Guns? Mental Health? Really? Let's Talk About Psychopaths" is here. Part Five, "So You're Bored of the Newtown Massacre" is here. Part Six, "Now We Know Who's Going to Take Down the NRA" is here. Part Seven, "The NRA is My Hall Monitor" is here. Part Eight, "The NRA's 'Slippery Slope' Lie" is here.

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