Following last week's high-profile Senate Judiciary hearing in response to the tragedy at Newtown, the media paid extensive attention to National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's flip-flop on the issue of closing the Gun Show Loophole and witness Gayle Trotter's ridiculous assertion that "guns make women safer."
What went largely unnoticed was perhaps the most telling moment of the hearing, which involved this exchange between LaPierre and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin:
DURBIN: Mr. LaPierre, I run into some of your members in Illinois and here's what they tell me, "Senator, you don't get the Second Amendment." Your NRA members say, "You just don't get it. It's not just about hunting. It's not just about sports. It's not just about shooting targets. It's not just about defending ourselves from criminals," as Ms. Trotter testified. "We need the firepower and the ability to protect ourselves from our government--from our government, from the police--if they knock on our doors and we need to fight back." Do you agree with that point of view?
LAPIERRE: Senator, I think without any doubt, if you look at why our founding fathers put it there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.
During a hearing in which Republican Senators actively tried to portray assault weapons as merely "scary-looking" pieces of plastic with no real functional purpose, LaPierre's statement revealed that they are in fact weapons of choice for individuals ready to wage war on our government. This was certainly not the first time LaPierre had made such a declaration -- remember, this is the guy who told us "the guys with the guns make the rules" at a CPAC conference -- but his statement on Wednesday was nonetheless remarkable because it so clearly articulated the insurrectionist idea on a national stage, linking it directly to the need for unfettered access to assault weapons. Now, no doubt remains about the type of "firepower" citizens would need in order to fight LaPierre's "tyranny" ... The same type of firepower that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary.
And Baltimore Police Chief James Johnson, the Chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, who was sitting at the witness table with LaPierre, was more than happy to explain the true purpose of a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle:
We use that weapon in police because of its technical capability, it's ability to cool down and handle round after round after round ... It's rugged...it's meant for a combat or environment that one would be placed in facing adversaries, human beings, people. That weapon can be retrofitted with other devices to enhance your offensive capability. The weapon itself has features to adjust it -- optics sights, for example -- that can cost hundreds of dollars, and I've shot this weapon many times -- that would enhance our capability in various tactical maneuvers, whether [you're firing] from the shoulder or the hip or whether you choose to spray fire that weapon or individually shoot from the shoulder.
A cosmetically different version of Grandpa's hunting rifle? I don't think so. A vigorous public debate over the true purpose of assault weapons is one that the gun lobby wants to avoid at all costs. Such a debate would belie their claim that AR-15s are "modern sporting rifles" with no military application whatsoever and invigorate the push for a renewal of the assault weapons ban. Once average Americans understand the interplay between the militarization of civilian weaponry and the gun lobby's devotion to insurrectionist rhetoric, the gig is up for Wayne & Co.
That awakening is happening before our eyes, in large part because President Obama has begun to speak out strongly about how the NRA's radical reading of the Second Amendment threatens other basic American freedoms. During a White House press conference on January 16 announcing his new package of gun policy reforms, the president said this:
The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate, and all the families who've never imagined that they'd lose a loved one to a bullet -- those rights are at stake. We're responsible.
These words were invoked with horror by NRA ally and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley at the Senate Judiciary hearing. Grassley, too, senses the potential power of this new, anti-insurrectionist idea and he countered aggressively:
I was taken aback when [President Obama] cited the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as sources of government power to restrict gun ownership rights ... The right to peacefully assemble protects individual rights to organize, to protest, and seek to change to government action. That right is trivialized and mischaracterized as protecting shopping and watching movies ... No wonder millions of Americans fear that the president might take executive action and Congress may enact legislation that could lead to tyrannical federal government. So, I cannot accept the president's claim that, quote, "There will be politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of tyrannical all-out assault on liberty, not because that's true, but because they want to gin up fear."
The senator is out of touch if he believes that gun policy proposals that enjoy overwhelming popular support (even among gun owners) constitute a "tyrannical all-out assault on liberty." He seems to personally validate the president's notion that the gun lobby (and its allies) will engage in fear mongering to protect industry profits.
Those whose families and lives were destroyed by the mass shooting in Newtown certainly aren't buying it. On the same day that LaPierre and Grassley were disseminating venomous falsehoods about the intent behind the Second Amendment, David Wheeler -- the father of 6 year-old Sandy Hook victim Benjamin Wheeler-- gave the following remarkable testimony in front of the Connecticut legislature's Bipartisan Task Force on Violence and Public Safety:
Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness; the rights with which we are endowed for the protection of which we have instituted governments. I do not think the composition of that foundational phrase was an accident. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual. The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life, his life, to the right to live of all of those children, and those teachers. To the right to the lives of your children, of you, of all of us, all of our lives, it is second. Let's honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight.
Indeed. And getting our priorities straight means rejecting the notion that we have some type of fundamental right to take up assault weapons against the government our Founders created.