Skip to main content

NRA's paranoid fantasy flouts democracy

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
January 17, 2013 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
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
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT