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
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT