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
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT