Rick Perlstein writes about how Democrats completely surrendered our political will to control guns when the Obama administration backed away from the Bundy ranch. And I have to admit, he makes a good point. I assumed the feds would be back later -- as in, a few weeks. How long has it been now? By the time anything actually happens, will it have any real deterrent effect?
But Perlstein doesn't mention the big honkin' elephant in the room: Namely, at what point does the federal government literally go to war with its own citizens? Because we're not talking about bank robbers here, we're talking about (mostly) non-criminal cranks -- scofflaws and political malcontents. So what line has to be crossed in the good old U.S. of A. before we start mowing them down to make our point? Because you can't talk about the Bundy ranch without talking about Ruby Ridge, and Waco.
So here's the political corner into which we've painted ourselves.
Do we have the ATF and BLM agents roll up in armored tanks? Do we use drone strikes? I can see the administration's reluctance to have that confrontation -- after all, it's not as if gun control advocates were flooding the White House switchboard, screaming to 'take them out!' And then we do have the militia types all over the country, just waiting for an excuse to start their own local uprising. These assholes want a civil war so bad, they can taste it.
Some days, I wonder: Should we let them, and just get it over with? You know, settle the burning question about whose is bigger.
Now, as a historian, it has been my project to demonstrate that there is nothing particularly new about the fetishization of anti-constitutional insurgency as Constitution-worship on the right. I’ve written about the Minutemen, the early-’60s crowd of gun nuts who stockpiled weapons for the final showdown against the state they were sure was imminent once the Communists finally took it over, and slapped stickers on the mailboxes of perceived enemies reading, “Traitors, beware! Even now the crosshairs are on the back of your necks.” In 1966 authorities arrested their leaders and confiscated their stockpiles of tons of ammunition, bombs and even rockets. The right’s vision of sidearms as any patriot’s must-have accessory got a boost from the riots and increasing crime rates of the late 1960s. Inside the National Rifle Association, once mostly an anodyne gun-safety organization aimed at sportsmen, a faction emerged to take aim at any and all attempts at gun regulation, many of which they once supported. Laws, for example, aimed at banning the sale of guns by mail — the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine said that followed the “Communist line.” From there it was but a short distance to the conviction that gun-toting was a patriotic imperative — the better to beat back “those,” as Ronald Reagan wrote in Guns & Ammo magazine in 1975, “who see confiscation of weapons as one way of keeping the people under control.”
So what’s different now? Why is this language so prevalent, and why do so many on the far right seem so eager to act upon it? They haven’t changed. We have.
By “us,” I mean Democrats — though the kind of Democrats, to be fair, who decide party policy from Washington. Once upon a time, Democratic presidential candidates robustly argued for gun control — that, as the party platform put it in 1980 (the year the NRA made its first ever presidential endorsement, of Ronald Reagan), “handguns simplify and intensify violent crime”; Democrats support “enactment of federal legislation to strengthen the presently inadequate regulations over the manufacture, assembly, distribution, and possession of handguns.” Note no mention of machine guns, because back then the notion that there should be no barrier to their ownership would have seemed self-evidently ridiculous to most reasonable observers.
[...] In the interim, the mainstream of the Democratic Party simply gave most of the gun control argument away. Al Gore ran on a platform in 2000 that devoted about 250 words to gun control, including a pledge to push for mandatory child safety locks and a full background check and gun safety test before anyone could buy a handgun in America. Then, after Gore lost his home state, Tennessee, and other “border” Southern states, the geniuses running the Democratic Party decided to abandon gun control as an issue in order to court Southern white men (how’s that working out?).
The gun-control portion of the platform in 2004 was slimmed down to 46 words. 2012’s version gave away the store: It affirmed, “We recognize that the individual right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second Amendment right to own and use firearms,” and asked only for “an honest, open national conversation about firearms” (yeah, the NRA is really interested in that), “effective enforcement of existing laws, especially strengthening our background check system,” and reinstating the assault weapon ban and closing the gun show loophole.
In other words, there is virtually no countervailing power to the now-hegemonic acceptance that there’s nothing much to do about the proliferation of guns in America. Democrats, as usual, gave an inch. The right, as usual, took a mile. And now we face the consequences.