Our VoiceNews & Politics

Gun rights groups don’t kill people, but their frantic politics might


Brian Schultz • Jan 18, 2011

The tragic events in Tuscon on January eighth have clearly left the world in awe. Such deviations in the standard function of civil society always have. Speculations abound, aligning the shooter Jared Lee Loughner with countless ideological ties that spurred the attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her constituency.

But despite this frenetic tangle of purported motivations, it seems that explanations have crystallized on the issue of firearm allowances in the US—especially from those who identify themselves as members of the political left.

All other discussion seems to evaporate when the argument shifts to the more pragmatic issue of gun control: clearly, one could not have facilitated such an attack without the necessary equipment. And Loughner certainly equipped himself.

Immediate reactions to the shooting could not escape the gravity of sheer practicality—to stanch the violence before it foments, to restrict gun ownership in a way that such events would become unimaginable simply because they would no longer be possible. We’ve been inundated with such analysis from popular left-leaning editorials.

The response from Second Amendment supporters was swift. Decrying the left’s allegations, gun retailers and interest groups mobilized to meet the resistance in kind: they claimed that left would exploit such an opportunity to rescind the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Some went as far to advertise the specific armament used in the shooting, reasoning that it would soon be prohibited.

Gun sales have dramatically climbed since January eighth, particularly the Glock 33 round magazine that Loughner used. Supporters of gun ownership have clearly responded to the anti-gun aggression, and have begun to horde in accordance with a ‘patriotic’ certitude.

There’s something really asymmetric about the polarization of views concerning gun-control after the Tuscon shootings. On the one hand, there exists the loyal protectorate of the Second Amendment, insisting that overriding this right would approach a dangerous statism that successively removes civil liberties. On the other, there is the liberal-pragmatic outcry, stating that guns continue to kill innocent people, and should therefore be more strictly regulated—if not banned altogether.

One element is critically missing from the latter argument; though it addresses the practical mode of violence (guns), it overlooks the inherent content of such violence: it ignores the question of ideology. This oversight provides an extraordinarily weak link that right-leaning critics are beginning to exploit. Gun rights groups—and conservative interest groups in general—have been more than eager to offer an ideological critique of the left, claiming that it would sooner remove all of the liberties bestowed by the Constitution than disrupt the operations of the national government.

Gun ownership isn’t just about hunting and personal protection anymore. Groups like the NRA are disseminating a haunting prophecy regarding liberal democracy in the United States: a conspiratorial elite is rising to power, and their ultimate goal is to abolish your freedom. Stories involving the confiscation of and ever-tightening restrictions on firearms reinforce their arguments, all the while endorsing gun ownership as a final defense against these infringements on personal liberties. For Second Amendment lobbyists, it’s not even about guns anymore: it’s about the collapse of civil society.

And this is an ideology that’s not exclusive to gun rights groups, though it has contributed to a fair amount of gun violence. Indeed, this brooding sentiment is surfacing more and more, with a growing base in the conservative patriot movement calling for a systemic upheaval in the United States. Jared Loughner’s own views, though muddled, echo this paranoiac rallying cry, citing government manipulations of fiat currency and the regulation of language as sources of major concern. A causal link is, of course, tricky with someone in his mental state; that being said, this apocalyptic worldview certainly resonated in him.

Thus, the gun-control angle will fall short. It’s not the guns, or even the concept of a Second Amendment lobby, that fuels such violence. It’s the ideology that’s smuggled into these forums and thereby quickly radiated to their adherents.

Without addressing it, one cannot hope to encumber the radical motivations that have reared themselves in the United States. One does not subdue the ideology with material consequences; one confronts it with its own principles in response.

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