A man shoots AR-15 rifles and other weapons at a shooting range during the “Rod of Iron Freedom Festival” on October 12, 2019 in Greeley, Pa. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images).
Last month, an untrained 18-year-old kid, armed with an AR-15 and multiple high-capacity magazines, intimidated an entire police force into doing nothing while he slaughtered their town’s helpless schoolchildren.
For more than an hour, while kids frantically texted and called 911 begging to be rescued, the “good guys” did nothing. They did nothing because they didn’t dare.
Looked at logically, it’s an absurd situation. Why would we legally put so much firepower in the hands of an individual that it frightens even well-trained, well-armed law enforcement into docility and makes it almost impossible for them to “serve and protect” us?
The answer that we get from gun extremists only multiplies the absurdity. They don’t see it as a problem if law enforcement is so easily out-gunned; to the contrary, they see it as a necessity. According to their theology – and it is a theology – the freedom of every American is at risk unless citizens have the firepower to intimidate and if necessary overthrow their own government. No body count of dead schoolchildren or dead black grocery shoppers or dead Jews or Christians at worship or dead concert-goers can outweigh that sacred right.
They claim to find that right in their distorted view of the Second Amendment, which they believe guarantees them enough firepower to take on law enforcement, the National Guard and even the U.S. military, at the time of their choosing, and whenever they believe that “tyranny” exists. And in recent years they’ve been telling each other that the time is growing ever closer, and that the “tyranny” is ever more real. The Jan. 6 insurrection attempt was a direct product of that mindset, and I guarantee you that there are people across the country right now telling each other that their only mistake was not to come armed, and that they must not make that mistake the next time.
Of course, the Second Amendment is not a suicide pact. “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,” the amendment begins. As those words make clear, the amendment exists to guarantee the security of a state against armed insurrection, not to threaten it. For the same reason, all 50 state governments have had laws on the book from the earliest days of this country that prevent the formation of private armed militias, because again, there has never been an expectation that government must acquiesce to its own destruction.
Under Georgia law, for example, it is a misdemeanor for people to “associate themselves together as a military unit or parade or demonstrate in public with firearms.” It is a felony to provide or seek military training for “use in or in furtherance of a civil disorder, riot, or insurrection.” And if you ask yourself why those laws are not being enforced, part of the explanation is that law enforcement is understandably wary of the dangers in trying to do so against militias that possess equal or greater firepower.
I grew up around guns, around people who owned and used guns responsibly, as our fathers had taught us. Guns were a tool, but a dangerous tool to be respected, like a chainsaw. Today you still hear that description of guns as an inanimate tool, but they have become invested with a mystique that transforms them into so much else. They have become a source of identity, a fetish object, a political statement, a security blanket for the insecure, a means of intimidation, a source of veto power over decisions they do not like.
If more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest society in the history of Planet Earth, but we’re not. We’ve run the experiment; we know how it turns out. Rising levels of gun violence inspire rising levels of gun purchases. Rising gun purchases in turn ratchet up the scale of gun violence which in turn escalates even more gun purchases. It is not an accident that according to the Center for Disease Control, nine of the 10 states with the highest per-capita rate of firearms fatalities are so-called red states.
And yes, we can try to harden our schools against attacks, but as the Uvalde tragedy teaches us that would require turning them into veritable fortresses, closing them off from the communities that they serve. And the problem is there’s no shortage of other soft targets for those with the anger and the firearms to vent it. If we harden our grocery stores and our music festivals and movie theaters and churches and businesses and day-care centers and sporting events and shopping malls with airport-level security measures, the result would not be anything that most of us would confuse with freedom.
It’s easy to blame all this on the gun extremists and those who kowtow to them, as Gov. Brian Kemp did this year in allowing open carry of weapons without a permit. (Note that Kemp waited until an election year to push that legislation, an election year in which he faced a primary challenge.) However, it is the silence and acquiescence of the rest of us that allows this to happen.
I particularly want to focus on the millions of responsible gun owners in this country, who I know for a fact are out there. They know this is all nuts, that it has gone too far and that the current trajectory will take us to much worse; they know it is a threat not just to the personal safety of ourselves and our loved ones but also to American democracy.
But if it’s too hard to speak up, too risky to make your voice heard, then you’re basically like those cops sitting around outside Robb Elementary School, armed with the tools needed to intervene but shamefully afraid to do so.
Jay S. Bookman is a columnist for the Georgia Recorder, where this column first appeared.
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