opinion

DUCK!

Gun Nuts Are a Threat to Democracy: How Open Carry Undermines Open Debate

You can’t have open debate or free exercise of religion with a barrel pointed at your head, like the crazies who surround a Texas mosque or the white supremacists who popped off at Black Lives Matter.

“Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules.”

Those were the words of Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president for life at the National Rifle Association and a sputtering rageaholic. NRA leadership has perhaps never stated the aim of the group with more clarity and gusto than when LaPierre produced this gem at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He could have just as easily said might makes right or held up a fasces.

For all the talk about “the Constitution” those on the gun-fondling right like to toss out, that quote betrays the true authoritarian nature of the society he and his henchmen in NRA leadership wish to see us become. One in which the guys who choose to arm up on military weaponry dictate to the rest of us how we conduct ourselves. We can dispense with all the other stuff the founders actually spent most of their time talking about, the rule by majority vote, the right to petition, due process, the security in person and property.

This week was the ghost of Christmas future coming back to warn us, reminding us we need to continue turning back the NRA's efforts to make guns as ubiquitous in our society as the grain in Ben Carson's pyramids.

First, counter-protesters, who are alleged to be white supremacists showed up at a Black Lives Matter rally in Minnesota, got into an argument with the protesters, and started shooting. Then of course, on Saturday, a lunatic launched an assault on the women, patients and police guarding a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (disclosure: I serve on the boards of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio. I am speaking only for myself in this piece, however), killing three, including a police officer and Iraq veteran.

Finally, the University of Chicago has been shut down due to a gun threat. No debate on campus, no inquiry in the classroom. Held hostage, quite literally, to a potential deranged gunman and whatever his agenda might be.

The proliferation of concealed and open carry and lack of universal background checks means anyone can be a terrorist and carry in public, so how the hell is that not going to make others think twice about what they say? Not shockingly, this has a chilling effect on democratic debate, our republican form of government and the ability to gather peacefully. If you don't think the gun—the extended phallus of the FoxNews watcher—is about demographic shrinkage and the wish to wield unearned power, so the guys with the guns can still make the rules, let me share a few more examples.

There was Irving, Texas, just after the Paris attack, where a bunch of gun-wielding white guys surrounded a mosque. There was November of 2013, also in Texas, when a group of 40 or so gun fetishists showed up at a restaurant where members of Moms Demand Action just happened to be meeting, displaying their weapons and waiting outside the door of the joint. Anna Sarkesian, the victim of harassment at the hands of a bunch of atavistic cavemen in the gamer world, had to cancel a lecture at Utah State University because of anonymous threats and the reality that guns are allowed on campus. And there was The Virginia Citizens Defense League, who decided to make sure they’d intimidate their way to victory over their opposition to a gun store being put next to an elementary school in McLean, Virginia, by showing up at a public debate of the McLean Citizens Association with “armed individuals and a customized RV depicting a threatening image of Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui-Cho.”

The message is clear: Shut up or we’ll shoot you.

My friend Joan Peterson, president of the board of Protect Minnesota, shared a personal story about the 2013 legislative session in Minnesota when “hundreds of open carriers” showed up in the Capitol to intimidate those testifying for gun safety inside, and one of them tweeted directly at her, to ask “how she liked being surrounded by guys with guns.” They also “stared at her” for long periods of time and “took photos,” all while openly carrying their weapons.

In Texas (once again, not a surprise), this reached the point of farce when a loony-tunes group of gun nuts mad at Democratic State Rep. Poncho Nevarez because he opposed an open-carry bill, showed up at his office, and filmed themselves calling him a “tyrant to the Constitution,” saying “You won't be here for very long” and refusing to leave after being asked to numerous times. So the Texas Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, responded by passing the open-carry bill and installing “panic buttons” the legislators’ offices. Panic buttons! What’s next, an ejector seat?

This absurdity reminds me of nothing so much as what sage comedian George Carlin once said about the danger of kids being shot because they had toy guns that looked real: “And now they’re thinking about banning toy guns, and they’re gonna keep the fucking real ones!”

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All of this is part of the NRA’s plan, remember: the guys with the guns making the rules.

We can have our democracy replete with free expression, free assembly, and open debate, which our Constitution clearly prescribes. Or we can allow the angry, the unhinged, domestic terrorists, to purchase weapons of war. We can’t have both.