We now know that the National Rifle Association will be joining Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin for Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th Anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Is it possible to imagine a greater offense to the legacy of Dr. King?
The NRA, the leading purveyor of the noxious notion that guns are legitimate tools of political dissent, will be standing in the historic shadow of Dr. King, the apostle of non-violent protest. Dr. King resisted calls to violence from within the civil rights movement with these words: "There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men. Our enemies would prefer to deal with a small armed group rather than with a huge, unarmed but resolute mass of people...." As history shows, the civil rights movement touched the moral conscience of our Nation, and ended the Jim Crow era, by pursuing Dr. King's path of peaceful sit-ins and marches, rather than resisting Bull Connor's water hoses with bullets.
What would Dr. King have thought of the wild cheers that greeted the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, when he said this at last year's Conservative Political Action Conference: "Freedom is nothing but dust in the wind till it's guarded by the blue steel and dry powder of a free and armed people . . . Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules." The idea, long promoted by the NRA, that the Second Amendment is really about ensuring the threat of violence against the government as a legitimate strategy to achieve political change, is now an anthem of the Far Right. As Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate nominated by the Republicans to run for Harry Reid's Nevada Senate seat, put it recently, "If Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies." In other words, if the Right cannot change the direction of the country through peaceful discussion and dissent, it will be time for the "guys with the guns" to "make the rules." We have seen the words of political intimidation translate into action, as guns have been openly brandished at Tea Party events and town hall meetings.
What irony could be more cruel than the NRA's presence on the steps of the Memorial to President Lincoln, on the Anniversary of Dr. King's speech, a stark reminder that both these American icons were struck down by gunfire in acts of political violence? John Wilkes Booth and James Earl Ray were "guys with the guns" who sought to change the direction of our country through armed force. We need no more powerful demonstration of the horror that can be too easily justified by the insurrectionist ideas of the NRA and its Tea Party friends. And what could be uglier than the planned appearance of guitarist Ted Nugent, an NRA Board Member, who once said that "apartheid isn't that cut and dry," because "all men are not created equal"?
The "Restoring Honor" rally is being sold as an entirely "non-political" event that simply will pay tribute "to America's service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor." But the ideological agenda is barely concealed. "Help us restore the values that founded this great nation," says Beck's promotional material. What values have been lost that must be restored? Who lost them? How should we restore them? The theme of "lost values that must be restored" is indistinguishable from the Tea Party demand, "We want our country back!" The NRA's presence is an implicit statement that if our values cannot be restored throughout peaceful dissent, the "guys with the guns" will be there to restore them through other means.
In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. King said this: "We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence." The appearance of the NRA at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 shows a shameful contempt for Dr. King's memory and the principles of non-violent protest for which he lived, and died.
We must have faith that Dr. King's legacy will remain strong enough to ensure that the guys with the guns do not make the rules.
For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009)