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Is Sarah Palin "Mainstream" on Guns?

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The recent choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket came as a surprise to many and has created an uproar in the national media as reporters and bloggers scramble to learn more about this relatively unknown politician. While Palin's staunch anti-abortion stance has been well documented, less detail is known about her position on gun control.

The media's initial description of Palin as pro-gun stemmed primarily from comments she posted on her website when she ran for governor, including the following: "I am a lifetime member of the NRA, I support our Constitutional right to bear arms and am a proponent of gun safety programs for Alaska's youth." Indeed, the National Rifle Association granted Palin its "highest possible rating" during her gubernatorial campaign and recently stated that she "would be one of the most pro-gun vice-presidents in American history."

It was therefore curious to see UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh describe Palin's views on guns as "very mainstream" in Newsweek. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre echoed this assessment, stating that Palin "understands the values of the American public on [Second Amendment] issues."

But does she? A closer examination of her background reveals that Palin has embraced views on gun ownership that are ideologically extreme even by the standards of gun rights advocates.

For starters, receiving the "highest possible rating" from the NRA is not an indicator of mainstream thinking. The NRA has consistently opposed the renewal of the federal Assault Weapons Ban. When the ban expired in September 2004, a national Harris poll revealed that 71% of Americans were in favor of renewing it. The NRA has also consistently opposed closing the gun show loophole (which allows individuals to purchase firearms at gun shows without undergoing a background check). A recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and The Tarrance Group indicated that 87% of Americans favor closing the loophole, including 85% of McCain supporters and 83% of gun owners. And so on and so on...

It is Palin's relationship with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), however, that is truly disturbing. In addition to advocating for Alaska's independence from the United States (party founder Joe Vogler once stated he had "no use for America or her damned institutions"), the AIP makes the NRA look positively moderate on the issue of firearm ownership. Specifically, the AIP opposes any and all limits on who can own a firearm and what types of firearm(s) can be owned. In practice, this could mean convicted felons, domestic abusers, drug addicts, and the mentally ill (among other purchasers currently prohibited under federal law) walking around with fully automatic machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and silencers. AIP's official position is that "gun control is hitting your target."

Equally troubling is AIP's embrace of insurrectionism--the belief that the Second Amendment grants individual citizens the right to confront their government with force of arms when they feel it has become "tyrannical" (the same view which Timothy McVeigh used to justify his attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City). AIP founder Vogler once stated, "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government." AIP Vice Chairman Dexter Clark recently hinted at the potential for a violent uprising at the Second Secessionist Convention in 2007, stating, "The longer this situation continues, the harder it's going to become for a peaceful solution."

Sarah Palin attended the AIP's annual convention in 2006 and addressed their 2008 convention through a videotaped speech while serving as governor, calling their gathering "inspirational" and telling the party's members to "keep up the good work." Her husband, Todd Palin, was a registered member of the Alaskan Independence Party for seven years between 1995 and 2002.

Palin has also endorsed an insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment. In February of this year, she signed Alaska on to a multi-state amicus brief authored by the State of Texas in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The brief reads, in part: "The Framers were understandably wary of standing armies and the powers of a potentially oppressive government ... The introductory clause [of the Second Amendment], properly understood, confirms the primary benefit of the operational clause -- a citizenry capable of defending its rights by force, when all other means have failed, against any future oppression."

When Sarah Palin took the oath of office as governor in 2006, she swore to uphold the United States Constitution. Her association with the Alaska Independence Party, and embrace of insurrectionism, is an anathema to this oath. The claim that individuals have a right to take up arms against representative government was last tried out by the Confederate States of America and settled at the conclusion of the Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln--whose name was invoked by Republicans on the very night that Palin was officially nominated as their vice-presidential candidate--made no bones about his views on the subject, stating, "It is safe to assert to no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination." When he asked Americans to go to war to protect the nation's sovereignty, he added, "And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States ... It presents the question, whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration...can always...break up their government and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth." Following the Civil War, the Supreme Court adopted Lincoln's view in the case of Texas v. White, making it clear that the Constitution did not countenance armed rebellion against the federal government.

Sarah Palin "mainstream" on guns? Not even in the well-documented mythology of her own political party.

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