National Rifle Association (NRA) board member and aged rocker Ted Nugent made national headlines in April when his threats against President Obama and Democrats earned him a visit from the Secret Service. But he has taken recently to uttering another mantra that is equally disturbing and revealing. At a concert in Forth Worth on August 25, Nugent told the crowd, "The whole world sucks. America sucks less." It was at least the fourth time in the last year he's publicly shared this derogatory opinion about the United States.
Nugent's remarks got me thinking about a seldom discussed but critical aspect of the modern pro-gun movement: Its total lack of faith in the system of government established by our Founders in the U.S. Constitution. It is that profound lack of faith -- more than anything -- that is responsible for the insurrectionist ideology ("Second Amendment remedies") that fuels the movement.
Pro-gun leaders like NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre would have us believe that "the guys with the guns make the rules" in our democracy. But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, our Founders ratified the Constitution to obviate the need for political violence. The very first line of the document reads as follows: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The Founders were telling the world that this brilliant new system of government -- this social compact -- would secure individual rights on a scale previously unknown in the civilized world. They protected liberty not by creating a libertarian society where every citizen was in it solely for himself, but by establishing a strong, energetic government and stressing civic responsibility.
In the face of this history and the plain terms of the Constitution itself, it is amazing to see modern insurrectionists like Judge Roy Moore, the controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, write things like, "Liberty and freedom are gifts of God, and not the government. The means by which we secure those gifts are ultimately in the hands and the 'arms' of the people." It's as if Moore is totally unaware of all the robust protections for individual rights spelled out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The idea of liberty may be a "gift of God," but the Framers knew it could only be safeguarded if a robust government was in place to arbitrate private disputes and guarantee that each citizen has an equal voice in the affairs of the nation. Furthermore, what spurred the drafting of the Constitution was a fear that "licentiousness" -- freedom taken to excess -- was the greatest threat to individual liberty!
Nonetheless, Moore is far from alone in his belief that only private violence can be trusted to "secure the Blessings of Liberty." At the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Wayne LaPierre told those in attendance:
Their laws don't work, their lies don't ring true ... Government has failed us with our money and our financial institutions. It has failed in running our post offices and trains. It has failed in enforcing our immigration laws, our drug laws, and our laws against violent criminals with guns. Heck, they can barely get the snow plowed ... By its lies and laws and lack of enforcement, government policies are getting us killed and imprisoning us in a society of terrifying violence.
In LaPierre's world, it's as if the U.S. government never fostered the most powerful economy in the world, or put Neil Armstrong on the moon, or won two world wars, or built a national system of highways, or prevented generations of senior citizens from living out their final years in poverty, etc., etc. And the system of justice spelled out in the Constitution? The NRA has completely given up on it. Bill of Rights protections? Worthless. The courts? Can't trust 'em. In Personal Firepower We Trust.
Perhaps most disturbing are the endless attempts to conflate our constitutional republic with some of the most brutal and inhumane dictatorships in human history (try Googling "gun control Hitler" sometime). Recently, when my organization, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, asked National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) General Counsel Larry Keane if he felt that individual Americans had a right to shoot and kill government officials in response to what they personally perceived as "tyranny," Keane tweeted back at us plaintively, "Just like the Jews in the ghettos of Warsaw? The South Sudanese? Kurds? The American colonists?"
Keane makes an important, but unintended, point. Countries that kill their own citizens are not democracies. As political scientist R.J. Rummel noted in his 1997 book, Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence, nations with strong democratic institutions do not murder their own citizens. A more recent study by Christian Davenport and David A. Armstrong II examined this conclusion statistically and found, "Democratic political systems have been found to decrease political bans, censorship, torture, disappearances and mass killing, doing so in a linear fashion across diverse measurements, methodologies, time periods, countries, and contexts." Well-developed democracies are the most effective means of preventing public and private violence, and the U.S. Constitution -- to this day -- remains the template for free societies.
Last year, the NRA criticized a blog I had written here at the Huffington Post in a column in their flagship magazine, America's 1st Freedom ("Fear and Loathing Post Tucson," May 2011). For believing in the system of government established by the Constitution, I was compared to Timothy Treadwell, who was killed by a grizzly bear after spending 13 summers around these creatures in Alaska. "Horwitz' fantasy that government can and will safeguard us from the brutal excesses of the state of nature reminds me of another individual who thought the designs of man -- in this case not the constructs of government, but the human values of compassion and fraternity -- could keep the brutality of the world at bay," wrote NRA editor Blaine Smith.
Except it wasn't my fantasy that the "constructs of government... could keep the brutality of the world at bay." It was the fantasy of our Founders who traveled to Philadelphia in May of 1787 to correct the deficiencies in the Articles of Confederation and establish a new system of government that could "insure domestic tranquility" and "secure the Blessings of Liberty." And while the NRA and the pro-gun movement might have absolutely no faith in their wisdom and foresight, most Americans still do.