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Disconnections: Observations From Yesterday's Gun Rallies

06/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Paul Helmke Professor, Indiana University's School of Public & Environmental Affairs

I spent three hours yesterday attending the "Second Amendment March" on the Mall in D.C. and the "Restore the Constitution" rally at Gravelly Point National Park in Northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from DC.
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It's hard for me to make sense of people who want to bring loaded guns with them all the time, wherever they go. The main impression I have of the two events is one of disconnectedness.

The dichotomies were everywhere:

  • "Don't Tread on Me Flags" on the Mall framed by flags at half-staff around the Washington Monument in memory of victims of terrorism since yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing by an anti-government NRA member who made the money to make his bomb by selling weapons at gun shows;
  • Military-style assault weapons in the National Park as opposed to fake black styrofoam AR-15s on the Mall;
  • Speeches that seemed to have more to do with "restoring" the type of system we had under the Articles of Confederation than with "restoring" the Constitution (indeed, I heard very little discussion about the Constitutional system's reliance on elections and the legal process as the cornerstone of resolving disputes through our system of checks and balances, representative democracy, and access to courts);
  • No real complaints about any federal laws that have been passed to restrict access to guns (there haven't been any, that are still on the books, since the Brady Bill was passed in 1993);
  • No real complaints about how the Second Amendment has been handled by the Courts (the DC vs. Heller decision two years ago seemed to give the "gun rights" crowd what they wanted, unless they wanted to show their opposition to Justice Scalia's language that the right is "not unlimited" and that the Second Amendment allows restrictions on who can get guns, where they can be taken, how they are sold and stored and carried, and what kinds of guns they are - but I didn't see any anti-Scalia posters);
  • Speeches that focused less on guns and more on health care, the federal deficit, bailouts, and other decisions with which they disagreed with the very express implication that the reason they were carrying (or wanting to carry) their guns was because "the guys with the guns make the rules" (as stated by the NRA boss Wayne LaPierre last Spring after Obama took office);
  • Seeing guns carried in an area where Confederate troops may once have marched within view of the Capitol Dome which was being constructed when Lee and Davis and the Southern states decided that they wanted to "restore" a different understanding of the Constitution than that endorsed by Lincoln and the voters who elected him;
  • Seeing guns carried close enough to the Reagan National Airport (named after a president who was shot by a gunman in DC in 1981) where a 50-caliber sniper rifle (legal in this country and now allowed in national parks) might easily take out airplanes on the ground (or about to land or take off);
  • Hearing references to a selected history of the U.S .which emphasized the shooters at Lexington and Concord but ignored the Continental Congresses that supported their efforts as well as the Shays Rebellion put down about the time the Constitution was written and the Whiskey Rebellion put down in 1794;
  • And finally, being treated (for the most part) politely by people on a beautiful sunny day whose level of fear and paranoia seemed to reflect a dark view of society and our nation.
  • With all of these "disconnections", my hope is we can all start focusing on what we can do to prevent gun violence by making it harder for dangerous people to get guns as well as focusing on the risks and responsibilities of gun ownership.