Rally in Denver on May 18th. (Michael Ciaglio/USA Today)
During the Reign of Terror, the most bloodthirsty member of France’s revolutionary government, Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois, a “vehement, emotional and vulgar man, craving the center of the stage, dramatizing and gesticulating and bellowing when excited” (Ch. 7), called for the executions of “merchants.”
For Adolf Hitler and the German national socialist workers party, the enemy was instead “the Jew.” For Joseph Stalin, it was “the capitalists.” For Mao Zedong, “the bourgeoisie,” “the intellectuals,” and “the reactionary classes.” And for Che Guevara, “rich landowners.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson cannot be placed in the same category as those miscreants. Nevertheless, when the Gun Control Act of 1968 didn’t require the registration of all guns and the licensing of all gun owners as he had hoped, LBJ singularly blamed “the gun lobby.”
President Bill Clinton more specifically blamed “the NRA” when, after Congress imposed the firearm background check system and a nearly make-believe “ban” on “assault weapons,” 62 Democrats, including Speaker of the House Tom Foley, were defeated in the 1994 congressional elections, giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954.
Pick The Target and Polarize It
Participants in this year’s Democrat presidential debates have also pointed their accusatory fingers at “the NRA,” along with a laundry list of other groups and individuals, including “corporations,” “big corporations,” “the 1 percent,” “big pharma,” “big insurance companies,” “the rich and powerful,” “those with money,” “the special interests,” “PACs,” “the Koch Brothers,” “Mitch McConnell,” and, of course, “Donald Trump.”
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, where vagrants reportedly cover the sidewalks with feces, urine, and needles—a condition aspired to for Austin, Texas, by its mayor, Steve Adler, and its like-minded city council—the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution labeling NRA a “terrorist organization.”
Throughout history, the left has achieved power by rallying its mob, and rallied its mob by giving it someone to hate. Vladimir Lenin encouraged “language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn toward those who disagree with us,” Saul Alinsky advised radicals to “pick the target . . . and polarize it,” and leftists continue the practice today.
So, a few days ago, left-wing columnist Michael Tomasky wrote that the gun laws Democrats are now pushing can be imposed if “The NRA Can Be Beaten.” Having worked in the NRA’s political division from 1991 to 2016, I might laugh at Tomasky’s notion, if I had a sense of humor about such things. The left’s everyone-on-message vilification of “the NRA” may inspire high-pitched squeals of approval during the Democrats’ presidential debates and campaign rallies, but anyone who thinks that the NRA is all that stands in the way of disarming the people of the United States has another think coming.
It’s Not the Electoral College When You Lose Congressional Elections
Those 62 Democrats who were defeated in the 1994 elections didn’t lose just because of the several hundred of us who worked at NRA headquarters, nor even because of the NRA’s 1 million or so members at the time. There were 60 million other gun owners in America in 1994 and soon thereafter polls showed that more Americans identified with the NRA than with either major political party.
NRA’s membership roughly doubled to 3 million after Clinton and the Democrats imposed gun control and rose to 5 million after President Barack Obama tried to impose more gun control during his second term. There are now 100 million gun-owning Americans, and gun owners tend to be single-issue voters.
Tens of millions of Americans own handguns, which anti-gun activists tried to get banned in the 1970s and 1980s. Seventeen and a half million Americans have permits to carry handguns for protection away from home. A comparable number own semi-automatic rifles that Democrats in Congress have been trying to ban since 1989.
Since the 1990s, every time Democrats inside the Beltway have acted against the right to keep and bear arms, or threatened to do so, purchases of guns, particularly those that Democrats want most to ban, have soared. For example, in August, the first month of Democrats’ new push against guns, gun purchases increased roughly 16 percent, compared to the number in August 2018.
Yet Democrats believe they have reason to hope. Polls show support for some of the gun laws they are demanding, though support for gun control typically falls once the public becomes informed about the details and it has fallen this year. Also, some have recently claimed that there are internal troubles within the NRA, inspiring some of its detractors to speculate that the organization can now be defeated and gun control now be imposed.
Speculations about defeating “the NRA” may titillate the mob, but even if NRA disappeared overnight, there are still 100 million gun owners, their family members, and their friends. Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election because he won “swing states” Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, all of which have large populations of gun owners. If gun control supporters achieve their goals, it will be because gun owners are complacent or don’t understand the details and ramifications of what Democrats are demanding, not because of rumors about the NRA.
Don’t Forget the Supreme Court
Conventional wisdom holds that you shouldn’t predict what the court might do in a specific case. But three of the justices who voted with the majority in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, are still on the court, and most observers think the most recent appointees to the court, Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, have similar respect for the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms.
Heller observed that self-defense is an “inherent right” that is “central to the Second Amendment,” and ruled that the amendment protects “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation” and “extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms.” One needn’t a crystal ball to conclude that might not bode well for state laws that impose unreasonable restrictions on carrying arms for protection or that ban firearms and ammunition magazines owned for the inherent right the amendment protects.
Finally, while “Beto” O’Rourke—another “vehement, emotional and vulgar man, craving the center of the stage, dramatizing and gesticulating and bellowing when excited”—says Americans would agree to hand over their semi-automatic rifles, the last time our government tried to confiscate guns from the people, it received a revolution in return.
As Meghan McCain said on “The View” several days ago—courageously taking a stand while Republican members of Congress we elected to protect our rights hide in the shadows—“If you’re talking about taking people’s guns away from them, there’s going to be a lot of violence."
Or, as Alinsky observed, paraphrasing Lenin, the radical left cannot begin murdering its political opponents in the United States, because it’s the rest of us who have the guns.
Mark Overstreet is a firearm instructor and author in central Texas. He retired in 2016 as the senior research coordinator of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, after 25 years with the organization. He is also retired from the Army Reserve, after 23 years including duty as a combat cameraman in Iraq. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the NRA or the Department of Defense. He can be reached at Mark@PanoplyTactical.com.