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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The NRA's Pro-Assassination Argument

Currier and Ives engraving of the Lincoln assassination
According to George Mason University Historian Christopher Hamner, John Wilkes Booth was very clear on his reason for assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. Booth, considering himself a southern patriot, had plotted elaborate plans to kidnap the president, most of which were completely unrealistic fantasies; one "involved capturing Lincoln in his box at Ford’s Theater and lowering the president to the stage with ropes," Hamner writes. But it wasn't until he'd heard a speech by Lincoln that he settled on the easier and more realistic scheme of killing the president. The war was all but over, the confederacy had clearly lost, and Lincoln was looking ahead toward the future.

...Lincoln’s speech that evening outlined some of his ideas about reconstructing the nation and bringing the defeated Confederate states back into the Union. Lincoln also indicated a wish to extend the franchise to some African-Americans—at the very least, those who had fought in the Union ranks during the war—and expressed a desire that the southern states would extend the vote to literate blacks, as well. Booth stood in the audience for the speech, and this notion seems to have amplified his rage at Lincoln. “That means nigger citizenship,” he told Lewis Powell, one of his band of conspirators. “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”

And so, on the night of April 14, 1865, a shot rang out in Ford's Theater, accompanied by the slogan, "Sic semper tyrannus!" -- "Thus always to tyrants."

The reason I bring this up is because the word "tyranny" is being thrown around a lot by demagogues and the gullible types who hang on their every word. Most recently, it's come up in the debate over limits on guns. Gun nuts argue that the Second Amendment is some sort of inoculation against tyranny, so it pays to ask: who gets to decide who's a tyrant?


Imagine if the Second Amendment really meant what the gun nuts say it means. As the Constitution is written, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutionality. In their wisdom, the founders envisioned of the finest legal minds in the nation, assembled in one high court, tasked with untangling the intricacies of law and justice, in a deliberative, calm, and logical manner, through rational discourse and reasoned advocacy.

And, if that didn't work, constitutionality would then be decided by an angry person with a gun -- because angry people with guns historically have been such stellar decision-makers. If things don't turn out your way politically, it's your right as an American to start blastin'. By the NRA's version of the Second Amendment, Booth's cry of "Sic semper tyrannis!" was all the legal justification he needed. Lincoln was talking about giving African-Americans the vote, Booth thought that was tyranny, and he used his Second Amendment freedoms to put a bullet in the president's brain -- liberty in action! By this interpretation of the Second Amendment, there is no constitutional check on the Assassin's Veto. Where the ballot fails, the bullet rules. Because that's freedom -- the ability to vote, then overturn that vote through a tantrum of armed thuggery if the vote doesn't turn out the way you'd hoped.

While we're at it, wasn't the entire Civil War the gun nut's version of the Second Amendment in action? The south joined in rebellion against the union, because freeing people was tyranny and keeping slaves was liberty. Right? Once again, we see the genius-level decision-making skills of angry people with guns -- they set the south on a course that still has it leading the nation in poverty.

By the way, don't try that "it was about states' rights" dodge with me. It was states' rights to do what? Keep slaves, that's what. It was about slavery -- any other take is laughable revisionism, so keep it to yourself.

The only people who could possibly believe that the Second Amendment means the right to the Assassin's Veto are angry people with guns. Because, as I've pretty well established here, angry people with guns are idiots. As are people obsessed with imagined tyrants. Doubt that? Let's look at a few things that are "tyranny":

Health care.
Contraceptive coverage.
Marriage equality.
Environmental protection.
Digital television.
The secret UFO conspiracy.
The "oppression" of Christians by Jews.
Fluoridated water.
Anti-smoking laws.

No, the Second Amendment does not say that you get to start shooting people because your analog TV antenna doesn't work anymore, because you can't smoke in a restaurant, or because a couple of guys just sent you an invitation to their wedding. It's not a bulwark against tyrants, because you don't get to decide who is or isn't a tyrant. That was no defense for Booth and it would be no defense for you. The NRA's argument is an argument for legalized terrorism.

Somehow, I doubt that's what the founders had in mind.


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