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AP Photo / Jim Cole

Guns against tyranny?

A few practical questions

Jeffrey Denny

The definition of insanity is seeing gun massacres happen over and over again and expecting any action.

I understand gun ownership to protect home and family and hobbies like hunting, sport shooting and collecting. Like the clear majority of Americans of both parties, I support reasonable gun controls including stronger background checks, red flag laws, closing the gun-show loophole and renewing the expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

A new poll found nearly 70% of all voters — including 55% of Republicans — support an assault weapons ban and 90% back universal background checks for gun sales. But don’t hold your breath.

What’s most confounding is the core rationale by Second Amendment fundamentalists for blocking the country’s demand for new gun laws: Fighting government tyranny.

Before I’m called a stupid liberal and schooled by amateur Revolutionary War historians and Constitutional scholars citing internet “research” and fake Founding Father quote memes, hold the insults and help me understand with serious, realistic, sensible answers to a few practical questions:

What defines tyranny?

Some think tyranny is the government restricting gun rights. This case seems circular: Citizens needs guns to prevent government from taking their guns they need to fight government from taking their guns, etc.

Or maybe tyranny is still taxation without representation? Like here in the District of Columbia, where we have more citizens than Wyoming or Vermont but don’t have two U.S. Senators or a vote in the House? Meaning the federal government can deny local rights, dictate our lives and overrule local choices like state’s rights conservatives hate? Like when the NRA and national lawyers, lobbyists and faraway politicians backed the conservative Supreme Court Heller decision overturning our local gun laws we citizens approved to curb gun violence and deaths?

How about historic tyranny against African Americans? How would white gun militants feel if the government, from our beginnings, enslaved them for 100+ years? Then, for another 100+ years, enforced or endorsed racial segregation, oppression and denial of equal rights and access to jobs, housing, credit, education and other basic opportunities? And now police apply laws unfairly to rural whites while a black president supports and incites black supremacists? What if long-mistreated minority Americans invoked their right to take up arms and fight government tyranny against them?

Incidentally, vastly more white men own guns (36%) than black (24%) or Hispanic (15%) men. Interesting how the least oppressed have the most guns.

To some Americans, tyranny is government doing things that other Americans want. It’s a big country with 320 million people who often disagree. If your tyranny is my priority — Obamacare, environmental protections, tighter gun laws — then are Americans you don’t agree with the tyrants? In a democracy, is tyranny the classic “we have met the enemy and he is us”?

Who defines tyranny?

The citizens, right? But who picks the citizens who define tyranny? How are they picked? Is the process democratic? If not, isn’t that contrary to what they’re fighting for?

Or do self-anointed, unregulated mobs and militias decide, making up their own rules, like in countries where revolutionaries take up arms to overthrow government? And if they succeed, become the new tyrants like revolutionaries often do? How do you keep tyranny fighters from becoming tyrants?

Who decides how to fight tyranny?

Who’s leading this resistance? How is he or she picked? Would there be an election?

Or do we have a bunch of guys who ignore the Second Amendment’s “well regulated militia” thing running around deciding who lives or dies, playing judge, jury and executioner, taking the law into their own hands? Shooting government officials or the police, National Guard, FBI and Secret Service agents who are doing their jobs defending the government? Even fighting U.S. troops, our sons and daughters in uniform? With innocent Americans killed in the crossfire mayhem?

Sounds like anarchy to me. Declaring martial law in the name of freedom is also what tyrants do.

The self-appointed, unregulated militia that showed up at Charlottesville uninvited by any official authority, dressed in Army-Navy surplus camo and bristling with assault weapons, was almost scarier than the torch-bearing Unite the Right Nazis. Also, which “good people” side were they on?

What if your hero is my tyrant or vice versa?

Many Americans believe President Trump is about as close to a classic tyrant as America’s ever had as he whips up racial and class resentment and division for political power, succors white supremacists, scoffs at the Constitution’s rule of law and limits on presidential power, and generally acts like King George III. Trump’s ICE raids, demonizing refugees and attacking fellow Americans who challenge his actions and behavior are right out of the tyrant playbook.

Trump supporters whatabout that the real tyrants are arrogant Obama, corrupt Hillary, “The Squad” of first-year congresswomen, the PC police or generically “the Democrat liberals” whether Bernie progressives or Biden moderates.

Most Americans agree that Abe Lincoln was one of America’s greatest presidents. In his time, however, southerners thought Lincoln was such a despicable tyrant for opposing slavery they grabbed their guns and started shooting fellow Americans. And then one of them shot Lincoln, shouting Sic semper tyrannis!

Is this the real life? Or this just fantasy?

Video games, action movies, right-wing media blowhards and 8chan nuts make rising against government tyranny seem righteous, easy and even exciting. But how many keyboard warriors, sofa patriots or chicken hawks bloviating on cable or online about taking up arms to fight tyranny are ready, willing or able to do that?

How many gun militants want to see family, friends or neighbor “government sympathizers” — or anyone who won’t join the self-appointed patriot resistance — dragged from their homes, rounded up, held in camps or shot?

Is the bitter, bloody reality we see in civil war-wracked countries, and happened here 150 years ago, factored into the fantasy? You say you want a revolution? Do you really?

At what point does the paranoid fantasy of arming up to fight tyranny become a self-fulfilling prophecy and a lot of innocent people get hurt?

Isn’t America the world’s longest, greatest democracy because true patriots have always believed in ballots over bullets?

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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