Political Animal


January 16, 2013 9:32 AM The Unequalizer

By Ed Kilgore

As we begin to talk about the president’s proposed gun regulations today, it’s very important to remember that one side in this “debate” doesn’t think it’s legitimate. To Second Amendment absolutists, no restrictions on firearms possession are ever constitutional. And that particularly applies to military weaponry because the whole idea of the Second Amendment is the right to undertake a violent revolution against the United States government when “patriots” deem it necessary or convenient.

Erick Erickson is the latest conservative to spell this out in a post last night that doesn’t much beat around the bush.

The 2nd Amendment, contrary to much of today’s conversation, has just as much to do with the people protecting themselves from tyranny as it does burglars. That is why there is so little common ground about assault rifles — even charitably ignoring the fact that there really is no such thing. If the 2nd Amendment is to protect the citizenry from even their own government, then the citizenry should be able to be armed.

Let’s be clear what this means. To “protect the citizenry from even their own government” may sound reasonable as an abstraction. But what it means is that Erick wants Americans to be able to keep an assault rifle at home in order someday to use it to shoot police officers dead if the laws they seek to enforce represent “tyranny.”

But who decides when a tyranny is present? The people with assault rifles in their closets, apparently. With a few easy clicks, I can find people publicly describing Obamacare, progressive taxes, and even Keynesian economics as “tyrannical.” “Tyranny” has become an extraordinarily common term on the Right for describing the Obama administration generally.

Maybe we aren’t quite to the point where a sufficiently large number of “patriots” have decided it’s time to start shooting cops in order to protect their property and their liberties. There is some risk of the cops shooting back, of course. But Second Amendment absolutists want to give notice it’s always a possibility if us “socialists” overreach—again, according to their somewhat eccentric standards. And it’s all part of an ideology that maintains that all the democratic majorities, legislative decisions and court decisions in the world cannot modify the unconditional and eternal rights “patriots” find in the Declaration of Independence, such as absolute property rights and the right of men to intervene in the reproductive decisions of women to defend zygotes.

In the Wild West, guns were often called “equalizers.” To many Second Amendment Absolutists, they are in effect “unequalizers,” the constant reminder that their rights are superior to yours, and that you may have votes but they have guns.

It is obviously impossible to have a rational discussion of gun regulation with people who think they may need to shoot you at some point to defend such fundamental liberties as their right not to subsidize health insurance for “takers” and “looters.” But it is important to remind them and everyone else now and then that their eminently respectable-sounding ideology is based on blood and fire and the implicit threat of violence.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • RSA on January 16, 2013 9:41 AM:

    "The 2nd Amendment, contrary to much of today’s conversation, has just as much to do with the people protecting themselves from tyranny as it does burglars."

    How does Erickson think that the Second Amendment has anything at all to do with protection against burglars? If he were serious about this argument he'd be pushing for elimination of laws restricting private ownership of machine guns and rocket launchers.

  • jjm on January 16, 2013 9:45 AM:

    More hot air from those who are running out of steam.

    Their belligerence stems from their gun ownership, their huffing and puffing based on their knowledge that they can shoot and kill you ad libidum. (Think of that guy who shot those teenagers with loud music he objected to, then just drove off. You get the picture.)

    No one likes you anymore, you gun nuts. Your days of one-sided power are coming to a close.

  • DRF on January 16, 2013 9:45 AM:

    I don't now what Ed mean by a "sufficienly large" number of these people. Sufficiently large to overthrow the government? Clearly, that's unrealistic? But sufficiently large number to kill an agent of the local, state or Federal government? It only takes one nutcase, and we've seen that movie plenty of times before.

    What's missing from all of the extreme rhetoric from the far right is mention of the courts. If these folks think that a state or Federal law, or a Presidential executive order, violates their 2nd Amendmet constitutional rights, they can go to court to challenge it. We have something in this country called the "rule of law" and respecting that principle and tradition will give these nutcases far more protection any day of the week than a household full of guns ever will.

  • davidp on January 16, 2013 9:50 AM:

    The gun rights argument is circular. It goes like this: We need guns so that we can resist the government when it becoems tyrannical. And when does the government become tyrannical? When it comes to take our guns away.

    The Second Amendment says that a militia is needed for the security of a free state, i.e, for defense against external enemies. It says nothing about resistance to the US government. And yet it is being turned into a license for violent revolution.

  • DecidedFenceSitter on January 16, 2013 9:51 AM:

    I see Hobbes has won the debate versus Locke, and that the people no longer have a right to rebel against a state they find tyrannical.

    That being said, the folks who are calling healthcare and such tyrannical are fools and idiots.

  • George Washington American on January 16, 2013 10:07 AM:

    Why is the 2nd Amendment an absolute right? The 1st Amendment is not absolute - you cannot have a religion that engages in human sacrifice, and you cannot shout 'fire' in a crowded theater.

    What makes the 2nd amendment more sacrosanct than the 1st amendment?

  • jpeckjr on January 16, 2013 10:07 AM:

    Last night, I attended a meeting of my City Council. It lasted 4 hours. The primary agenda item was interviewing citizen applicants to our five city commissions: airport, historic preservation, arts, parks, planning. 60 citizens are volunteering to serve on these public bodies. Each one was given 2 minutes to say why. Council members listened and asked questions. Appointments will be made by the Council next week.

    I was not one of the applicants, yet stayed until the end. I was amazed at the breadth of talent and skill and commitment of my fellow citizens, and grateful.

    Not one of the applicants used the word "tyranny." But, this is exactly how tyranny is resisted. Not with guns and threats -- with engagement in civic affairs.

  • Rick DeMent on January 16, 2013 10:12 AM:

    Problem here is that the 2nd amendment has nothing to do with home protection. Fire arms of the era when the constitution was written were hardly useful for buglers and unless you're talking about shooting natives on the frontier they were never a good choice for self defense. A sword was much more useful.

    The 2nd amendment was about one thing and one thing only, eliminating the need for the federal government o have a standing army.The reason a well regulated militia was necessary for the defense of the country is because we were not supposed to have a standing army. The 2nd amendment interpreted in any context outside of the defense of the country against foreign invasion is simply not legitimate.

    The founders went out of their way to write in the constitution that funding for the armed forces was limited.

    "To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;.."

    The militia was fro the defense of the country and the 2nd was to ensure there would be an armed militia. Period, full stop. Any law that the government wishes to enact that does not deny a citizen the right to arm themselves in context of defense of the country is fair game. CCW, public carry, home protection or any other activity that is outside the context of homeland defense is fair game.

  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2013 10:13 AM:

    Patriots, why stop at AR-15's?

    Why not grenades?
    Grenade launchers?
    Rocket launchers?
    Armed personel carriers?
    Armed helicopters?
    Fighter jets?
    Aircraft carriers?

    What's an AR-15 compared to what a modern military will use to turn you into a bloody mist, long before you even begin to scream, "WOLOVERINES!!!"?

    Maybe, if you're serious about taking on the US military, you need to petition the SCOTUS to allow all of you patriots to own the same things our military has?

    See how well THAT works out fer ya

    Or, maybe you need to realize that you're all sociopathic whack-a-doodle @$$holes, who striek and whine when you don't get your way, like 3 year-olds, but instead of screaming "I HATE YOU, MOMMMY!", you scream, "TYRANNY!"

  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2013 10:18 AM:

    George Washington American,

    You asked, "What makes the 2nd amendment more sacrosanct than the 1st amendment?"

    Because, when you have a gun in your hand, other people tend to listen to you when you tell them to STFU!

    Hence, the 2nd Amendment trumps the 1st.

  • Anonymous on January 16, 2013 10:23 AM:

    If the 2nd Amendment is to protect the citizenry from even their own government, then the citizenry should be able to be armed.

    In that case, I'd like:

    1 M1A1 Abrams with the independent thermal viewer upgrade
    4 Tomahawk missiles with the ABL launch system
    1 MQ-1Predator drone with standard AGM114 Hellfire missiles
    oh, and what the hell, one AR-15 assault rifle with a couple 30 round clips

  • Michael Masinter on January 16, 2013 10:29 AM:

    George Washington America:

    Re the first amendment, it is not unlawful to shout fire in a crowded theater; it is only unlawful to falsely shout fire in a crowded theater. Shouting fire in a crowded theater that is, in fact, on fire, is perfectly legal.

    Re the second amendment, the The two SCOTUS decisions that have concluded that the second amendment create an enforceable individual right do not contain any language that supports Erickson's demonstrably false claim that the purpose of the second amendment is to provide a counterweight to a tyrannical government. That's why Scalia wrote that the government permissibly may ban automatic weapons and heavy weapons.

  • TR on January 16, 2013 10:38 AM:

    So the First Amendment says Congress "shall make no law" that abridges the freedom of speech, and yet Congress has of course made plenty of laws that do just that.

    The Second Amendment, in sharp contrast, is front-loaded with an important qualifying clause on which the right to bear arms rests: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..." And even though it's the ONLY one of the Bill of Rights that explicitly states the need for regulation, gun nuts claim that it alone should have no regulation at all.

    And these people have the balls to call themselves "originalists" when it comes to the Constitution? Never mind the fact that "arms" in the minds of the founders were single-ball muskets. The plain text of the Constitution says the guns must be regulated.

  • Steve P on January 16, 2013 10:46 AM:

    Of course, those threats of armed resistance don't mean much coming from the demonstrably craven guttubs who make them--aside from the nutters looking for something to stoke the rage.

    And the militia was an enthusiasm of people who hadn't actually seen it in action. James Madison had a chance to see reality at Bladensburg, when the militia stood between the British and Washington. The result was popularly known as "the Bladensburg Races".

    (The British were less judgmental, saying that their own militia would have behaved just as badly. The only Americans who stood and fought were the regular sailors from the Chesapeake Flotilla and the Marines from the Washington Navy Yard.)

  • schtick on January 16, 2013 10:54 AM:

    The argument that there is no such thing as an assault rifle should make for an interesting debate. I can't believe they are actually going for that argument.

  • Peter C on January 16, 2013 11:02 AM:

    "An assault is carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. It is both a crime and a tort and, therefore, may result in either criminal or civil liability."

    If gun enthusiasts insist on 'unconditional' 2nd amendment rights, I'd like much stronger enforcement of laws against assault. These idiots seem to shoot their mouths off pretty frequently, fequently in ways which feel like 'threats'. I'd like a rubric where you can shoot your gun off OR you can shoot your mouth off, but NOT BOTH.

    You want to 'bear arms'? You'd better not act in a way which makes other people feel uncomfortable and threatened. That restricts THEIR freedoms.

  • boatboy_srq on January 16, 2013 11:09 AM:


    1) Caucasian, Right-Thinking Ahmurrcan™ shooting law enforcement coming to take his guns: perfectly legal and protected under the Constitution, and possibly a replacement for public law enforcement.

    2) Brown person (Right-Thinking Ahmurrcan™ or not) shooting law enforcement coming after him/her for any reason (including the reason in #1): criminal/terrorist, and a justification for professional law enforcement and corrections entities.

    3) Public law enforcement, suggesting any limits on weapons possession/use under the 2nd Amendment: one more reason to dispense with public law enforcement altogether as an unnecessary expense.

    Got it.

  • Gene O'Grady on January 16, 2013 11:15 AM:

    I'm curious if they actually used that equalizer bit in the real West.

    I do know that they were very big on restricting fire arms, probably because they tended to go by what they saw in their lives and not what they saw on TV.

  • Russell aboard M/V Sunshine on January 16, 2013 11:18 AM:

    Every Communist must grasp the truth, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." -- Mao Ze Dong

    "Problems of War and Strategy" (November 6, 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 224.

    This is where the IRA, sorry, the NRA is going with this talk, bit only if we let them and their enablers -- Justice Scalia, we're looking at you, sir -- get away with it. It's not quite, "to the barricades," or "next year, the revolution!" yet. But that's where the Second Amendment crowd is going. Ed is right. Who said they will be allowed to overthrow the government just because "they" want to?

  • Donald J Henry on January 16, 2013 12:00 PM:

    Rick DeMent is certainly correct that the 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with a person owning a firearm for protection against burglars and more to do with the Founder's opposition to a standing army. Federalist XXIX, however, argues not only that a well-regulated militia would obviate the need for a standing army but would also be a bulwark against the seizure of the central government by tyrranical forces, supporting Erick Erickson's position. So what is the 2nd Amendment for? Basically, to ensure that a state government would be able to call out their militia in the event of a slave revolt when the central government was in the hands of an abolitionist President who refused to do so. It's always about slavery.

  • C. P. Zillliacus on January 16, 2013 12:08 PM:

    As I suggested to a friend, I support the Right to "bear" thermonuclear weapons.

    Never know when I might need a hydrogen bomb to defend myself against the evils of the fedrull govmint, or to defeat a squadron of black aircraft sent from the United Nations to impose secular humanism and "socialist" health care upon the nation.

    And "Keep the federal government away from my Medicare!"

  • Shane Taylor on January 16, 2013 12:43 PM:

    I am repeating myself, but here is what Ericson's doctrine always brings to mind:

    Emma Goldman said Leon Czolgosz was defending himself against tyranny, when he shot and killed President William McKinley.


  • Anonymous on January 16, 2013 1:29 PM:

    Drug dealers are very sympathetic to Erick Erickson's view. They need guns to protect thier property and keep a tyrannical government from taking away their liberty.

  • JohnH on January 16, 2013 3:00 PM:

    Isn't it typical that these same rightwing, gun-clutching knuckledraggers screaming about "tyranny" and "resisting" the Big Bad Gubmint of Obama are the same ones that were shouting "Get over it!" and "Sore Loserman!" back in 2000 after a manifestly corrupt Supreme Court declared George the Lesser the "winner" of the election? As I recall, I don't remember crowds of progressives storming the gun shops vowing to "fight" what was, in fact, a legitimate coup d'état.

    These traitorous so-called "patriots" seem to conveniently forget how our system of government is set up when things don't go their way.

  • Citizen Alan on January 16, 2013 3:32 PM:

    JohnH raises a valid point that should be reiterated. The people who are currently shouting that they need guns to protect themselves against the tyrannical and illegitimate Obama administration would never, for one second, support an organized body of leftists who claimed that they needed lots of guns to defend against the tyranny of a future right wing government, not even if that government took power by illegitimate means and went on to stage an illegal war. We know this because we know how these people responded to peaceful protests the last time that happened -- with accusations of treason and terrorist sympathies. Now imagine that a few thousand people had staged an anti-Bush rally while waving AR-15's.

  • ottercliff on January 16, 2013 4:40 PM:

    This argument is inherently weak. If you believe that the Second Amendment gives citizens and absolute and unlimited right to "protect themselves from tyranny" then that right MUST extend to rocket launchers, tanks, fighters, and, yes nuclear weapons, as these are the weapons that a presumed tyrannical government could bring to the fight.

  • dave on January 16, 2013 6:08 PM:

    According to the Constitution the role of the Militia is to suppress rebellion, not to cause it.

    In the early days of the US there was no standing army so a Militia was thought to be needed to provide a force of arms to protect the government from internal and external enemies. The 2nd amendment is meant to provide the preconditions needed to make to make it possible for the Militia to do this.

    US Constitution

    Article I

    Section 8 - Powers of Congress


    To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

    To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

  • oldswede on January 16, 2013 7:35 PM:

    The Militia Act of 1792 amplifies this explanation, stating, "Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion, and to issue his orders for that purpose, to such officer or officers of the militia as he shall think proper; and in case of an insurrection in any state, against the government thereof, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, on application of the legislature of such state, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) to call forth such number of the militia of any other state or states, as may be applied for, or as he may judge sufficient to suppress such insurrection."
    Militias exist as a protection against insurrection, not a means for it. The link above goes to both Militia Acts of 1792. Worth a read. Note also that these two Acts closely followed the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Many of the same people were involved in crafting all these documents.

  • boatboy_srq on January 17, 2013 9:30 AM:

    @dave and oldswede:


    Why does nobody on this side of the argument point out that the the 2nd Amendment is a modifier to Article 1 Section 8, not a freestanding statement?