Who Gets To Decide?

It’s not fair or right to attribute the views of random extremists to those who share a general political orientation. But sometimes the crazy people will come right out and express a sentiment that is implicit in the positions taken by “mainstream” folk, as is becoming ever more evident as we have an actual national debate over regulating the private possession of military weapons.

You may have heard yesterday about the CEO of a Tennessee firm that offers firearm and “tactical” training publishing a video in which he threatens to “start killing people” if the Obama administration proceeds with executive orders regulating guns. Now there’s a new video out from the same terrorist, named James Yeager, that expresses his second-thought opinion that he doesn’t advocate an armed uprising against the United States government “until it’s necessary,” though he’s personally drawing “a line in the sand” against any future encroachments on his Second Amendment rights. [Note: if you watch these videos, be forewarned that this dude’s language is no more civilized than his belief-system].

Yes, I know, Yeager is an isolated self-promoting kook looking for attention (and maybe customers). But his very existence illustrates the problem with the point of view, articulated by writers for respectable publications and more than occasionally expressed by gun lobby activists, that the whole purpose of the Second Amendent and the reason it protects even weapons designed for use by the armed forces is to preserve the right of insurrection against the state should it institute “tyranny.”

Who gets to decide when “it’s necessary”–when the police officer patrolling one’s neighborhood or the neighbors at the local Guard armory become not objects of respect but targets? James Yeager? Kevin Williamson? Wayne LaPierre? You or me? Certainly the normal mechanisms of the legal or political systems–you know, the systems that have produced and enforced the “tyranny” of Obamacare or the “injustice” of “confiscatory” taxes cannot be trusted to protect any right of revolution, can they? So apparently it’s up to heavily armed, seething-with-rage individuals and groups to figure out when “it’s necessary” to start shooting cops and members of the armed forces, and presumably advocates or beneficiaries of “tyranny.”

This is the fundamental problem not only with Second Amendment absolutists but with the Tea Party Movement’s “constitutional conservative” stand that there is a permanent–perhaps even divinely instituted and eternal–scheme for self-government that electoral majorities and legislative deliberations and court decisions cannot be allowed to modify. When those are dismissed as “tyrannical,” who gets to decide when “it’s necessary” to take extralegal action? Add in the hard (but still respectable) Right’s taste for military and revolutionary metaphors and the tendency to treat fellow-citizens as enemies of every fundamental liberty, and you’ve got a dangerous playground for the James Yeagers of the world.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.