Police Yourselves!

As the debate on gun laws lurches along, Will Marshall draws attention in a Daily Beast column to an aspect of the gun lobby’s message that I’ve written about off and on for a while: the argument that citizens need to be armed to the teeth because the police can’t protect them from criminals:

As the endgame approaches, it’s important to understand the radical vision that underlies pro-gun absolutism. Forget about the Second Amendment—the gun lobby, abetted by timorous Republicans, is trying to privatize law and order.

Maintaining public order is supposed to be government’s job. The sociologist Max Weber considered a “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force to keep order” to be the defining characteristic of a competent state.

Aside from its strange hysteria after a long stretch of steadily declining violent crime rates, the vigilante argument is rather ironic given the gun lobby’s constant alarms about an all-powerful government being on the brink of mass gun confiscation:

The NRA has a schizoid attitude toward government. In fundraising appeals to members, it fans fears that jackbooted feds are coming for your guns. In the political arena, it depicts government as pathetically weak, overwhelmed by the orgy of violent criminality and insanity engulfing our society.

Marshall also notes the growing influence of gun groups to the right of the NRA, and their relationship to the Republicans seeking to filibuster gun legislation in the Senate:

If you think the NRA is shrill on guns, there are groups even further out on the fringe that consider the NRA a pack of lily-livered surrender monkeys. Senator Paul, the right’s new shining knight of liberty, is raising money for the National Association of Gun Rights, which has blasted the NRA for “signaling surrender on handing President Obama and his anti-gun pals more information about American gun owners.”

NAGR has targeted negative ads on Republicans like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia Beach, whose offense was to introduce a bill to strengthen penalties for straw purchasers. So much for demands from pro-gun types that Washington vigorously enforce existing gun laws before passing new ones.

It’s helpful to know who, exactly, is Standing With Rand in a posture of total resistance to gun legislation–which will probably extend to any compromise worked out by the gun-friendly duo of Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey.

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.