Since last week’s shooting at a GOP congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., we’ve seen no shortage of columns calling for vague gun control efforts to begin immediately. We’ve seen news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post do their best to try to pin the blame for the shootings on both the left and the right. The Post actually went so far as to run a column suggesting the NRA was somehow to blame for the attack on Republican members of Congress.
Matt Valentine, who seems to specialize in writing anti-NRA screeds, claims that the NRA’s rhetoric must’ve inspired the would-be killer. “When the NRA sells T-shirts depicting a rifle-wielding eagle above the slogan ‘Because you can't fist fight tyranny,’” he writes, “the implication is that you can fight tyranny (however you perceive it) with guns. It should be no surprise that someone would shoot democratically elected representatives when we've been told for decades that that's the patriotic redress to political grievances.”
This is, to put it simply, woefully ignorant of history, the Constitution and the founding of this nation. The baseball practice shooter or anyone else targeting political opponents with violence aren’t fighting tyranny. They’re simply committing violent crimes with a political motive. It’s the height of idiocy or clickbait journalism to claim that for decades we’ve been told that assassination attempts are the patriotic redress to political grievances. You know what I’ve learned as an NRA member about the patriotic way to redress political grievances? I’ve learned that winning elections is the single most important and effective way to make those grievances go away.
This is, to put it simply, woefully ignorant of history, the Constitution and the founding of this nation.But let’s also clear something up about tyranny and gun ownership. Here’s some history and context behind the idea, “You can’t fist fight tyranny.”
James Madison, the man who guided the writing of the Constitution more than anyone else, laid out exactly what tyranny looks like, and what a constitutional response to that tyranny would look like, in Federalist 46. While ratification of the Constitution was still taking place, Madison, Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of opinion pieces arguing in favor of ratification. In Federalist 46, Madison sought to soothe the fears of Americans who worried that the new Constitution would result in an all-powerful and tyrannical federal government.
If the federal government were to try and implement broadly unpopular laws, Madison says, states could try to stop or slow them down, either together or singularly. “The disquietude of the people,” he wrote, “their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”
Madison was willing to consider that even those “obstructions” to federal overreach may not be enough to stop a genuinely tyrannical federal government. Even then, Madison didn’t say that tyranny will be brought down by a lone wolf-style attack. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. Madison points out that a standing army, under the control of a tyrannical government, would only amount to (at the time) 20,000 to 30,000 individuals. At the same time, Madison noted, “to these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens [with arms in their hands], officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence.”
This isn’t anarchy that Madison is describing. Right along with the 500,000 armed Americans (which would have been about one-fifth of the population of the United States at the time, or more than 60 million armed Americans today), Madison made it crystal clear that in order for tyranny to be defeated, lawmakers and legislators would have to play a crucial role. “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation,” Madison proclaimed, “the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”
No NRA member I know thinks that a lone wolf attack on political opponents constitutes fighting tyranny.No NRA member I know thinks that a lone wolf attack on political opponents constitutes fighting tyranny. Frankly, it’s people like Valentine who seem to be pushing that idea. But an armed citizenry (including those on the left, right and in the middle) is still a check on tyranny. Five years after the Chavez regime banned civilian gun ownership in Venezuela, strongman Nicolás Maduro is increasingly using force against a disarmed populace to maintain and consolidate his power. The scenes of government security forces shooting unarmed civilians, holding political opposition leaders behind bars and government-backed gangs terrorizing communities are playing out day and night across the embattled country.
We in the United States, however, aren’t in the grips (or even on the verge) of a tyrannical regime. A free press, often openly hostile to President Donald Trump, has free rein to publish or say anything they want without government punishment. We have hotly contested, but free and fair elections. We have a functioning, if increasingly politicized judiciary. We have states flouting federal drug laws, cities ignoring federal immigration laws and other acts of political defiance to the federal government. I suspect if a gun ban ever passed Congress, you’d see similar efforts at the state level to ignore those federal laws as well.
That’s not to say we’re in great shape. We’re not. We live in serious and unstable times, both domestically and abroad. It’s been more than 70 years since the end of World War II, and the relative peace and stability the world experienced after the conclusion of that war may be drawing to a close. The mood in American politics and society is as ugly as it’s been since the late 1960s and early ’70s, when the “peace and love” politics of the New Left had given way to the Weather Underground and other domestic terror organizations.
With guys like Matt Valentine trying to demonize the millions of Americans who belong to or support the NRA, it’s clear (and it’s a shame) that there are plenty of folks more interested in trying to drive us apart than bring us together.
Cam Edwards is the host of “Cam & Co.,” which airs live 2-5 p.m. EST on NRATV and midnight EST on SiriusXM Patriot 125. He lives with his family on a small farm near Farmville, Va. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @camedwards.