Civil Liberties

Why Are Right-Wingers Whining About the 2nd Amendment? This Is a Golden Age for Gun Lovers

Stoking fears of an impending government gun-grab shakes money out of the conservative base and energizes activists.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision overturning a Chicago handgun law. It was the latest in a string of moves by the courts that have made Americans’ right to own firearms as secure today as they were in the days of the Wild West. The 5-4 decision established that all Americans have a fundamental right to bear arms that constrains not only the actions of the federal government, but states and municipalities as well. It was a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates and a resounding defeat for those who favor stricter controls. In the words of conservative legal scholar Glenn Reynolds, Monday’s ruling means that the Second Amendment “is now a full-fledged part of the Bill of Rights.” 

But make no mistake -- no matter how secure Americans’ gun rights are looking in the courts, the gun lobby will never allow the bitter debate over the scope of the Second Amendment to be settled as a political issue. Guns are too critical to the culture wars -- they represent what Karl Rove called an “anger point” that stokes the passions of the conservative base. Gun politics not only raises right-wing ire, but also brings in big dollars for conservative candidates and the gun lobby.  

They’ve worked hard stoking fears of an impending crackdown on gun ownership, and the effort has paid off; according to the Center for American Progress, the NRA saw “a dramatic increase in membership after Obama’s election.” Those concerns have also padded the bottom lines of the gun manufacturers that finance much of the lobby’s work. Just after the 2008 election, the New York Times reported that “sales of handguns, rifles and ammunition have surged in the last week, according to gun store owners around the nation who describe a wave of buyers concerned that an Obama administration will curtail their right to bear arms.” A year later, CNN noted that “Gun shops across the country are reporting a run on ammunition, a phenomenon apparently driven by fear that the Obama administration will increase taxes on bullets or enact new gun-control measures.” 

Their fears are clearly misplaced. Whereas just a bit over a decade ago the federal government was enacting bans on assault rifles under Bill Clinton, last year Barack Obama signed legislation into law that contained an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, that opened up America’s national parks to concealed weapons. The fight over guns has moved to the margins, with state legislatures grappling with issues like whether people can carry concealed firearms into airports, whether to ban concealed weapons in bars and even whether a person should be able to get drunk if they are allowed to pack heat at their favorite pub. 

Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who had been the most vocal champion of the 1993 Assault Weapons Ban, agreed with journalist Leslie Stahl’s observation that "you have lots and lots of Democrats who got support from the NRA [in the 2008 elections], and so they agree with the NRA.” When asked what she thought the landscape looked like for gun control, Feinstein said, simply: “I wouldn't bring it up now.” 

The Madness Continues, Despite the Evidence 

The reality is that Americans’ shooting irons haven’t been as secure as they are today in a very long time. But reality hasn’t interfered with the gun lobby’s fear-mongering before. During the 2008 election, the nonpartisan campaign watchdog FactCheck.org called out the NRA for running an “advertising campaign [that] distorts Obama's position on gun control beyond recognition.” 

Much of what the NRA passes off as Obama's "10 Point Plan to 'Change' the Second Amendment" is actually contrary to what he has said throughout his campaign: that he "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and "will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns." 

The narrative wasn’t put to rest when the votes were counted. In 2009, Media Matters noted that “since President Obama's election, several conservative media figures have warned their audiences that Obama is planning to, in the words of Glenn Beck, ‘slowly but surely take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun.’” The meme took an almost comical turn when an editorial in the right-wing Canada Free Press described an “Obama-ACORN anti-gun conspiracy." (“ACORN and Obama are lockstep in seeking to destroy our Second Amendment rights,” claimed the Free Press.)

More recently, a right-wing conspiracy theory held that a “UN gun treaty” would effectively eliminate Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms through the back door. The only problem is that the proposed treaty only deals with the international transfer of small arms, and the Obama administration insisted that the draft under discussion contain language that “explicitly recognizes the right of nations to regulate gun sales and ownership within their borders.” 

But that’s the beauty of grievance-based politics: whatever the reality, one can always count on conservative fears of being victimized by perfidious liberal social engineering. As Factcheck.org noted, “suspicions that the UN wants to seize Americans’ guns have been circulating since the mid-1990s” and "those fears dovetail with trepidations that some have about Obama on this issue.”  

For those counting on the passion of the hard Right, gullibility and paranoia remain invaluable commodities.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.