When National Rifle Association (NRA) President Charlton Heston hoisted a rifle above his head at the organization’s 2000 convention and shouted the words “from my cold dead hands,” there was no joke about it. He was conveying a serious threat by expressing the organization’s belief that the Second Amendment provides individuals with the right to take violent action against our government—“one bullet at a time”—when they deem it has become “tyrannical.” Since the conservative wing of the Supreme Court gave legal backing to this dangerous “Insurrectionist Idea” in 2008, there have been a significant number of violent acts by those who fear and hate our government.
The NRA, however, now appears to find its advocacy for insurrectionism humorous. In a bizarre new video released in late August as part of its “Trigger the Vote” campaign, a group meeting is being held to discuss what should be done about the government coming to take away people’s guns. An old woman in the group, in an expletive-filled tirade reminiscent of Heston, states that if the government wants her gun, “they’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.” Martial arts expert/celebrity Chuck Norris then busts into the room and tells the participants that “there’s only one way to protect our rights,” by registering to vote.
The use of Chuck Norris as a voice of reason is curious, to put it mildly. Just last year, Norris told conservative radio/TV host Glenn Beck, “I don't use [guns] for hunting. I'm not a hunter. But the thing is, it's for protection ... If the government decides to become a tyrannical government, our guns are to protect us against that. And that's really what the Second Amendment is all about.” Norris even warned in March 2009 that a “second American Revolution” will happen “if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.” Norris clearly buys into the insurrectionist ideology his new ad so casually dismisses.
The “Trigger the Vote” campaign is a sharp departure from previous NRA rhetoric, and raises questions about the organization’s motives. The NRA’s embrace of insurrectionism—formalized through its amicus brief in the 2008 D.C. v. Heller case referenced above—has received significant press attention as of late, particularly after armed Americans began to appear at town hall meetings, presidential speeches, and other political events. The NRA might be trying to distance itself from this type of behavior with the “Trigger the Vote” campaign. It is also undoubtedly attempting to reach out to more moderate swing voters before a critical mid-term election.
Even long-time NRA supporters, however, are beginning to question its wisdom on the subject of guns, democracy and freedom. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has done much to advance the gun lobby’s agenda, recently ran ads against Republican Senate candidate and Tea Partier Sharron Angle that strike directly at the Insurrectionist Idea. In one ad, the president of the Peace Officers Research Association of Nevada states that Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies” are a clear call for “armed resistance” and denounces them as “crazy” and “way over the line.”
Two weeks after Reid’s “Over the Line” ad ran, the NRA chose not to endorse him in the upcoming election. This prompted some to speculate that the NRA was punishing him for rejecting their extreme ideology. The NRA denied this, however, claiming that its decision had to do with Reid’s support of Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The bottom line, however, is that no matter how hard you try to mask insurrectionist ideology with a public relations campaign, if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. If the NRA is sincere in its desire to condemn insurrectionism, it should have its legal counsel issue a statement making it clear that the Second Amendment does not provide individuals with the right to shoot government officials when they feel “oppressed” or sense “tyranny.”
Until then, when the NRA chooses to joke about this topic, all Americans should ask: What’s so funny?