Why Some Americans Want Big Guns

impeach earl warrenTwo weeks ago I urged a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, because I argued that there are no reasonable civilian uses for them. But there are unreasonable ideas about why Americans need big guns, which are clearly displayed in some of the not very friendly responses I received, like the following, printed in its entirety: “Go f**k yourself and take your Liberal opinions with you. As a history prof why don’t you tell me about the Nazi’s, China, Mexico, etc… How’s that working out for the millions of dead that were oppressed by their government ??????”

I’m not sure what this respondent thinks about Mexico, but his argument for guns is clear: American civilians need powerful military-style weapons to defend ourselves against our own government, which he compares with Nazi Germany and Communist China. The opposition to gun control goes well beyond the National Rifle Association and has deep roots in right-wing extremism.

Exaggerated fears of our government have a long history. After World War II, the John Birch Society brought together extreme conservatives who saw every policy put forward by the federal government, both Republicans and Democrats, as proof that communists were controlling politics in Washington. They saw communist conspiracies behind every movement they didn’t like: in a 1965 flyer title “What’s Wrong With Civil Rights?”, they argued that the civil rights movement “has been deliberately and almost wholly created by the Communists”.

The Birchers were welcomed by conservative Republicans, and they were enthusiastic about Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964. They were repudiated by more moderate Republicans, like Richard Nixon, but they lived on, warning about fluoridation, the United Nations, the Federal Reserve system, and “one world government.

Although the Birchers eventually lost influence, the conspiratorial right continued to spawn organizations dedicated to fighting the federal government. Often called the “patriot movement”, loosely organized extremists and tightly organized militia formations argue that our government is the greatest enemy of Americans’ constitutional freedoms. The feds were behind Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is building concentration camps to detain patriotic Americans; politicians are conspiring to subordinate the US to a “New World Order”.

The election of Barack Obama as President has brought out the latent racism which was always part of this movement. Obama has become the lightning rod for ever more hysterical theories about the federal government as the enemy of the people. A major focus of the “patriot movement” is the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, an attempt to control terrorists’ use of the international arms trade to gather weapons. It is instead perceived as a conspiracy by liberals and foreigners to take away Americans’ guns. These ideas have little to do with political reality, but that makes no difference to the spinners of conspiratorial nightmares.

The sudden “secession movement” is another expression of this anti-government sentiment. Within weeks of Obama’s reelection, about 700,000 people from every state put their names to online petitions to secede from the United States. While Americans of the left and right, often with silly motives, have joined this meaningless exercise in virtual secession, there is powerful anger in the depths of this movement.

This imaginary patriotism of right-wing extremists has been translated into a surge in demand for assault weapons, not for hunting or for protection against criminals, but to make war against our government.

Steve Hochstadt

Offering far-fetched interpretations of the Constitution, demonizing immigrants, feminists, and liberals, and justifying their accumulation of weapons of mass destruction with reference to the Second Amendment, extremists of the far right dream of destroying our democracy, not protecting it.

They are angry and irrational. They are impervious to political discussion. They don’t care what the majority of Americans think. And they are buying big guns.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


  1. Ryder says

    I notice that the President and many well-to-do send their children to Sidwell Friends school, which has armed guards on staff.

    How can one trust those that want guns for themselves, but not for anyone else?

    What do you think of those that want wealth for themselves, but not for others? Is there really any difference?

    Dianne Feinstein has a concealed carry permit, but is dead set against guns… for anyone else.

    Today, people tend to “react” more than think… and by that I
    mean, they compare something, like an important issue, to a vacuum… or in other
    words, they compare something, against nothing at all.

    How does one learn to compare for purposes of understanding the worth of an “assault weapons” ban?

    Rifles, hammers and clubs, and hands…

    Would anyone care to rate the threat levels of each?

    Hands are at the top of the list, twice as many murders as with rifles. Hammers and clubs are next, with about 50% more murders than rifles, then last is rifles… of all types combined. Murders from assault rifles are fewer still.

    How few? Around 450 murders a year, give or take.

    Where are the calls for a national registry of “blunt objects”?

    How can any caring human being worry more about rifle deaths than they do the far greater numbers of hands and clubs?

    40,000 Americans are killed in cars every year.

    What are we to make of this radical, disproportional response?

    People simply forget to compare rifles to anything else… which doesn’t say much for the American ability to think critically.

    But people do forget…

    Like Cambodia… little brown people from far away. So easy to forget.

    While we were watching Star Wars on the big screen in 1977,
    the Khmer Rouge was systematically killing over a million people with hands
    clubs and knives… because bullets were considered too expensive and
    valuable. But soldiers WITH guns stood behind and made sure that the
    killers could work without opposition. They slit so many throats, their
    hands became tired and cramped from holding their knives… yet night after
    night, the killing continued.

    Had the Cambodian people had their own “second amendment”,
    which is designed to keep power in the hands of the people, they would have easily been able to defend themselves.

    And so the story goes for many, many, many mass killings,
    over 150 million dead in the last century, and 200 million in the last 150
    years. That’s 3,600 people killed, every day, for 200 years.

    Yes, that’s right, 9/11, every day, for 200 years.

    You don’t take chances with risks that are that high.

    The power must stay with the people.

    Ever wonder why you feel so safe from government here? Look no further… than the fact that the people are, in the final analysis, still in charge.

    If that changes, government WILL change… it is only a matter of time.

  2. harry wod says

    Dear Mr. Hochstadt;

    Yes there
    are some who think that one day their government might try to collect all the
    private weapons the citizens have in their homes. They think this because in our past history, this
    was done. Red coats marching to Concord
    and Lexington were going to do just
    that. The English crown had decided to
    collect all non military arms and the local civilian militia had their guns
    stored there. That was the shot heard
    around the world and you could hear one again.
    The same thing was done in the Weimar
    Republic when Hitler was the
    leader. This may be what the man who
    wrote you was thinking and you can not deny that some people, left, right, or
    center, may want to do that now. A
    little research can give you the reasons why the states would not approve the
    constitution until the first ten amendments were offered. Each has a reason.

    I took an
    oath as a military officer, just as the current officers of the military do
    today. I feel they will not allow the
    country to be taken over or ruled by unconstitutional means. It may take a while for them to act, but if
    you read their oath, it does not require them to obey orders from those above
    them that are unlawful. So I feel our military
    officers will not act as did the German officers who were on trial after WWII,
    as those officers did not disobey orders to commit crimes.

    When you
    call people names such as, extreme right wing, the conspiratorial right,
    loosely organized extremists, and talk
    about concentration camps for patriotic Americans, and imaginary patriotism of
    right wing extremists, you do not endear them to you or your cause.

    Do you even know what a weapon of mass
    destruction is? That is something like
    the poison gas that was used on the Kurds in Iraq
    by their leader, and something that kills large numbers of people at once.
    Nuclear weapons would also be such a weapon as was the serine gas released in
    the subway system in Japan.
    You named a person who used a weapon of mass destruction, McVeigh, and it was
    not a gun. If the Newtown
    killer had used the system that McVeigh used, the number of dead would have
    been larger, perhaps everyone at the school.
    I know the purchase of the major ingredient is limited but you can buy
    it from Wal-Mart five or so bags at a time until you build up a rental truck
    load like McVeigh. So you see, there is
    no way I can save or protect everyone.
    Those with an imagination can accomplish much.

    There are
    many sections of the country that use weapons for hunting, target shooting ( an
    Olympic event), reducing rodents, and home defense. If those citizens are not willing to register
    their guns, which they fear leads to a confiscation like in Weimar,
    would you have them arrested as criminals?

    I am retired now, an old soldier, but I would
    be willing to help guard the local schools in my county for little or no
    pay. As a security expert I assure you
    that if you make the schools into hard targets, you send the nuts elsewhere to soft
    targets, places such as churches, child care centers, and shopping centers. The sick McVeigh’s of the world always find
    another way to do their evil deeds.

    If you seek
    out information on violet crimes around the world, you will find some countries
    have more while having less guns than the US. Some with no guns have more crimes. The reason is many things can be used as
    lethal weapons, hammers, swords, bats, and even a #2 pencil. I give you a tease, the US
    has 446 violent crimes per 100,000 people, the UK
    has 2034 violent crimes per 100,000 people and do so without any guns. Canada
    has 945, South Africa
    has 1609, but Australia
    has only 92. More Americans die from medical mistakes (44,000+) per year than
    from guns and we are not going to ban doctors.

    • Ginny says

      I wish we could put this myth to rest once and for all. Nazi
      Germany DID NOT CONFISCATE people’s weapons. The Weimar Republic which was a decade earlier than Hitler’s Nazi government put some gun regulations in place. But Nazi Germany encouraged keeping guns. When Hitler came to power, gun restriction laws were passed that applied only to
      handguns—not long guns or ammunition. The law DEREGULATED the buyng and selling rifles, shotguns, and ammunitions.
      Nazi party members, holders of annual hunting permits, government workers were NOT subject to any gun ownership restrictions. Now you didn’t have to wait until you were 20 to own a gun, you could own one at 18. The firearm permits were valid for 3 years, not 1 year.
      Hitler was popular; he was voted into office and stayed in office because Germany had fallen into dire straits because of the consequences of the Versaille Treaty. Germans were starving and Hitler promised relief. The German people liked him. No one was going to rise up (the Jews are a different case, but they didn’t rise up either).

  3. Jonathan Baker says

    “This imaginary patriotism of right-wing extremists has been translated
    into a surge in demand for assault weapons, not for hunting or for
    protection against criminals, but to make war against our government.”

    My sense of the motives of 700,000 is that it is an expression of the dislike and fear of the growth and power of the federal government.

    I don’t think that the desire to own powerful weapons is to “make war against our government” but rather to protect themselves against an overbearing government. Witness POTUS’s authorization to execute two American citizens without their day in court or Ruby Ridge, Waco or the Brossart farm in North Dakota, or out-of-proportion actions of police in Oakland, NYC and UC Davis, to name a few examples. I believe that the militarization of police through funding by Homeland Security is equivalent to pouring gasoline on a little fire. Who wants a confrontation, fearful people who buy arms or a government that fans the fear of the fearful?

    I submit that you are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. It would serve us all well if you were to study and write on the problem from the perspective of the fearful. Perhaps then reasonable people will have a better understanding.

  4. Reverend Draco says

    I don’t care what the majority of Americans think, either – that’s one of the great things about living in a Constitutional Republic – the majority is restrained from violating or taking away the rights of any minority.

    Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, the average rapist, gangbanger, any number of other criminally insane people. . . all in favor of “gun control.” That’s what allows them and those who are part of their criminal gang to rape, plunder, and kill with impunity.

    Nice to know that you’re on their side. . .

  5. Alan8 says

    We have a corrupt, outlaw government that doesn’t even follow its own laws.

    It assassinates without due process, like the Soviets or Nazis. It brutalizes peaceful Occupy demonstrators with militarized police. It murders civilians, then covers up the murders, and turns the full force of the U.S. government on the whistleblowers that expose the crimes (Wikileaks). It abuses its power to attack citizens that are a threat to corporate profits.

    To put it bluntly, our government can’t be trusted.

    I’ve always considered the gun-control issues a distraction from the real problems like corporate fascism, free-trade, homelessness, erosion of the Bill of Rights, and the degradation of our lives for corporate profits.

    But I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of the push by Bush III to disarm Americans. And I’m a leftist.

  6. harry wood says

    You need to visit some other places and lern about your fellow citizens, I guess you are one yourself. Those right wing fanatics that you bad mouth are the combat veterans who offered their lives if need be to follow what ever person, left wing fanatic or right wing hero, that was elected CIC. Often our votes were not even counted.

    The British army tried to take away our guns at Concord, they wanted to ban guns for the citizens and only let the Red coats have guns and none for the “tea party of Boston”. I know that I used guns as tools both in combat and behind the Iron Curtain. They were tools I needed then and I still need those tools. I do not own any automatic weapons though I had some in combat, just semi-automatic ones.

    I doubt the south and the west will ever give up guns, we really do not trust poeole like you and doubt making all guns illegal would improve your complaints. You need to look up stats on deaths in America. You will find doctors kill more people with medical errors than are killed with guns. There are a lot of little facts like this and you can not ban all the stuff that causes deaths.


  1. […] Last week I wrote about how the belief of some Americans that their biggest enemy is their own government has increased gun sales. Many other writers have picked up this theme recently, as more and more right-wingers compare the US government to Nazis and Communists, claiming they need assault weapons for protection from tyranny at home. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *