Stephen Gottlieb: What’s up with gun rights

May 14, 2013

What’s the NRA’s big attachment to assault weapons? Why do we have to suffer the weapons of mass murder?

One NRA member from Texas told an NPR reporter, "As far as I'm concerned, if you can afford to buy a tank, you should be able to buy a tank." He explained: "the Second Amendment was put in not to hunt, not to go plink at cans, not to shoot at targets. If and when tyranny tries to take over our country, we can fight it." NRA President Porter, too, wants people to be “ready to fight tyranny.” Porter, told an audience last June, when he was NRA vice-president, that “We got the pads put on, we got our helmets strapped on, we’re cinched up, we’re ready to fight, we’re out there fighting every day.”

Tyranny is the common mantra of the NRA and the private paramilitaries training around this country. What do they mean by tyranny?

NRA president Porter told an audience that the NRA was “started by some Yankee generals who didn’t like the way my Southern boys had the ability to shoot in what we call the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’” That’s his name for the Civil War. So is the current NRA the boomerang now aimed at this more accepting and cosmopolitan nation, at our victory over slavery and for universal human rights? Does it fit all the fuss by the birthers? Or explain President Porter calling President Obama a “fake president” or calling Attorney General Eric Holder “rabidly un-American.” Holder, like President Obama, is African-American.

NPR’s Wade Goodwyn told us “NRA speakers” at their recent convention, “emphasized their belief that there are two Americas: the righteousness of the right and the decadence of the left.” In other words, one of the strands of fanaticism behind the NRA is political – not just that gun rights are political, but that the purpose of having gun rights is political, to change the society from one they dislike to one they like. That begins to explain the demand by NRA leadership that we protect the ability to buy and own operable assault weapons, high capacity magazines, even tanks – to take over the U.S. by force of arms.

after the Civil War, former Confederate soldiers, allowed to keep their guns, patrolled Southern states to make sure the former slaves stayed in what white southerners called their “place” – on the plantation – and shot people who tried to move. Others became marauders, outlaws, and bank robbers. Many formed the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations to keep the South as it was before the War. Their vigilante organizations spread, with venom against Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants. Immerse yourself now in the culture of the various private militias “training” around the country and you’ll find yourself immersed in that same culture of hate – fully armed and cloaked in the NRAs version of the Second Amendment.

Conservatives, terrified of revolution, once feared communists everywhere were trying to overthrow the government by force. About face. Now so-called “conservatives” defend the people who are preparing to overthrow the government by force. Both the rhetoric and the killing have grown since Obama was elected.

The more the NRA claims the unregulated right to big guns, the less we should trust them with anything more powerful than a rubber band.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran. 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

For quotations and additional information, see:

Bill Hutchinson, “Nutty new NRA president Jim Porter still fighting war against 'Northern Aggression,'” New York Daily News, May 2, 2013, available at

Wade Goodwyn, “At NRA Convention, Dueling Narratives Displayed With Guns,” NPR, May 4, 2013, available at

Wade Goodwyn and Melissa Block, “Gun Owners, Activists Descend On Houston For NRA Convention,” NPR, May 3, 2013, available at

For the NRA official statement on militias, see