Few issues are as debated in American politics as gun rights — and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
As much as the right accuses the left of using atrocities like mass shootings to achieve political narratives, they have done the exact same. There are not enough domestic incidents of “Good Guys with Guns” stopping the “Bad Guys,” so they look abroad.
After the Parkland shooting in 2018, I, unable to vote at the time, wrote to my representatives about restricting general gun access. My mother then posted the letter to Facebook, which spurred one user to comment multiple paragraphs about how the Nazis took away Jewish people’s right to bear arms before the Holocaust.
Last year, with the flurry of protests against the dictatorship in Cuba making international news, some right-leaning media sites pointed out that Cubans living on the island cannot carry weapons to fend off the oppressive police force.
More recently, when the Ukrainian government distributed weapons to civilians in February to defend against invading Russian soldiers, conservative media outlets proclaimed it as evidence of the importance of our Second Amendment.
The argument constructed from all of these anecdotes is that people need guns to defend their liberties against tyrannical, militaristic governments — whether they are the regimes of America’s neighbors or the one we live under.
With conservatives in uproar over gun control in the wake of yet another elementary school shooting on American soil, it is worth deconstructing this argument about the utility of firearms in securing individual liberty.
Using the cases of Germany and Cuba implies that conservatives live in fear of a military dictatorship in which the government is no longer accountable to the people and state-sanctioned violence runs rampant. This is a valid fear. Black Americans and pro-choice protestors like those that met police violence in early May know all too well the consequences of allowing law enforcement to operate so free of regulation.
However, conservative commentators have made it clear that they don’t consider police brutality against marginalized groups to be a systemic flaw. When police shot Philando Castile after he informed them that he had a legal firearm during a traffic stop, Candace Owens wrote a piece implying that police brutality originates in officers’ insecurities about being called racist. Furthermore, when Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, Tucker Carlson expressed outrage at activists’ assertion that the verdict was only the first step in addressing police brutality. It is concerning how rarely police officers are held accountable for harming those they are meant to “protect and serve,” but conservatives do not care to address it in any meaningful way.
In Florida, the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 led to a highly publicized legal process that led to the acquittal of his killer under a gun rights law called “stand-your-ground.” Martin was 17 years old and carrying skittles and an Arizona watermelon drink; a volunteer in the Neighborhood Watch was carrying a gun and determined that Martin was “suspicious.” We can only imagine how this would have ended had George Zimmerman not been carrying a gun.
The U.S. military received $725 billion in federal funding in 2020 and law enforcement received $123 billion in state and local funding across the country in 2019. With this money, the military and police have access to exclusive and unimaginably lethal weapons. How could access to some of the deadliest guns like an automatic rifle protect a civilian from such an army if that army is determined to kill?
The answer is, of course, that it cannot. If a military of this caliber wants someone dead, they will use drones, armored vehicles and an endless number of enlisted bodies to accomplish that goal.
If conservatives really feared a reality in which an unrepresentative government enacts extrajudicial killings on a whim, they would support limiting military and police funding. Or, they could push for officials and officers who violate their oath to democracy to be held accountable in an unbiased court. However, the federal government spends more on the military each year with bipartisan support, and Republicans express little interest in investigating possible attempts to overturn the 2020 general election.
The case of Ukraine is meant to signify that American civilians need guns to ward off foreign threats, but it proves the opposite under closer inspection. Ukraine, due to its geographic proximity to a militaristic superpower and political history as a target of Russian imperialism, may benefit from defensive measures like arming the civilian population in an emergency. This comparison between Ukraine and the U.S., however, leaves the question of what country we should be fearing an invasion from, and how arming the population could turn the tide in this hypothetical conflict?
No foreign governments have successfully attacked the U.S. since World War II and looking at a map shows why. The only countries that can quickly conduct a land-based invasion of the U.S. are Canada and Mexico. Given that both have long-standing diplomatic relations with the U.S. and no reason to confront the most expensive military in the world, that scenario is less of a hypothetical and more of an absurdity.
That leaves attacks by air, sea or missile strikes. In such cases, it is again worth remembering that firearms would accomplish nothing against any modern navy or air force in the time it would take for our own armed forces to be on the scene.
The conservative talking point that guns are necessary to defend against a repressive regime is a cover. They’ve shown in other parts of their platform that they do not truly care about the threat American forces pose to their own people, and exploring the possibility of stopping an attack from a foreign government reveals that it is a concern based in fantasy.
The reality of firearm accessibility in America is that it does not empower a proverbial underdog to stand up to an oppressive regime. Recent mass shootings make clear that current firearm laws only embolden young men to lash out against Black Americans, children, underpaid teachers and women — the people who are most victimized by government overreach right now.
We’ve seen enough manifestos for conservative lawmakers to understand that their legislation is not being used as intended.
Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.
Featured image: Protestors holding signs at a Second Amendment Sisters Rally, May 2000. (Unmodified photo by dbking used under a Creative Commons license. https://bit.ly/3Ns5G1Y.)