Assault Weapons Symbolism and GOP Totalitarianism

Some readers assume that since I live in Berkeley , I look kind of like a hippie in some of my photos, and I hate war more than anything else the government does, I'm some kind of pacifist ' or, much worse, that I support the very non-pacifistic act of gun control, or, more accurately, victim disarmament.

No. I'm a libertarian, I believe in self-defense, and gun control is the stuff of tyranny. One of the very few positive things to happen on the national political scene in recent years is the expiration of the abhorrent ban on so-called 'assault weapons.' It is a triumph for liberty.

But it is not without its downside. All libertarians know the many upsides to any reduction in anti-gun tyranny. I want to focus on the downside.

Most notably, George W. Bush ' a president who has flouted the gun rights of Iraqis and American airline pilots, to say nothing of American airline passengers ' will get credit for the expiration, when he deserves the scorn of every decent gun-owner in America . Bush, after all, said he would sign the legislation to renew the ban. How convenient for him that he never had to make the decision. (It wouldn't be much of a decision: Bush has never vetoed a single damn bill.)

That conservatives, Republicans, NRA members and others are going to attribute the death of Clinton 's ban to Bush is very unfortunate. I do not want anyone, on any side of the political spectrum, to associate the principle of gun rights with his liberty-trampling legacy.

I am very sympathetic to the observation that every major instance of genocide in the last century was preceded by gun control ' or, at least, weapons control. But I'm starting to think that America might be different. If the Republicans continue to pull the wool over the eyes of so many conservatives, who think that since the Party of Lincoln ' the first serious American gun-grabber, by the way ' is marginally better on the gun issue than are the Democrats, Republican politicians are therefore incapable of destroying American liberty and erecting a tyrannical state, such a state is exactly what we will get.

If all the Americans who actually own powerful weapons don't consider Bush a clear and present danger ' despite Guantanamo, the imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, the intensifying War on Drugs, the expanding welfare state, and censorship in the form of 'free speech zones' and the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill ' and if so many American gun-owners are even willing to vote to reelect such an oppressive administration, then perhaps their gun-ownership isn't as strong a barrier against totalitarianism as we've all thought.

The GOP might be the first organization in the history of the world capable of creating a total state while still allowing its subjects to be armed. Just keep them licensed, their weapons registered, and their names registered Republican ' just keep an eye on them ' and you can suck as much money out of them as you want, and use it to kill and enslave however many innocent people you want, and no one will stop you! Just make sure the Democrats always sound slightly worse on the gun issue, and your gun-owning constituents will stay loyal.

(There's an historical parallel here. When Franklin Roosevelt seized power and began imposing economic fascism, alcohol prohibition finally came to an end. The Democrats still had classical liberal sympathies at the time. FDR got credit for giving them back a tiny bit of their freedom, under conditions of government licensure, keeping his party faithful drunk and thankful to the state for letting go of something it never had the right to steal in the first place. If the War on Drugs ends, it might also happen under a fascist leader who wants to drug us all up with our newly 'granted' liberty, just so he (or she) can stick it to us in more significant ways.)

Republicans are obviously gun-grabbers where it counts. Reagan supported the Brady Bill and urged Congress to 'enact it without further delay.' As governor of California , he signed the Mulford Act, which was introduced by Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford, stripping Californians of the right to carry weapons, all because the Republicans feared the Black Panthers. It was the Republican George H.W. Bush administration that outlawed imports of 'Assault Weapons' and that waged the murderous siege at Ruby Ridge ' something that even right-to-bear-arms types seem to forget. Richard Nixon, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, John McCain ' the list of antigun Republicans goes on and on.

So many gun-owners seem to care more about party label than substance. A poll at showed that more than 75% of its readers considered an unnamed politician a 'traitor' based on his gun record. A follow-up essay revealed the politician was Reagan, and asked readers rhetorically whether the gun-owners would change their opinion now that they knew who he was.

All that those slimy Republicans do, to keep the gun vote, is sound a little better on the gun issue. It's not hard when you've got Kerry up there blaming Bush for fewer cops and more rifles on the street! (Have you ever noticed that candidates often make their competitors sound good?)

In the end, it's all symbolism. The Assault Weapons Ban forbade certain weapons that were nearly identical to ones kept legal. It was a symbolic victory for the gun controllers when it passed, and, for the most part, it's a symbolic victory for gun rights folks now that it has expired. The NRA will keep millions of gun rights folks voting Republican, who don't seem to notice that the NRA has written some of the gun control legislation on the books now, and is constantly calling on the government to enforce those unjust laws more rigorously.

Hell, I have a friend who just said that the only reason Bush said he would renew the Assault Weapons Ban was to play politics, and that deep inside he knew the Republican Congress would let the authoritarian law expire.

Well, if Republicans care so much about the right to keep and bear arms, why don't they begin repealing some of the 25,000 gun laws in America , each of which has no place in even a semi-free society?

The reason why is because they don't care about our right to bear arms, any more than they care about our right to be free from government schools, or our right not to pay taxes, or our right to put in our body any chemical we damn well please. They are not libertarians, not on the gun issue or on any other issue.

But they'll let us keep our guns, at least some of them, at least under certain 'reasonable' limits. They don't need to disarm us completely. Most politically concerned gun owners still seem to believe the nonsense that Republicans protect our liberty from terrorists and Democrats, the latter being the only real threat to our right to bear arms, and our liberty in general. No need to disarm a people that are already slaves. And if you don't think it's possible to have armed slaves, what else do you call conscripts?

My only remaining question is if the Republicans will permit guns in the gulags. With the passive capitulation of many of today's conservatives to the most communistic presidency we have seen in more than half a century, you never know. I imagine the GOP will even hand out assault weapons, purchased with tax dollars, at the killing fields. It will save work for the bureaucrats if the GOP simply instructs the party faithful to shoot themselves. The faithful will comply, ever so happy that they belong to a party that respects the Second Amendment.

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Anthony Gregory's picture
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Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at His website is