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By Paul Bangiola
If you want an eye-opening peek into the dark world of a small but scary percentage of the population, try writing a column in favor of requiring universal background checks prior to all gun sales.
I did (“Shooting Holes in the Second Amendment”), and the comments were both frightening and pathetic.
I thought I had found a standard everyone could accept when I relied upon the opinion of that famous liberal, Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), which was decided by a 6-3 majority.
The Heller case upheld the Second Amendment right to possess a handgun, rifle or shotgun for self- protection and overturned the District’s outright ban on handguns.
So to all you NRA drones out there under the spell of words like “confiscation,” regarding handguns and other guns used for self-defense, hunting and target shooting, at least, it is now settled law. Confiscation of these weapons is unconstitutional. We are a nation of laws, and the highest authority has spoken.
But the Second Amendment does have limits. Automatic weapons have been illegal since the 1930s. Silencers are also illegal. Some regulations of guns are constitutionally permissible.
As Justice Scalia wrote:
Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms…the sorts of weapons protected are those ‘in common use at the time’ finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. Pp. 54–56.
But make no mistake, the true extremists are out there, and they live in an echo chamber, armed not just with real guns, to which they often allude in argument, but with cut-and-pasted quotes they share, as if in call and response, across the internet to and from the paranoid, alienated, and perhaps, the disassociated.
They live in a toxic mental stew of NRA propaganda, lies, misinformation, Fox News partisanship, and adolescent messianic fantasies. They are, lamentably and predictably, almost universally male. And, oh, yeah, they are humorless, menacing bullies.
This crew sneers at those who think the Second Amendment protects self-defense, hunting and shooting sports, but not armed rebellion by an “army of one.” They think it protects treason. Many talk about tyranny and the passage of Obamacare as equivalents. Let’s try and ignore those sporting facial hair like ZZ-Top, who think the “South is Gonna Do it Again,” and call the Civil War “the War of Northern Aggression.”
There are those gun advocates who see this debate as a call to arms, who live in a country they think will soon have to be rescued, whether the rest of us want rescuing or not.
They are a subculture and speak a special language of catch phrases and, now and then, a little Greek or Latin, to lend some gravitas and mystery, a creepy wink that only members of the tribe are supposed to understand.
The complexity of the code, fortunately is at the same level as a decoder ring from a cereal box. There are “Threepers” (like the three percent of the population they claim actually fought in the Revolutionary War, the true Americans–get it?), who spout phrases like “Molon Labe” (ancient Greek for “come and take”) and “from my cold dead hands.”
They see conspiracies everywhere, from Ruby Ridge and Waco to a picture of the President skeet-shooting. They are constantly scanning the horizon for Blackhawk helicopters coming to confiscate their guns. Then things will really get exciting! And they can hardly wait.
This group is so hot on the idea of saving the country from itself that they are willing to tolerate an “any gun for anyone” system. They are Second Amendment absolutists.
Now, when a liberal Democrat like me says something supportive of universal background checks, the whole hive of crazies buzzes with the alarm. First out of the gate, the standard tried-and-true responses: “Marxist! Socialist! Statist!”
Then come the selective quotes from the founding fathers and cut-and-pasted references to case law. It is pretty clear that most people haven’t read the texts they are citing, or the cases they cite.
Then, following at the back of the circus, come the big guns: “Nazi!”
And even: “Holocaust denier.” (I am not kidding). Comparing supporters of gun control to Nazis is both wildly, historically inaccurate and profoundly disrespectful of the Nazis’s victims. But don’t expect this bunch to lose much sleep over inaccurate facts–they have an agenda to serve.
The time is long past time for everyone in a position of responsibility, regardless of party, to set some boundaries, and denounce extremists advocating preparation for treason. Language is important and these words, cast into the ether, may have consequences, which we will only truly realize when the next deluded crazy decides he is an army of one.
The time has come for all public officials to follow the lead of President George H.W. Bush, who resigned from the NRA when Wayne LaPierre referred to ATF agents as “jack- booted thugs.”
No Wayne, talking about tyranny, and lying about confiscation to gin up support and gun sales, is not OK. Let’s stick to the argument and you can make your case. Then all of the people, not three percent, but all of the people, will let us know.
Paul M. Bangiola, Esq., is a Morristown lawyer, former municipal prosecutor, former Morris County Democratic Chairman, a 2000 New Jersey Presidential Elector, and a campaign adviser.