They hit you? Grin and bear it. You hit them? Prepare to die.
It was National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre who famously intoned that "the guys with the guns make the rules" during the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference. I don't think I had ever fully understood the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy behind this belief, however, until pro-gun activists brought it into sharp relief for me recently.
Late last month, the president of the radical pro-gun group Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), Philip Van Cleave, made headlines when he told a WVTF reporter on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that slapping around your wife was no big deal. Van Cleave was commenting on a bill, SB 510, that would prohibit individuals convicted of stalking, sexual battery, or assault/battery of a family member from possessing firearms for a period of five years following their convictions. "A slap?" Van Cleave asked reporter Sandy Hausman. "That's not a violent thing!" Van Cleave later reiterated this opinion during testimony before the Virginia Senate's Courts of Justice Committee. When asked by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, "So you think that if you go out and you slap your wife around and all it is is a misdemeanor [conviction], you shouldn't lose your weapon after that. Is that what you're telling me?" "Correct," responded Van Cleave.
A couple days later, pro-gun activists on Twitter reminded us that George Zimmerman did the right thing by killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin because he was (theoretically) being punched at the time. So we decided to put a question to them:
"Do you think the punishment for punching someone should be death?"
"If you attack someone, you deal with what they choose to make you deal with," answered pro-gun activist Jordan of Atlanta, Georgia. "Yes."
"Yes I do!" replied pro-gun activist Dale Shroud of Boise, Idaho. "A punch hard enough in the head CAN KILL YOU ! I will STAND MY GROUND."
Hold on a second, I thought. Let me get this straight... It's OK for pro-gun activists to slap their wives around without losing their rights to own and purchase firearms, but if someone punches them, they have a right to execute that person on the spot -- no judge, no jury, no due process under the law?
What a sickening double-standard that is.
And lest you think it's merely a matter of a few isolated pro-gun activists engaging in such hypocrisy, let me assure you that that's not the case. The NRA practices what it preaches when it comes to its "the guys with the guns make the rules" philosophy. It was NRA Board Member and Congressman Don Young (R-AK) who took the lead in attempting to repeal the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment, which prohibits those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence from owning and purchasing firearms. And who can forget these two classic quotes from NRA Board Member Wayne Anthony Ross: "If a guy can't rape his wife...who's he gonna rape?" and "There wouldn't be an issue with domestic violence if women would learn to keep their mouth shut." Finally, the NRA described the protections codified under "Stand Your Ground" laws as a "fundamental human right" after Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges.
The opinion of the pro-gun movement seems to be that the guy with the gun is always right, no matter what the facts of the case are; that gun possession makes you a super-citizen with enhanced rights to take life, avoid prosecution, and use lethal force in response to non-lethal force. Somehow, gun ownership increases your judgment and makes you smarter than other citizens.
But here's the reality. There are some really smart gun owners with excellent judgment who don't display their weapons in a prideful and dangerous manner, and there are also some slow-witted gun owners with terrible judgment who want to show off that they have the power to put you six feet under (think Michael David Dunn). The reason we need meaningful firearms regulation is not to stop truly law-abiding people with excellent judgment from getting guns, but rather to stop the reckless, dangerous individuals that exist in every society. The mere fact that you own a gun does not make you a "Good Guy." A good guy is someone who by measure of skill and temperament has been weeded out from the bad guys. That title is earned, not given.
I am not pointing out the pro-gun movement's double standard regarding the use of force merely to play a game of "gotcha." I am highlighting their hypocrisy because it has lethal consequences. The pro-gun movement is teaching young Americans that it is morally virtuous to shoot and kill someone who punches you. Is that really a message we want to be sending in an era of school shootings? One landmark study of school shootings found, "Almost three-quarters of [school shooters] felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident. In several cases, individual attackers had experienced bullying and harassment that was long-standing and severe." There are legitimate avenues to address this problem, but telling bullied kids that they are justified in opening fire? That's a recipe for disaster.
I am haunted by a quote from Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza that was recently unearthed by author Matthew Lysiak. Posting at the website Shocked Beyond Belief just a year before the shooting, Lanza wrote:
It goes without saying that an AK-47 and enough ammunition could do more good than a thousand "teachers," if one is truly interested in reforming the system. In short time the children will be brainwashed, pumped full of Xanax and told to conform, until they have been turned into the oppressors.
A clearer declaration of "the guys with the guns make the rules" has never been heard. It should be a wake-up call to all of us -- including gun owners -- to champion non-violent solutions to conflicts, rather than the use of deadly force. The preservation of human life should always be our highest priority in settling disputes, both personal and political.