All Second Amendment enthusiasts are not the same. There are those who strongly believe in the right to bear arms for purposes of self-protection against criminals and for hunting and other sports usages. And then there are those who believe the ultimate purpose of the Second Amendment is to keep revolutionary violence on the table as a fallback plan if in their view “essential rights” are threatened, including gun rights themselves.
You can pretty clearly put many members of the Gun Owners of America, a group that considers the NRA a bunch of accomodationist squishes, in the latter category. The group’s longtime executive director, Larry Pratt, made that clear on his own radio show this week:
[T]he courts do not have the last word on what the Constitution is. They decide particular cases, they don’t make law. Their decisions, unlike the Roe v. Wade usurpation, don’t extend to the whole of society, they’re not supposed to. And we may have to reassert that proper constitutional balance, and it may not be pretty. So, I’d much rather have an election where we solve this matter at the ballot box than have to resort to the bullet box.
While Pratt’s term “bullet box” is attracting attention, this is a very old sentiment not just among gun enthusiasts but in broad swaths of movement conservatism. Recent proclamations in favor of the right to overthrow the government as essential to the maintenance of constitutional order have come from 2016 presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. But perhaps the clearest statement was made in 2012 by now-senator Joni Ernst, one of the GOP’s rising stars:
“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”
Ernst, of course, like other Second Amendment ultras, is implicitly arrogating to herself the right to decide when godless socialist tyranny — you know, things like Obamacare or environmental regulations or court-imposed reproductive rights — has gone so far that it’s time to bring out the shooting irons and start executing one’s enemies. But you have to wonder how people like Ernst and Cruz and Huckabee and Pratt would react if such rhetoric was coming from the political left — say, a black nationalist group. The right-to-revolution thinking really does boil down to Mao’s famous edict that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
For the present, it’s enough for Pratt to remind the rest of us that his tolerance for democracy and judicial supremacy has its limits, and if pushed too far, the “bullet box” is ever-ready.