The “Obama administration” and “gun registry.” Put those words together in a sentence and its guaranteed to trigger conservative apoplexy. But now the Obama administration really is about to start cataloging guns, and it’s eliciting little more than approving head nods from the right. How can that be? Here’s how.
For as long as anyone can remember, the right’s fought tooth and nail against any effort to limit access to just about any kind of firearm. Handgun, AK-47, bazooka — if it fires something at killing speed, you should be able to have it.
And for just about the same timeframe, they’ve fought just as hard to prevent the federal government from trying to keep track of who owns weapons in the United States. Their position (boiled down): Everyone should have guns, and no one should know who has guns. Suggest even the most incremental steps towards regulating gun possession and, to hear the right tell it, it’s as if the redcoats are back on the march in Lexington and Concord. A more fundamental threat to our liberties can hardly be imagined.
Now the Department of Justice has announced that it’s going to catalog how many guns the federal government has in its possession and, one imagines, exactly who has them. Red alert! DEFCON 5! (Or 1, whichever is worse!) It’s a gun registry! Confiscation is right around the corner! All is lost! Right? Right?
Actually, if I’m reading my right-wing websites correctly, apparently not. In fact, they seem to think it’s a move that’s long overdue.
How, you may ask, can this be? If knowing who has guns is a bad thing, how can we be OK with the government finding out more about who has guns? Let’s think this through.
What would be the purpose of finding out more about who in the general population owns guns? To help us have a greater understanding of gun violence, and to solve gun crimes when they happen. Why do people on the right oppose a gun registry? Because they see a greater threat in the possibility that the federal government will try to restrict their use of guns or even take them away.
Now, let’s turn the analysis around. What’s the purpose of drilling down on the amount of guns in the federal government? Maybe it has to do with something as mundane as budgeting. Or perhaps its part of an effort to ensure that we are narrowly tailoring the distribution of firearms across the federal bureaucracy to those who actually need them.
If that’s the reason, the hard right should be going nuts. Why? Because it opens the door to the notion that there ought to be an analytical screen between guns and those who seek to carry them, and that there are good reasons to restrict access to guns even among law abiding, mentally competent people. Acknowledging the utility of doing that on the federal level makes it harder to argue against doing it elsewhere.
But the right doesn’t oppose. They support. And again, it has to do with their perception of threat. In this case, it’s apparently the idea that the federal government might be arming itself as part of a plan to subject the general population to the tyranny of the state. Yup. That’s what they’re afraid of.
Now, if you can get past the silliness of that notion, you might say a federal government that has the United States Army at its disposal (to say nothing of the other branches of the military) doesn’t much need to arm anyone else to take over just about anything. And if the federal government is preparing to crack down on average citizens, you might think that tanks, attack helicopters and bunker busting bombs would do the trick. But to admit that would also be admitting that arming citizens really isn’t a hedge against tyranny at all. And of course, it isn’t. But that kind of thinking — call it “logic” — doesn’t feature prominently in the right’s postulations about these kinds of things.
It would be easy to dismiss the right’s ideas about things like this if they weren’t having such an impact on public policy. The people who think the government is on the verge of tyranny are, not infrequently, the same people driving a much larger agenda in the GOP. You can see the push to mainstream their far out ideas everywhere from health care to the environment to tax policy to, yes, guns. And it means that we are increasingly memorializing into law policies that reflect a fantasyland view of America rather than the America most of us live in. That’s not good.
So I say: Bring on the gun count! If for no other reason than this seems to be one of those cases where one brand of right-wing nuttiness (Government tyranny!) is running headlong into another (Bazookas for all!). And if that helps put the breaks on either, then we’ll all be better off.