Politics & Government

Politicians, Guns and Elections

todayMay 3, 2022

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By W. Nick Taliferro | WURD Radio

One of my 2nd Amendment-loving friends recently told me that a gun is only a tool, “just like a hammer or a saw”. I took his point; but I responded that unlike a hammer or a saw, the SOLE function of a gun is to destroy something. You don’t drive nails with a gun, and you don’t trim trees with it. With a gun you only look to pull a trigger, let it go “bang”; and then hope that something stops moving.

And guns are really effective at doing exactly what they are designed to do – make people stop moving. Last year 20,885 people stopped moving – permanently, due to gunfire. Worse still, over 23,900 others used a gun to stop themselves from moving (suicide).

Guns (and by that I mean firearms, in general) are designed to make noise, destroy things and hurt stuff. Full stop.

So, I am a little stunned by the fact that guns appear to have become the new must-have ingredient for a successful political campaign. Everywhere you look these days there’s some candidate trying to earn your vote and win your affection by showing off how much they love, and are willing to use, their guns!

Some politicians go with the soft sell; like the ad that current senatorial candidate, Conor Lamb, ran during an earlier congressional race that acknowledged that he “still loves to shoot”. But most of the ads are going for the full-out hard sell nowadays, featuring armed to the teeth, pistol-packin’ (Rep. Lauren Boebert), carbine-carrying (Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin), shoot-em-up ammo-philiacs (Marjorie Taylor Greene); blasting away to get your vote.

A few of them are downright creepy.

Like, Garrett Soldano, candidate for Governor in Michigan, who has an ad that features only four words, repeated twice. The add begins with someone loading a magazine of bullets into an assault rifle, accompanied by an aggressive voice intoning, “Who?”, to which a chorus responds “…we the People!” This gets followed by 25 seconds of Soldano shooting a variety of weapons at an outdoor range, with a background of scalding rock guitar music. Then there’s Arizona senatorial candidate, Blake Masters’ ad , which promises to “take back Arizona” (from who?) In it, Blake promotes himself as the owner of an arsenal of guns, and produces one – a Walther PPK (the James Bond gun (he proudly asserts) – while lovingly calling it “cool”. The irony seems lost on him that he is extolling a German-made gun (Walther), while in the background sits his German-made car (BMW), as he seeks office in the United States of America.

Closer to home, former hedge fund CEO, David McCormick is trying to win the privilege to be Pennsylvania’s next U.S. Senator by showing us the different rifles he’s shot over the years. He displays his prowess with a 30.06, then a Springfield M14 and finally an M4 carbine – firing all of them for the camera. Afterwards he confidently asserts that he’s protecting the 2nd Amendment because it “guarantees the rest of them”.

That seems to be the crux of the matter for all of our gun-totin’, rootin’-tootin’ political candidates, that guns are the embodiment of our Constitutional guarantees of safety and freedom. Brandishing a gun, for them, breathes life into what they perceive to be the throbbing heartbeat of our living Constitution – the 2nd Amendment! And they see this as not only a right, but a sacred and inviolate duty.

But the fact is that the 27 words of this Amendment that these candidates almost worship – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” – are among the most misapprehended in American History.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we must understand that the 2nd Amendment hinges on the prefatory clause, “A well regulated Militia… necessary to the security of a free State”. This clause is the true aim of the Amendment, and it stemmed from the fear that if the thirteen individual States became one Nation, individual State sovereignty would be subsumed by Federal authority. One noted member of the Constitutional Congress, George Mason of Virginia, asserted as much in 1788, when he said, “when once a standing army is established in any country, the people lose their liberty”. This fear led directly to the crafting of the 2nd Amendment, guaranteeing the ability for States to maintain “a well-regulated Militia”.

But the devil lies in the details connected to the operational aspect of this Amendment, the part that says “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. Though originally intended to address the collective needs of “the PEOPLE”, who together comprised a State, today’s individualistic mind seizes upon it as an almost divine individual right to be armed. Perhaps that’s why there are over 393 million guns in the hands of some 332 million people in the U.S. – approximately 120 firearms for every 100 individuals!

While that’s problematic enough, a greater concern is generated when one explores the “why?” part. What is the reason why folks felt the need to be so armed, both then and now?

A little research here reveals the ugly underbelly of the 2nd Amendment, and that is that it’s based on the deep fears of a Privileged Class! Remember, the Amendments (and the whole Constitution for that matter) were written by, and for, Privileged folk – i.e.; wealthy, White males of the landed gentry. But some of the more rural members of this class were concerned that a centralized Government – based in the North might become desensitized to some of their concerns, and thereby become oppressive by virtue of that insensitivity!

But another, perhaps more urgent fear was that the new Federal Government might not be too anxious to send armed assistance to the South if there were uprisings among those being oppressed (i.e. the Enslaved) by these rural, Privileged White men. After all, Slavery was repudiated in the North as a barbaric relic that had become hard-baked into the fabric of Southern life, and many Southern landowners knew that the North couldn’t care less about uprisings in the Slave States.

The fact is that these Privileged White males had cause to worry. After all, human beings tend to chafe a bit when being treated like animals, and denied their “God given rights to life, liberty, etc…” And in some places in Virginia and the Carolinas the enslaved outnumbered the enslavers, and memories of deadly slave insurrections – like the Chesapeake (VA) Rebellion of 1730, and the Stono Rebellion in 1739 – had required Militia intervention.

These memories remained evergreen in their minds, causing these good ol’ boys to become firmly committed to the idea of maintaining “a well-regulated Militia”, because they viewed it “…necessary to the security of a free State”. They wanted some guarantees – in writing – that would allow them to keep their Militias at the ready. Plus, the idea of having an armed citizenry wasn’t new; in fact, the South Carolina “Security Act” of 1739 mandated that ALL White men carry guns – even to church! – in order to ready to quell Slave Rebellions.

With this in mind I am led to see these modern-day politicians, waving their guns like Annie Oakley and Wyatt Earp, through another lens. I see them as a reflection of people who cravenly wish to maintain their own privilege by denying the rights and privileges of others. I see them as people who are afraid, and who – because of their fears – perceive the needs and rights of others to be a threat to their own. And I see them as desperate to demonstrate that they have the power to suppress and deny any attempts to change their comfortable status quo.

And the symbol that they use to demonstrate that resolve, the ensign that they raise as the emblem of their power over others… is the Gun!

So every time a candidate fires a gun in an ad, trying to convince me that he’s more red, white and blue than the other candidate, I hear a voice saying, “stay in your place, boy; because I got a gun and I’m willing to use it – against YOU!”

There is nothing more odious than watching privileged people acting as if they perceive themselves to be victims. Listening to some of these wealthy, White candidates asserting their need to “take back” a country that they still own, while bemoaning a list of aggrievements that pale when compared to real injustices (“…they are forcing me to wear a mask in a pandemic – sob!”) sickens me. Worse still, these privileged folks tend to view the cry for justice, equity and fairness from others as an assault on their own entitlements, leading to unnecessary social rifts and tension (“Hey, when you say ‘Black Lives Matter’, I hear you saying that mine doesn’t matter!”)

But it’s been said that “when you are accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.”

So the next time you see a politician staring grim-faced at you from a some video screen, bravely hoisting some high-caliber piece of hardware while blasting away and some unnamed terror, promising to “take back” some imaginary stolen items from some creatively concocted foes, just realize that he/she is selling fear. And while fearful people may begin by pointing a gun for you, it doesn’t take much to convince them to point it at you.

Just ask those who were guarding the Capital on January 6, 2021.

Nick Taliaferro is the current evening drive host of WURD Radio, the former Executive Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, and an ordained minister.


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Written by: Nick Taliaferro

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