NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said in a speech to CPAC: “There is no greater personal individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms … It’s not bestowed by man, but granted by God.” Historian Gerald Horne and host Paul Jay discuss the origins of the religious fervor underlying the NRA’s defense of gun rights
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, on Thursday morning a week after the Parkland Florida school shooting, the National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne Lapierre stated.
WAYNE LAPIERRE: And there is no greater personal individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms, the right to protect yourself, and the right to survive. It’s not bestowed by man, but granted by God, to all Americans as our American birthright.
PAUL JAY: Gun rights are sacred is the underlying message he gives. The NRA and the American far right believe that God and individual rights are inseparable from the right to bear arms and thus oppose almost any kind of gun control, even on military grade automatic weapons.
Now joining us to discuss the politics swirling around the Florida tragedy is Gerald Horne. Thanks for joining us, Gerald.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
PAUL JAY: So, Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moore Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His latest book is The Counter-Revolution Of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.
So Gerald, how did gun rights become such a critical part of the American far right’s religious faith?
GERALD HORNE: Well, it begins with European settlement in the 1600s. Recall that a number of the initial European settlers hailed from what is now Great Britain, and they were religious dissenters, as you well know. What you may not know is that many of these dissenters were actually theocrats. They came to what is now the United States with firmly-held, even rigid religious beliefs that basically ruled out the kind of religious faiths that, say, the indigenous population wanted to practice.
And then when there was the revolt against British rule in 1776, what happens is there is installed a so-called Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is now the fountain head for this now religious devotion to gun rights. And you can’t understand the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution without understanding that the settlers wanted to continue moving westward, seizing the land of the Native Americans and stocking that land with enslaved Africans to endure free labor. And that involved, as they saw it, arming the European civilian population.
Since that time, particularly in recent years, the US Supreme Court has ruled that there is an individual right to gun ownership even though the much debated Second Amendment speaks in terms of a well regulated militia. And on top of that, you have a National Rifle Association, a gun lobby, which is highly funded and, in fact, is only part of a well-funded firearms industry that includes private enterprise, which spends heavily in buying the affections and votes of elected officials, such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. And if you mix all of those factors together, you begin to understand why we have this tragedy recently in South Florida and why it is likely, if not probable that such tragedies will continue to persist.
PAUL JAY: Now, the offensive of the NRA calling people calling for gun control “opportunists” and such, even in the face of such an alarming moment, and one must say a somewhat inspiring moment the way the youth of that school have risen up and demanding action, not just gun control, but really it’s a cry of young people against the decay, I think, of the whole society and the extent of how violent and how much people, this NRA woman at the CNN Town Hall calls this boy that did the shooting a “monster.”
DANA LOESCH: I don’t believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm.
PAUL JAY: But this is essentially calling someone who’s mentally ill a monster, then why are there so many monsters running around the United States? They don’t want to answer that question. But this idea that this right to defend yourself with a gun is so linked to the issue of your belief in God. Laura Ingraham has this phrase about what the belief system is, “God, guns and country.” Talk a little bit more of the sort of ideological, sociological roots of this kind of tying these things all together, especially guns connected with God.
GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, I think it is important to connect this mania about gun rights to the origins of settler colonialism in North America. However, I don’t think its complete explanation otherwise we would have difficulty in understanding what happened in Australia in 1996, which had had occasional bouts of such gun shootings in public places. And then there was a concerted attempt in Australia, which has a history similar to that of the United States, insofar as it too is a settler colonial country. But since the Australian government moved to try to limit the proliferations of assault weapons, you’ve had a virtual curtailment of that kind of mass shooting that was just witnessed in Florida.
So, I think we need other explanations, and amongst those explanations is the fact that Australia has many fewer European settlers than the United States. The total population of Australia is about 25 million. The total population of the United States is about 330 million. And so, therein you begin to see why we have such a problem with this question of gun proliferation when you combine the origins and history of this country with a thriving gun industry and an energetic gun lobby in the form of the NRA, which by the way, has been somewhat inconsistent in its promulgation of gun rights.
Recall that at the heyday and the time of the Black Panther Party, the NRA was not necessarily opposed to limitations on certain kinds of weapons because they were opposed to the putting of weapons in the hands of black people. But now, that the Black Panther Party has virtually disappeared, they have returned to the original gospel of arming Euro-Americans because as they see it, this is the final frontier in case a government is installed that happens to go against what this ultra right wing demands.
PAUL JAY: And I wonder if part of this is not, when you talk about the gun lobby, essentially a kind of bill of goods people have been sold. I mean, I remember it used to be a violation of people’s rights to even suggest that smoking causes cancer. It was a violation of people’s even constitutional rights, it was suggested at the time, that people would be forced to wear seat belts in cars.
I mean, you have enormous financial interest behind a lot of the stuff that dresses itself up as rights and about belief in God and country and so on. You have it now with climate change and the amount of fossil fuel money that’s paying for an ideology. In fact, denial of climate change is very closely linked in this whole belief system to big government conspiracy, thus I need my guns because the government may come and get me. God is an underlying idea here. But all as a kind of front for some real corporate economic interest.
GERALD HORNE: Clearly. And as your comment suggested, you have to understand the kind of psychotic fear that is quite prevalent in the United States of America. And despite the fact that the president prior to Donald J. Trump fundamentally ruled as a centrist and in many ways carried out a right wing agenda when it comes, for example, to the bombing of Libya in 2011, that has not prevented the Trump base, 63-million strong, from fearing that their country was slipping through their fingers when you had the election of Barack Obama. And that helped to reinforce this notion of having an armed citizenry in case another kind of president takes office that they are opposed to. Now, I know that this may sound a bit loony, but don’t blame me, blame those who are promulgating and espousing these loony ideas.
PAUL JAY: I mean, it’s completely loony and ridiculous to think with the state of modern weaponry that citizens even with automatic weapons are going to stand up to the US Army or the militarized police forces across the country. That just ain’t the way resistance to tyranny is going to happen. If it gets to that kind of level of shoot out, the difference in fire power is ridiculous. So, the idea that these guns are to reject tyranny is just that.
It’s a selling of an idea, a notion where the real agenda, which is I think part of this fueling this agenda, in this case selling guns and the guns industry and tying it to the other economic things like fossil fuel and other such things. But it’s also this underlying thing of the fear of immigrants and create the fear that maybe some crazy white kid shot some white young people and yes, that’s horrible, but you could turn schools into fortresses because our need to defend ourselves against brown and black people that are going to come and take our stuff, that is more important than anything that might happen to kids in schools.
GERALD HORNE: Well, to go back to the vignette about the Black Panther Party, perhaps if the shooter in Parkland in Florida had shouted in Arabic, “God is great,” we may have had a different debate ensuing with regard to gun control. But since he apparently was not a Muslim and apparently and evidently was not of Arab heritage, we are then stuck with the debate that we have today.
At the same time, of course, it’s heartening to see the protests of young people. This distinguishes the South Florida event from the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida and from the Las Vegas shooting some months ago or from the Texas church shooting some months ago. That is to say now you have these energized teenagers who are willing to go to Tallahassee, willing to go to Washington. It’s helping to ignite national similar kinds of demonstrations on the part of young people. And let us hope that this is the beginning of a national mass movement that can push back successfully against the National Rifle Association and its minions on Capitol Hill.
PAUL JAY: I mean, the NRA may have overplayed its hand here, because as we know, the NRA isn’t just about gun control. They’re very active in a whole range of right wing issues, their defense of Trump just on a straight political level, the woman that was on the NRA Town Hall has been doing these videos, which the NRA’s promoting on YouTube and other places, which is just a straight defense of the Trump presidency and denouncing people that are opposing Trump.
DANA LOESCH: We are witnesses to the most ruthless attack on a president and the people who voted for him and the free system that allowed it to happen in American history. From the highest levels of government to their media, universities, and billionaires, their hateful defiance of his legitimacy is an insult to each of us.
PAUL JAY: But when young people rise up on this gun issue, they may also rise up on some of the other issues the NRA cares about. And given how closely associated Trump is with the NRA, this may become somewhat of an upsurge against the far right. A lot of people that before this never even thought of participating in such a thing.
GERALD HORNE: Well, we can only hope so. Certainly, the ideas coming out of the White House are quite frankly ridiculous. For example, Mr. Trump now is talking about arming teachers.
DONALD TRUMP: And it would be, it’s call “concealed carry,” where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun free zone.
GERALD HORNE: 10 to 40% of teachers will be packing heat and be given paid bonuses if they choose to do so. The problem is, what kind of heat will they be packing if you start going into the weeds on this ludicrous proposition? If they have a handgun and they’re going up against someone with an automatic assault rifle, I don’t like the odds of the teachers surviving that kind of confrontation. And in any case, the-
PAUL JAY: Well, let me just add something to that. It’s reported today that there was an actual cop who got to the school just as the shooting began. The shooting’s going on and this armed police officer stands outside the door and doesn’t go in to stop the shooting. Now, he’s since resigned. I think he was about to be fired, so he’s since resigned. But there you have a trained cop with a gun, doesn’t want to take on this shooter inside, and we’re to think the teachers will.
GERALD HORNE: It’s obviously ludicrous, and speaking as a teacher, I have to say that it makes me a bit nervous. As you know, I teach in the state of Texas where students are allowed, supposedly, to be able to bring guns on campus. And I have to say that that does not necessarily help to ignite and initiate a rather free and open debate in the classroom. And I’m rather fearful of what will happen if 10 to 40% of teachers in public schools, K through 12 begin to carry weapons. These weapons can go off without the teacher necessarily pulling the trigger, bouncing bullets around the classroom and causing mayhem. Of all the terrible ideas that Mr. Trump has come up with, this one certainly takes the cake.
PAUL JAY: Well, the problem with what you’re saying, Gerald, and it’s a serious problem is that it’s logical and this isn’t about logic. This debate with, unfortunately, too many people is a debate about faith and this issue of God and guns is too wrapped up in religion. And the logical arguments about what might make society safer, I don’t think bear much weight with too many people. At any rate, thanks very much for joining us, Gerald.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.