May We Defend Against Tyranny?

Conservatives say that we need the right to bear arms so we can defend ourselves against tyrannical government. I agree.

But NRA spokeswoman and conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch does not seem to agree. After the Women’s March celebrated Assata Shakur’s birthday on Twitter, Loesch condemned them, writing, “You celebrate cop killers.”

I’m not here to hold up Assata Shakur as a hero. Assata is a Marxist-Leninist while I am a free market libertarian. As a member of the Black Liberation Army, Assata used militant tactics, some of which may have involved aggression against innocent people.

But Dana Loesch didn’t focus on these flaws. Instead, she treated “convicted cop killer” as a category that automatically makes Assata Shakur unacceptable.

There are two big problems with this. The first is that the conviction doesn’t necessarily mean Shakur is guilty. For years, she has maintained her innocence. There is no physical evidence that she fired the shots that killed New Jersey State Trooper Wayne Foerster. And given the FBI’s COINTELPRO involved years of attempts to destroy black activists, including peaceful activists like Martin Luther King Jr, a frame up is not out of the question.

But more importantly, conflating “cop killer” and “murderer” erases the possibility of self-defense against police. But when conservatives and libertarians discuss using guns to defend against tyranny, that means defending ourselves from those who violently enforce state edicts. In other words, it means defending ourselves from cops. What does Dana Loesch think using guns to defend against tyranny means?

“But James,” you may reply, “this is America, and our police aren’t agents of tyranny.” I disagree. The US government has always acted tyrannically, and black Americans in particular have lived under unconscionable tyranny.

First, black Americans were literally enslaved, and denied nearly all individual rights even if freed. After the 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery, the Black Codes criminalized a variety of basic rights, including gun ownership, specifically for black Americans. States implemented a system of apartheid called Jim Crow. Eugenicists forcibly sterilized people, in part to preserve a totalitarian vision of racial purity. Lynch mobs murdered black men to enforce the white supremacist order.

And even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the United States government was still a repressive tyranny. The FBI was using a program called COINTELPRO to surveil, harass, and repress activists, including members of the civil rights movement and the black liberation movement. The FBI surveilled Martin Luther King Jr. and sent him threatening letters urging him to kill himself. In 1969, Chicago police officers broke into an apartment and shot Black Panther leader Fred Hampton multiple times in the head while he slept. In this climate, it isn’t outlandish to suggest that using guns against police might have been self-defense against tyranny.

Tyranny still lives today. In New York, police choked Eric Garner to death. Not in response to any violent crime, but for the peaceful and productive entrepreneurial act of selling untaxed cigarettes. They murdered him for trying to make a living without bureaucratic permission.

In Minnesota, police murdered Philando Castile in front of his family, simply because he politely disclosed that he had a gun with him. Rather than defending this gun owner’s Second Amendment rights, the NRA and Dana Loesch recently released an ad that never mentions gun rights once and instead condemns the Black Lives Matter activists who protest tyrannical killings by the state.

We need a gun rights movement that takes the right to resist tyranny seriously. Dana Loesch and the NRA have proven that they are no allies to such a movement.

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