In my youth, I was a libertarian – sort of.
Not a full-blown “public roads are tyranny” libertarian, but I had a strong presumption that government action was bad unless proven otherwise. One of the things that persuaded me in that direction was Penn and Teller’s show, Bullshit. It was a slickly produced, generally funny show where the two of them ripped apart things that were, in their minds, bullshit. They were right about some of them; psychics and self-help gurus and the Catholic whitewashing of Mother Theresa’s legacy are bullshit.
But they were wrong about a lot of things too. They argued against recycling and global warming and the seriousness of secondhand smoke. None of those really resonated with my underdeveloped teenage brain. The one that did was their advocacy against gun control. Specifically, the idea that the Second Amendment is important primarily because it gives us a way to rise up against a tyrannical federal government, the sort of mindset reflected in the rantings of Oklahoma City bomber and far-right terrorist Timothy McVeigh. Hunting and self defense are downstream of that foundational right.
It makes some sense if you don’t think about it very hard: The founders had just fought a war against a British government they thought of as a tyrannical regime. Keenly aware that such a regime could emerge again, they wanted to install a kind of “in case of emergency, break glass” clause in the Bill of Rights, a last resort of sorts for the people of their newfound nation.
And you know what? I bet that was part of their intent.
Who fucking cares? This was a group of men who believed in creationism. They didn’t know about the germ theory of disease. They thought slavery was compatible with a free society. They thought a man of bad moral character could never ascend to the presidency. I think we can agree they were wrong on at least three of those points. And while they might have been right about fighting tyranny in 1780, they aren’t right about fighting it in 2023.
Stop and imagine how that would play out today. Imagine a rag-tag group of American gun owners trying to fight the federal government. Forget, for a moment, that the federal government has tanks and mortars and nuclear weapons and god knows what else that we haven’t heard about, the kind of weaponry that would eviscerate you before you even knew what happened. Let’s think just about drones. An MQ-9 Reaper can fly at 200 mph at 25,000 feet – which that alien craft spy balloon taught us is well out of range of an AR-15 – and carries hellfire missiles. These are laser guided and can blow up a tank from five miles away. The military has hundreds and hundreds of these drones, all of which can be operated by a crew secreted away in some underground bunker.
What is the plan against that? There isn’t one. A civilian uprising will lead to nothing but bloodshed and a quick defeat of the gun nuts who thought stocking up on weapons and ammo would make the government think twice about treading on them. The American right's entire idea of guns – and all the related fantasies – is based in bad faith.
Confront a gun enthusiast with this ineluctable reality and they will continue to add layers to the story. What if they got half the army on their side? The military would never take up arms against their own citizens! We could still…
Stop. This is a fantasy world. A dangerous one. It will never happen. The price for this fantasy world is borne out every day in this country, where innocents are slaughtered by right-wing terrorists as part of the background noise in this hyper-violent nation. It’s a price paid with the blood of innocent children and teachers and police officers and regular people doing their shopping and living their lives. Regular, everyday human beings. But unlike the tyrants of the right wing's fantasies, these are real people who are really dying. They are really being torn to shreds by bullets fired by guns designed to destroy the human body as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Talk to conservatives long enough and you notice a certain pattern of thought. And one that they love is the hypothetical that will never come true.
You will often hear conservative parents say they hate that their child is trans. They will actively disrespect their children and insist on using the name and pronouns they think are appropriate, regardless of what their child tells them. And yet they will insist with every breath that they love their children more than life itself. Curious.
When you ask them what they mean by this, they will often say something to the effect of, “I would literally die for my child.” Even if we assume they truly meaning this, what is that worth? There has never been a moment in my life where I was in mortal danger but my father could have jumped in and saved me. The action movie scene where the Bad Guy has a gun pointed at me but my mother dives in front of the bullet to save me hasn’t happened to me yet. I’m only 32 so maybe it’s still coming down the pike, but I won’t hold my breath.
You get the same thing with conservative husbands. They refuse to cook or clean. They won’t feed the baby or take out the garbage. For they are The Protector, and they will never betray their faux masculine nature and the so-called traditions of western man. It is their solemn and terrible duty to defend their family from danger. Their selfless willingness to sacrifice themselves to save their wife from marauders is a testament to their great love.
Spare me this kind of love, if one can even call it love. Real love does not ignore current cruelty or neglect in service of some hypothetical, some overactive right-wing imagining of heroism or revenge that will never happen.
We don’t have to engage in these hypotheticals. They don’t matter. The right uses these bad-faith arguments to justify selfish behavior, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.
Follow Karl Zipple on Twitter at @Zippkode.