If We Do Nothing, The Next Insurrection Will Succeed

Fred Guttenberg and Ashley Lantz, Courier Newsroom

As Americans’ anxiety about the 2024 election continues to grow, so too, does anxiety about what might come after the 2024 election. For all the talk on both sides of the political spectrum about January 6, one point is seldom mentioned: at least nine people at the insurrection were arrested on weapons charges and police reports show that police seized at least 3,071 rounds of ammunition during the course of these arrests. Perhaps the reason this rarely comes up is it has become so common in America: we’re split seconds from a gun-related tragedy at all times.

But maybe there is another reason. According to a sizable portion of gun extremists in the country, these acts of violence are exactly what guns are for in America. For decades, the “insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment” or the idea that the right to bear arms is rooted in the right to violently overthrow the government has become almost mainstream in the Republican Party. Representative Matt Gaetz has said the Second Amendment “is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government, if that becomes necessary.” Two weeks before the insurrection at the Capitol, Representative Lauren Boebert said the Second Amendment “has nothing to do with hunting, unless you’re talking about hunting tyrants, maybe.” We cannot ignore the fact that these statements are coming from many of the same people who have suggested Second Amendment solutions if they disagree with the outcome of the 2024 election

In a country with more guns than people, when people with a platform speak, their words have consequences. Just look at the man who went to Comet Pizza in D.C. with an assault rifle in search of a secret underground child sex trafficking ring. Or the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, thankfully thwarted by law enforcement. But again, we were split seconds from tragedy. 

A recent survey from the University of California, Davis shows just how close Republican extremists have punished us to the brink. About 42% of owners of assault-type rifles said political violence could be justified, including 44% of recent gun purchasers, and a whopping 56% of those who always or nearly always carry loaded guns in public. Combine that with nearly 70% of Republicans who still believe that the 2020 election was stolen, and we’re once again facing down the same cliff we did on January 6, 2021. 

In 2024, we need a better plan to deal with the threat of political violence and, worse yet, the potential crumbling of our democracy at the end of a gun. First, we must finally put to bed the notion that the Second Amendment is the right to violently overthrow a democratically elected government. Not only is it incongruous with history, it is specifically refuted by the “insurrection clause” in the 14th Amendment. What has made America truly exceptional is that, for the most part, we have been able to resolve our leadership changes through elections rather than violence. To relinquish that ideal is to relinquish what makes us the “shining city on the hill” and the exemplar of the democracy we preach and protect. 

Second, we—as a public and as an information ecosystem—need to take a firmer stance on lies when it comes to elections. Think about it: if you are told repeatedly by sources you trust and people in your echo chamber that the presidential election was stolen and your vote was taken from you as a result of a conspiracy of non-elected officials, then you will probably believe that politics has failed you and your only recourse is violence. Lawsuits challenging the 2020 election were defeated in every court around the country again and again. And yet the media is largely unwilling to call out the “stolen election” lies. And if they won’t or can’t do it now, in 2024, what are they willing to call out as false?  It cannot be simultaneously true that a free press is necessary for a democracy and that the same press is unable or unwilling to call out lies.

Lastly, we must defeat those who push these dangerous lies at the ballot box. These fringe conspiracies are overrepresented in Congress and those who believe in democracy and those who believe in common sense gun safety policies have a duty to do everything they can to vote them out in November. It is as critical now as it has ever been to ensure that we have gun sense majorities in both chambers of Congress, as well as a president who is a champion for democracy and protecting our families and institutions from gun violence.

For many in America, politics is exhausting and divisive and people spend most of their time tuned out. But politics is an amazing invention: for 99.5% of human history, we’ve settled our conflicts through violence and conquest. Democracy is a relatively new invention and the American experiment in democracy, for all its flaws and shortcomings, is still the most successful and has the greatest potential. We must not let it be ended by an extreme minority that wants to take us back to a world where violence and fear dictate our fate. We cannot let American democracy end at gunpoint.

Fred Guttenberg, a national gun reform activist, is the father of Jaime Taylor Guttenberg, who was murdered in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Ashley Lantz is the Executive Director of Brady PAC, the political arm of the Brady, which was founded by Republicans Jim and Sarah Brady.