The day after the attack that left six dead and 14 wounded in Tucson, Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, took a (purely rhetorical!) shot at Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. "We…are deeply concerned about the heated political rhetoric that escalates debates and controversies, and sometimes makes it seem as if violence is an acceptable response to honest disagreements," Helmke wrote at The Huffington Post. His leading example: "Shortly after President Obama took office, the head of the NRA crowed that 'the guys with the guns make the rules.'" Helmke hauled out the same quote after a March 2009 shooting rampage in Alabama, writing:
Even by the standards of the Conservative Political Action Committee event where he recently spoke, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre was over the top.
He explained to all of us in America that "the guys with the guns make the rules."
Most of us believe that in a democracy, the voters make the rules.
Two days ago, a deranged man in Alabama killed 10, including women and children, before taking his own life. He had the firepower of assault weapons to execute his plan of mass carnage.
Americans who have lost loved ones to gun violence are tired of the guys with the guns making the rules.
It is clear even from the clip that Helmke uses to make his point that LaPierre was not bragging about the NRA's gun-backed power or threatening violence should Obama support policies the NRA does not like. Here is what LaPierre said:
Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules. Our founding fathers understood that freedom always rides with a firearm by its side. They understood that if the only guys with the guns are the bad guys, we're screwed. Our founding fathers knew that, and it's no different today. That's why we own guns. We're not giving them up. The Constitution says it, we believe it, and that settles it.
This is a standard defense of a well-armed citizenry as a safeguard against tyranny as well as garden-variety crime ("bad guys" in both the public and private sectors). Helmke may consider this idea naive, outdated, or pernicious. He may think it encourages bad gun policies. But his claim that LaPierre was endorsing violence as an "an acceptable response to honest disagreements"—let alone that he was justifying the blind, murderous nihilism of the Alabama and Arizona shooters—tells you exactly how serious Helmke is about avoiding "heated political rhetoric" that dangerously "escalates debates and controversies."