In the wake of two (more) high-profile mass shootings, we’re (again) talking about guns — and whether Congress will do anything to restrict people from purchasing them.
That debate occasioned this exchange on Sunday between “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (bolding is mine):
Wallace: “Senator, first of all, the two bills that the House has passed, that the Senate is now considering, have to do with background checks. They wouldn’t take away your guns. And what’s wrong with a serious debate after all of these shootings about assault weapons and especially about large capacity magazines, which a lot of studies show contribute to these mass killings?
Graham: “There’s nothing wrong about debates. As a matter fact, I would challenge Senator Schumer to bring the assault weapons ban to the floor of the United States Senate. It won’t get 50 votes, much less 60.
“I own an AR-15. If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to because I can defend myself.”
OK, so Graham justifies owning an AR-15 — the same style of weapon used in the Sandy Hook School shooting in 2012, the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 and the Las Vegas shooting in 2017 — because, and stick with me here, there could be a natural disaster in South Carolina that would occasion the breakdown of civil society and the only way he could keep away the roving gangs that would undoubtedly crop up (???) is with his AR-15.
If this seems outlandish to you — or, maybe more accurately, like the plot of some “Purge”-like movie — that’s because, well, it is.
(Sidebar: Graham’s imagery of gangs coming to try to take what’s his more than dabbles in racial stereotyping, and is even reminiscent of some of former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in the 2016 race.)
Graham’s fantasy of defending himself and his property from lawless gangs is of a piece of the broader scare tactics that groups like the National Rifle Association have perfected over the years to keep Republican members of Congress from supporting measures with broad public support — like increased background checks.
The roving gangs imagery is drawn from the same source as the idea, also pushed by Trump, that if Democrats control Washington it’s only a matter of time before a) the 2nd Amendment is repealed and b) police come to your door to collect your guns.
“The big questions are, will they ‘move the goalposts’ and, is this just a ploy to TAKE YOUR GUNS AWAY?” Trump tweeted in the fall of 2019. “I hope NOT on both counts, but I’ll be able to figure it out!”
Despite the fact that President Joe Biden has been explicit about his support for the 2nd Amendment, these fantasies have consistently driven up gun sales on the verge of a Democratic administration coming into office. (It happened in 2020. Again.) And they have ensured that any attempt to pass popular gun control measures — the most recent attempt being in 2013 — are doomed to fail.
Does Graham really believe that he needs an AR-15 in order to defend his family and property in the event of a natural disaster that renders law enforcement obsolete? I have no way of peering into his mind to know for sure. But my educated guess is that he does not.
Rather, he knows that the image of him, AR-15 in hand, defending against marauders, makes him look — to a certain segment of the population, tough. It forwards the idea that any attempts at common sense gun control measures are, really, about making it impossible for the average person to defend themselves when the ravaging horde comes for them and their family.
That is, of course, not what is being debated here. Graham knows that. But he’d rather engage in ridiculous what-if scenarios than debate the actual merits of putting in place some (more) gun control measures.