In his big pitch in Colorado on Wednesday for further gun control, President Obama made an astonishing statement about gun rights advocates’ fears of governmental gun seizures. He said that such worries would just feed “into fears about government. You hear some of these folks: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government. We can’t do background checks because the government’s going to come take my guns away.’ The government’s us. These officials are elected by you … I am constrained as they are constrained by the system that our founders put in place.”
There are two odd angles to this statement. The first is Obama’s overarching theme: government violation of rights is impossible because “the government is us,” and we can’t violate our own rights. Were this true, we could do away with the Constitution altogether. We would also never have to worry about democracies turning tyrannical, or electing tyrannical rulers. In this odd vision, Germany, Italy, and Spain remained liberal democracies throughout the twentieth century, World War II never happened, and Egypt, the Gaza Strip, and Turkey are all thriving centers of freedom.
The government is most assuredly not us – at least not all of us – which is why our system of government is designed to protect the rights of minorities while still allowing majorities to legislate without violating those rights. Obama’s defense to charges of incipient tyranny is that tyranny can never happen here. Which, of course, makes it more likely that tyranny will happen here.
Truth be told, even Obama does not believe that the “government is us.” If he did, he would never worry about pro-life legislation (he does, and would challenge such legislation in court), heterosexual marriage legislation (he does, and challenges such legislation in court), or anti-Obamacare legislation at the state level (he does, and will likely challenge such legislation in court). Even in Obama’s vision of rights, populism is limited, although his vision of rights is skewed.
The second odd angle is Obama’s insistence that the Constitution constrains him. The natural inference seems to be that if it were not for the Constitution, Obama would indeed pursue a federal gun seizure. Like the villain at the end of every Scooby Doo cartoon, Obama’s offhand protest suggests that if it weren’t for those darn kids, he would have gotten away with it. Except that the kids are the founders, and “it” is massive gun control.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).