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The Twin Threats of Socialism and Gun Control

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The confirmation of Eric Holder as the new U.S. attorney general is being celebrated as one more “historic” moment in American politics. Holder is the first African American appointed as the nation’s highest-ranking law-enforcement officer.

He may also be the most anti-gun attorney general in U.S. history. Reason magazine called him an “outspoken gun control advocate” who as deputy attorney general and then acting attorney general “pushed for sweeping and restrictive gun control measures throughout his career while also endorsing the now-discredited collective rights interpretation of the Second Amendment.”

At least one pro-gun group, Gun Owners of America, has suggested that Barack Obama could be the most anti-gun president we’ve ever had. With Holder’s appointment, those fears may be realized.

Admittedly, Holder has some big shoes to fill. One of his predecessors, Janet Reno — another “historic” appointee, and Holder’s former boss — oversaw the raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993. Seventy-six black-clad, sub-machine-gun-wielding agents of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), backed up by members of the Texas National Guard, attacked the Branch Davidians in a mid-morning raid while serving a search warrant for illegal firearms.

Davidian leader David Koresh had previously invited the ATF to his Mt. Carmel home to look over his weapons. Desperate for positive publicity, however — the ATF called the raid Operation Showtime — the bureau opted instead for a commando-style raid that ended with four of its agents and six Davidians dead. After a subsequent 51-day stand-off, the FBI pumped CS gas into the Davidians’ home for hours, launched in pyrotechnics, and very likely started the fire that burned more than 80 men, women, and children to death.

It was nothing short of horrific. Yet, despite the government’s heavy-handed methods, despite the lies and cover-ups that would eventually come to light, Reno remained unrepentant about those events.

Government is meant to protect people’s rights, not attack them in a church. The actions of Reno, the ATF, and the FBI established a dangerous precedent about the lengths the federal government will go to, to enforce gun laws.

Many Americans, and many gun owners, may be satisfied by the recent Supreme Court ruling recognizing the individual’s right to own firearms, but it’s a false sense of security. The Court left some important wiggle room. Writing for the majority in the Heller decision, Justice Scalia said “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” This may seem innocuous enough, but remember the context of that statement: At the local, state, and federal levels, there are still an estimated 20,000 gun laws on the books.

Commentators have rightly said that Heller will bring years of court challenges to those existing gun laws; gun-rights groups will be busy indeed. Their efforts may be more important than we realize in a climate where the government is desperate to set the “limits” on the right to keep and bear arms. Given the Justice Department’s actions in the past — given Holder’s as well as Obama’s views on the Second Amendment — we know what that could mean.

In the days and weeks following Obama’s election, firearms and ammunition sales went through the roof. Fear of gun-control laws is no doubt a large motivator, but there is another possibility involved here.

Should the country’s economic woes intensify, there is likely to be a general shift towards more government control over the citizenry. Some have looked to the precedent set by Franklin Roosevelt, who assumed virtual dictatorial powers during the Great Depression. As anyone knows, such power knows few bounds. Call it “fixing the economy” all you want, but a boot on the neck will feel just the same.

A worsening economic climate coupled with growing fear of government power could lead to clashes between government agents maintaining “law and order” and heavily armed Americans who see their freedom slipping away. In 1775 the British government sent troops into the countryside to pacify a population of armed citizens who weren’t complying with tax laws and economic regulations. The clash lit a spark that brought revolution.

Americans today are stockpiling weapons and ammunition. Let’s hope that an aggressive new attorney general eager to push his boss’s socialist economic agenda and his own anti-gun agenda doesn’t push things over the edge.

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    Scott McPherson is policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation. An advocate of the Free State Project, he lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.