Sharp rhetoric, but no threats to lawmakers in national gun debate

The highly charged debate over gun control has not produced specific threats directed at members of Congress, even as there has been a sharp uptick in calls from militants for armed resistance and civil war.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer, the former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police who currently oversees the safety of senators, said law enforcement officials are monitoring the comments accompanying the gun control debate, but that he hasn’t seen an increase in threats to lawmakers.

Whenever Congress takes up a hot-button issue, he said, there is a corresponding spike in heated rhetoric, but there is little cause for concern about violence at this point.

“It is standard, when there are hot political issues — whether it’s healthcare reform, immigration, or guns — that it seems to be stirring more passion now than it did 10 years ago,” said Gainer. “So absolutely that increases.

“If that translates into threats, we haven’t seen that yet. Now, it may come if there’s a series of hearings or town hall type meetings and we’d be keeping an eye on that. But now, we in the member protection and law enforcement business see this as political rhetoric going on.”

In the wake of President Obama and Democrats’ push for tighter gun restrictions, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said it has seen an increase in calls for armed resistance from a segment of the gun rights community that is staunchly opposed to more government restrictions on firearms.

There have also been reports of scores of people rushing to local gun stores to buy weapons out of a concern that new federal regulations would prevent them from doing so in the future.

The SPLC monitors domestic terrorism activity and said it hasn’t seen any direct threats to Obama’s Inauguration in Washington D.C. on Monday, but the increasingly vitriolic remarks from local politicians, talk show radio hosts, and militia groups have spurred worries that some may take violent action against the government down the line.

“There’s not only a huge spike in guns and ammunition purchasing, but there’s also an enormous amount of talk out there of violence, armed resistance, and civil war,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow and spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

“The idea of violence as an answer to political difference seems to be spreading into larger sections of the population [and] if there are millions of people who are talking about refusing to obey federal laws with respect to guns or seceding, or in some way resisting the federal government with force, I think that’s a real worry.”

Obama’s recent unveiling of 23 executive actions aimed at tightening gun regulations and Democrats push on Capitol Hill to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks, and limit ammunition clip sizes, has some gun rights backers outraged with worry that the government is planning to de-arm lawful gun owners across the country.

“Hitler took the guns! Stalin took the guns! Mao took the guns! Fidel Castro took the guns! Hugo Chavez took the guns!” shouted Texas conservative talk radio host Alex Jones on CNN recently. “And I am here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms! 

“It doesn't matter how many lemmings you get out there in the street begging for them to have their guns taken. We will not relinquish them.”

Potok said he’s worried that this type of rhetoric, which he sees spreading into the political mainstream, will ultimately give rise to a terrorist attack, such as the 1995 bombing of a federal building in downtown Oklahoma City.

“What I really fear is that the situation will continue to get worse,” he said “We’ve seen an enormous expansion of the radical right in the United States in the last four years.

“The worry is that that will continue and will ultimately break out into real violence into a fairly widespread scale. And I’m not suggesting race wars or anything like that, but ultimately the fear is another Oklahoma City or even several incidents like that.”

Matt Barber, the vice president of the conservative Liberty Counsel Action group, cautioned recently in a blog post that new federal gun regulations could spur a civil war.

“I really, really hope this president and his authoritarian cohorts in Congress will slow down, take a deep breath and realize that, right now, they’re playing a very dangerous game of chicken,” Barber wrote.

“If they try what I think they might, but hope they don’t, I fear this nation — already on the precipice of widespread civil unrest and economic disaster — might finally spiral into to utter chaos, into a second civil war.”

Calls for another civil war could also turn into a nationwide legislative battle instead of an armed conflict, however, as government officials in at least a dozen conservative states around the country have been calling on local lawmakers to pass bills blocking any federal directives they perceive as violating their Second Amendment rights from taking effect.