Will Republicans stand up to the NRA's insurrection rhetoric?
© Getty

Last week, after a gunman shot and injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and others on a baseball field in Alexandria, Republicans called for civility.

Many blamed partisanship, political vitriol, and heated rhetoric for the shooting, noting the shooter was vocally critical of the Trump administration.

No matter the political leanings of the perpetrator, no matter the political climate, political violence is never acceptable. 

And while language alone is not to blame for this vicious shooting (see: weak laws that allow domestic abusers to purchase and possess highly lethal weapons), we must acknowledge that rhetoric — especially rhetoric espousing a violent political philosophy — can inspire such attacks.


If Republicans truly want to address such rhetoric, however, they need to start in their own camp. Because in mainstream American politics, there is no more violent philosophy than the National Rifle Association’s longstanding embrace of insurrectionism.


I have been studying, tracking, and writing about insurrectionism  —  violent revolt against one’s government  — for years. 

In my 2009 book, “Guns, Democracy and the Insurrectionist Idea,” co-author Casey Anderson and I dissect the NRA’s belief that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to commit acts of violence — specifically gun violence — against government officials.

The NRA marketed this anti-democratic, insurrectionist philosophy aggressively during President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBill Maher, Isiah Thomas score over the NFL's playing of 'Black national anthem' Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE’s time in office.

Using myth-based fear-mongering and race-baiting, NRA leadership perpetuated the myth that Obama was planning to confiscate guns.

Gun sales soared.

Then the NRA indoctrinated GOP leaders, asking them to buy into the concept of armed political violence and spread it to their constituents.

Republicans complied. Armed violence against the government became a GOP talking point, with high-profile politicians like Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Milley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod MORE, Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Republican politicians: Let OSHA do its job O'Rourke prepping run for governor in Texas: report MORE, Newt Gingrich, and others subscribing to the concept, normalizing it, and feeding it to their followers.

“The Second Amendment ... is not in defense of hunting. It is not in defense of target shooting. It is not in defense of collecting,” Gingrich said in 2010. “The Second Amendment is in defense of freedom from the state."

In 2010, failed Senate candidate Sharron Angle gave insurrectionism a shove even further into the mainstream by branding the concept with a recognizable, everyman nickname: Second Amendment remedies. The implication of the hash-taggable name was clear: citizens can use guns to “remedy” perceived political problems.

Less than a year ago, insurrectionism reached its biggest audience yet. At a campaign stop in North Carolina, then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE implied that “Second Amendment people” could assassinate his political opponent.

His supporters cheered. 

The rest of us were horrified.

“It was just a joke,” they told us. “Lighten up.”

It wasn’t a joke last Wednesday.

The gunman in Alexandria resorted to “Second Amendment remedies” to deal with the tyranny he perceived under the Trump administration and the current Congress.

There is a clear parallel between the NRA’s reprehensible philosophy of insurrectionism and gunman’s horrific act of violence — the only difference is the political affiliation.

The NRA’s embrace of insurrectionism is incompatible with the peaceful transfer of power — one of our nation’s time-honored traditions.

The relative transience of political power in our country makes a violent anti-government philosophy dangerous to all political parties, candidates, and elected leaders. For years, the NRA has doubled down on insurrectionism, elevating violence against government as a legitimate political philosophy. They made insurrectionism mainstream. And the tragic consequences of this legitimization became apparent last week.

Words alone did not cause this vicious attack. If we truly want to untangle how this shooting could have been prevented, we must examine weak gun laws that allow dangerous individuals to obtain highly lethal weapons. 

But while our weak laws make such attacks far too easy and dangerous, the legitimization of insurrectionism provides a rationale for violent people to act.

Scalise was a victim of a dangerous man who should not have had a gun. He was also the victim of policies advanced by an organization that claims to be his ally. 

And Scalise was the victim of the NRA’s insurrectionism — a philosophy that threatens our democracy as we know it.

Josh Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.