WASHINGTON — Less than a month after the Sandy Hook massacre, the fragile rhetorical détente that formed between gun control advocates and the pro-gun crowd has dissolved into an increasingly inflammatory debate.
Over the last week, the war of words over gun ownership has reignited in earnest, with supporters accusing President Barack Obama of disarming rape victims, while control activists beat the drum of fear with complaints of “weapons of war” flooding America’s streets.
How bad has it gotten?
On Wednesday, Matt Drudge compared Obama to Hilter after Vice President Joe Biden indicated Obama could use executive orders to address gun violence if, as expected, Congress does nothing. The meme managed to reach the Capitol, with South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan making his own barely-veiled comparison.
“The Founding Fathers never envisioned Executive Orders being used to restrict our Constitutional rights. We live in a republic, not a dictatorship,” Duncan said.
Meanwhile, the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative organization, stoked the fire by casting the 2nd Amendment as a women's issue, warning that Obama's gun control efforts could put women at greater risk of rape or other violence.
“I am passionate about the 2nd Amendment, particularly because I'm a mother. I'm a thirty-something year old woman with a 3 year old and a nursing newborn. Without my concealed weapon, I wouldn't be able to protect myself against an assailant that seeks to do me or my family harm,” Forum Fellow Anne Rittgers said in a statement.
“Laws limiting magazine capacity and availability of semiautomatic handguns will directly impact women, who use these weapons for self-defense inside and outside the home. Any executive action by President Obama to restrict guns will limit a women's capability to fight back against attackers and protect herself and her family,” she added.
Gun control advocates have also ramped up their talking points.
Speaking on the two-year anniversary of the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords, Sen. Barbara Boxer slammed anti-gun control activists arguing government must take steps to ban “weapons of war.”
“This is another kind of a war, and we could have more control over it if we had more courage, Boxer told Ed Schultz, adding that “We’re talking about innocent lives lost. We should … get the weapons of war off the streets.”
That turn of phrase, is key: it has increasingly begun to replace “assault weapons” and “semi-automatic weapons” in the gun control advocates' lexicon — both of which appear to be part of the broad category of “weapons of war.” Shifting the debate away from a technical description of the guns recasts the fight into much scarier sounding territory.
The escalation in rhetorical attacks is striking given the fact that there is virtually no chance that any serious gun control measures will ever emerge from a deeply divided Congress.
And while conservatives and Republicans may have legitimate complaints about the use of executive orders by the White House to impose controls, the reality is that Obama’s hands are tied by existing laws, most of which favor gun owners’ rights. Anything that strays too far from those laws would face immediate legal challenges.
Still, the fight isn’t likely to ease up anytime soon. Later this month, gun rights advocates are calling for a “Gun Appreciation Day.”
And Mayors Against Illegal Guns has launched the new demandaplan.org campaign, which has begun airing a gun control commercial featuring the mother of a victim in the Giffords shooting asking, “Who’s child has to die next?”
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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