MADDOW: President Obama returned to Washington very early this morning. And the White House, while not pivoting away from the Tucson tragedy, did start to field questions about whether there is anything in public policy that should change in response to this latest incident of American gun violence.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will have an opportunity to evaluate ideas and proposals that may be brought forth as a result of circumstances and the facts around this case. The president, again, since I have been with him in 2004, supported the assault weapons ban. And we continue to do so.
MADDOW: The president will continue to support the assault weapons ban. You know, that position, a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, that is a position that Mr. Obama happens to share with his predecessor as president. During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush said he supported the assault weapons ban. It was a view that he continued to hold while he was president.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president thought and said so thought in 2000 that the assault weapon ban was a reasonable step. He supports the reauthorization of the current ban.
MADDOW: George W. Bush ultimately failed on that campaign process. The assault weapons ban was allowed to expire on his watch. But President George W. Bush, through his political career, did, in fact, support a number of gun control measures.
Things like banning the importation of large ammunition clips, banning guns within 300 yards of a school, raising the gun ownership age from 18 to 21, requiring instant background checks at gun shows, requiring trigger locks with handgun sales.
George W. Bush supported all of these gun control policies, which, of course, is why angry, enraged, paranoid NRA members picketed every one of George W. Bush‘s public appearances while he was president for all eight years. Oh, wait, that didn‘t happen. No, that didn‘t happen because his position on gun control was considered to be relatively mainstream and relatively noncontroversial.
Mr. Bush supported some—what you might call common sense restrictions on what weapons Americans are allowed to have. And that‘s how the politics of the Second Amendment has worked. There is a broadly defined consensus which includes both Barack Obama and George W. Bush and every other politician of either party who holds mainstream views on this subject. It‘s the consensus view that the Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to own firearms. But there are reasonable restrictions on what that means.
The common wisdom in Washington right now is that there can be no new policies concerning guns whatsoever. No restrictions on gun access are politically possible no matter how great the need, no matter how big the problem that America has to confront about gun issues, no matter how great the national trauma, no matter how rational the restriction.
I know that is the common wisdom. But the fact it‘s common doesn‘t mean it‘s not radical. That‘s a radical assertion. That common wisdom that we cannot do anything about guns, that has never been true of gun politics in modern times.
Saying all restrictions are off the table, that‘s a rejection of the centrist consensus we have had on this for generations. That is the view of the gun radicals. That‘s the view of the absolutists.
REP. PAUL BROUN , GEORGIA: Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution, and they‘re right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States—and right down Independence Avenue in the White House of—that belongs to us. It‘s not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It‘s not about the ability for me to protect my family, my property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it‘s about—it‘s all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States.
MADDOW: Second Amendment, not about hunting or self-defense. It‘s about citizens having the ability to overthrow the tyrannical government of the United States. That‘s Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia speaking last April.
E.J. Dionne wrote about this at “The Washington Post” today. He found Congressman Ron Paul making roughly the same argument in print five years ago. Quoting Mr. Paul, quote, “The Second Amendment is not about hunting deer or keeping a pistol in your night stand. It‘s not about protecting oneself against common criminals. It‘s about preventing tyranny. The Founders knew that unarmed citizens would never be able to overthrow a tyrannical government as they did. The muskets they used against the British Army were the assault rifles of that time.”
Again, the argument is that the Second Amendment exists so Americans can overthrow the government. That is a view. It is a radical view of gun policy.
ALEX JONES, RADIO HOST: We‘ve had had record gun sales. When Americans are asked, why are you buying guns? They‘re buying it for civil unrest and to fight back against government tyranny.
MADDOW: That‘s conservative radio host Alex Jones. We essentially have two choices about what kind of country we are on this issue of guns. Do we believe the Second Amendment requires the citizens of this country to be well-armed enough to defeat the military of this country? Is it about the power to literally overthrow our government?
If that‘s the case, then this week‘s common wisdom is right. No matter what the national trauma, there could be no regulation of the American people‘s firepower whatsoever. I mean, right now, it is essentially illegal for civilians to own machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortars, cannons, explosive time bombs, anti-tank guns, Molotov cocktails.
I shouldn‘t say it‘s illegal. Technically, they‘re actually not outright banned. But we do restrict access to these things so greatly that these things that you see on the screen right here, these do not circulate among American citizens broadly.
But if you are with the Alex Joneses and Ron Pauls and Paul Brouns, if you are with the radicals on gun policy, then all of the laws that prohibit us from having these things need to change.
In fact, all of the laws that prohibit us from having access to anything you can imagine in terms of weaponry need to change, because in their view, to do right by the Constitution, you and I need to be able to defeat the U.S. military in battle. We need to be able to overthrow the U.S. government. So, we need not only anti-tank guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers and bombs.
If the United States military is armed with depleted uranium munitions, if they‘re armed with nuclear weapons, in order to be able to compete with that—in order for you and me to go up against the tyrannical commander-in-chief of the U.S. military and defeat him in battle, you and I should quite literally be able to obtain private nuclear weapons.
This is not hyperbole. If you believe the gun radicals‘ philosophy about guns, that gun rights are to protect our ability to overthrow the government, then we need to be able to destroy the U.S. military so we can overthrow that government.
If that is what gun rights are for, you and I need to privately buy everything the military has and more. In fact, we would probably be advised in order to protect our gun rights to restrict what weapons the U.S. military is able to have, so we can make sure we continue to have a tactical advantage.
Forget the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union back in the 1980s. Under this view of gun rights, every day should be an arms race between you and me and the 82nd Airborne if that‘s the way we‘re going to approach gun politics. Is that the philosophy with which we approach it?
Or can we approach gun politics the way that we do in modern America, which is that we reject that radical position? I mean, we love and enjoy those folks and we like playing tape of them on the television. But we don‘t move forward on their suggestions.
BROUN: It‘s all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States.
MADDOW: We can either accept that view of gun policy or instead accept the view that our Constitution allows law-abiding Americans to own weapons with some reasonable restrictions that allow us to be a modern industrialized democracy that is not a Thunderdome.