MONTGOMERY, AL (RNN) - Gun control opponents at an Alabama rally said their struggle is less about the constitutional right to self-defense than having the ability to join an armed revolt against the United States government. Whether or not the Second Amendment guarantees that right is at the center of the divisive national debate.
On Jan. 19, thousands rallied in various state capitals for "Gun Appreciation Day" to speak out against gun control. Political Media, Inc, which coordinated the events, is a Republican-affiliated public relations group based in Washington, D.C. The rallies featured speakers ridiculing gun control as supporters waved American flags and signs emblazoned with anti-government slogans.
"I'm here because the Second Amendment is critical in keeping our country free and safe. And not just from criminals. But also from our own government," said Duane Hilton at the Montgomery, AL, event. "We need to protect ourselves. We need to know the Second Amendment gives me the power to protect myself against tyranny."
Others at the rally saw President Barack Obama's proposed gun restrictions as a slippery slope that will lead to an eventual across-the-board gun ban that would leave people powerless if a tyrannical regime took over the country.
"If you're trying to restrict [guns], then you ban them. And if you ban them, people don't have anything to protect themselves," said Kristen Engle. "So if we're in a situation similar to the Holocaust, we will have no option to fight back."
Rally attendees' beliefs that they might one day need to take up arms against their own government were part of an overall frustration with government policies.
Hilton was among many who said that immigration policy is an example of a misguided government.
"They give rights to illegal aliens that even Americans don't have. They let them go to colleges for in-state tuition where someone from the bordering state can't," Hilton said.
Government intrusion into people's private lives was a common theme, as well.
"I think we're in a position now that the government has a lot more control over everything than people think," Lillian Harris said. "They have a lot of control over what we eat, what we do, just everything that a lot of people don't realize because mainstream media doesn't really tell us about that."
And though they acknowledged the strength of the American military and its advanced weaponry, the military is not seen as invincible. Hilton pointed to the effective resistance of insurgents in the Afghanistan conflict as an example.
"They don't have any better weapons than what [the enemy is] using in Afghanistan now," Hilton said. "And yet, those people who are fighting with inferior arms to what many Americans own are able to keep the Americans from complete and total control of their country."
He added: "I don't know whether it's a good war or a bad war. But I'm just saying that when you have enough people fighting for their own country, a military's technological superiority isn't necessarily the last word in winning or losing."
"I think that numbers can outweigh power. It's been proven in history before," she said. "If a lot of people continue to get together like this and retaliate against the government, we'll have a lot more people than they do. America ... has a lot more citizens than government officials. And I feel it could be possible for a revolution to happen and the people take back what they deserve."
The strong anti-government feelings help to explain why people are fighting so ferociously against more restrictions on "the right to bear arms." But some constitutional experts say the right to bear arms does not necessarily include the right to armed revolt against the government.
Lucas A. Powe, Jr., who is a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said the Second Amendment was never designed to give an individual the right to fight the government.
Powe said the absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment comes from the belief that the framers of the Constitution believed the federal government could become tyrannical and a well-regulated militia would be needed to fight back against it. But the "well-regulated" militia part of the Second Amendment is often overlooked.
"It's not an individual right to have a gun in your home to kill soldiers," Powe said. "To the extent that one is relying on history, it's the right to be a part of a militia with a militia protecting us from a tyrannical government."
Powe said that the Second Amendment intended for the militia to be under state control, similar to how the National Guard is structured. It was not intended to be independent militias, which he compared to terrorist groups.
"Those militias are most analogous to warlords in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "They have their own 'militias' which are essentially a private army to do the person's bidding."
Powe compared the Second Amendment to the First Amendment, saying both were never intended to be absolute.
"If you did hold that there can be no infringement on any right to have guns, it would be a constitutional anomaly," he said. "There's nothing comparable in the Constitution to that type of interpretation. It would be much like saying perjury is freedom of speech.
Powe speculated that absolutist interpretations of the Second Amendment which argue people have the right to own high-powered weapons for private use may be fueled by gun manufacturers in an attempt to loosen gun laws and boost sales - a job it pays the National Rifle Association to do.
The Violence Policy Center, a group that opposes gun rights and is critical of the NRA, estimates that the NRA has received between $14.7 million and $38.9 million in direct contributions from gun manufacturers since 2005.
In a report analyzing the NRA's financial contributions, the Huffington Post said the NRA also gains revenue from gun manufacturers through advertisements in its magazines.
In return, critics contend, the NRA lobbies politicians on behalf of gun manufactures and maintains a strong influence on voters, spending approximately $25 million per year on various means of political communication, including television ads, according to OpenSecrets.org.
The NRA's influence on legislation became apparent in 2005, when the group had a pivotal role in Congress passing a law that did much to absolve gun manufacturers of liability in lawsuits related to gun violence.
Despite different interpretations of the Second Amendment and what, if any, influence the NRA and gun manufacturers have over the national conversation, the idea of fighting against the government has become a crucial factor in the current gun control debate.
According to a Rasmussen survey, 65 percent of Americans see gun rights as "protection against tyranny."
And for many people, the current government is not far from that stage.
"We definitely live in a society where government is not good anymore, like a lot of people think it is," said Harris. "And people need to be more open to what is going on."
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