TL;DR: Republicans cherish the idea--still just theoretical to many of them, but very realistic to others among them--of ordinary citizens being able to stage an armed revolution in the name of freedom, much like the one George Washington led. And nowadays, you need at least semi-automatic weapons to have a realistic chance of overthrowing the government here.
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The reason Republicans refuse to consider outlawing AR-15s is this:
A lot of their rhetoric in defense of the Second Amendment emphasizes the possibility of citizens using their private arsenals to overthrow a tyrannical government
. After all, if the last successful revolution here, in the 1770s, was an example of Great People and Great American Patriots Doing the Right Thing, why wouldn't the next armed revolution be equally patriotic? (Especially since that unsuccessful little 1861-1865 insurrection keeps getting characterized that way, too.)
Think I'm exaggerating about their revolutionary fantasies, and their perception of Democrats as tyrants who must be defeated in the name of freedom? Well, you don't have to take my word for it.
Guess who gave a fiery speech today at the Conservative Political Action Conference, railing against the Democrats' dastardly two-pronged plan to enact gun control and install "European-style socialism" in the U.S.? Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association's executive vice president and CEO.
LaPierre, who was not listed on CPAC's official schedule, accused Democrats of making gun control a political issue in order to achieve their ultimate goal to "eradicate all individual freedoms."
"What they want are more restrictions on the law-abiding — think about that," LaPierre said. "Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free. They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of the family, the failure of America's school systems and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI."
"I hear a lot of quiet in this room, and I sense your anxiety," LaPierre said, turning to the political consequences of the debate. "And you should be anxious, and you should be frightened. If they seize power, if these so-called 'European socialists' take over the House and the Senate, and God forbid they get the White House again, our Americans freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever." (Link to NPR article
Onetime Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz weighed in, too:
When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took the stage later Thursday afternoon, he dismissed calls for new gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Before the CPAC crowd, Cruz derided CNN's town hall on Wednesday night with some of the survivors as an "infomercial," and said the predictable calls for new restrictions were "tiresome."
"Every time you see a horrific crime, people in the media and Democratic politicians always try to leap on it to advance their agenda," which is to try to "strip the Second Amendment rights from law-abiding citizens," Cruz said.
And of course Trump had something sycophantic to say:
Ahead of the NRA leader's speech, Trump tweeted his support for LaPierre and others in the organization, calling them "Great People and Great American Patriots" who will "do the right thing."
How very reassuring.