What is Second Amendment Extremism?

Second Amendment extremism arises from what’s commonly known as the “insurrectionist” construction of the Second Amendment: a false interpretation fomented by extremists, marketed by the gun lobby, and adopted by some mainstream politicians, including the 45th President of the United States. Second Amendment extremism lays the foundation for much domestic unrest and weaponized terror throughout American history, including but not limited to the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, recent armed agitation at the Michigan State Capitol, and the January 6 attack.

Indeed, investigations and firsthand accounts of January 6 show that many of its agitators were armed, ready, and willing to harm lawmakers. Accordingly, officers on duty at the U.S. Capitol that day had credible reasons to fear that many rioters were armed; a number of these officers have since testified before Congress that those fears hindered their ability to control the insurrectionist mob.

In the months following January 6, some members of Congress doubled down on this extremist theory. For example, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL-1) said the Second Amendment grants the people “the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.”

The Dangerous ties between Second Amendment Extremism and White Supremacy

The insurrectionist Second Amendment framing is not an equal opportunity ideology. It implicitly – and often explicitly – assumes that white people, specifically white men, will be the ones wielding arms. In this way, Second Amendment extremism, like January 6, is inseparable from white supremacist ideology. It should therefore be no surprise that white supremacy is foundational to the Capitol attack; history shows that domestic extremism fueled by white supremacy has a violent track record.

The Washington Post and Center for Strategic and International Studies recently reported that incidents of “domestic terror” have surged to levels not seen since the militia-movement era of the 90s.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), white supremacists remained the most lethal group in 2020, taking responsibility for


of extremist-related murders over the past decade.

Following the January 6 attack, Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray warned “Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.”

With NYSRPA v. Bruen, the Supreme Court gave way to make Second Amendment Extremism the law of the land.

In Bruen, the New York affiliate of the NRA challenged a state law that restricted access to concealed firearm permits to individuals who could show a special need for them. The gun lobby used this lawsuit to push for a radical reinterpretation of the Second Amendment – one that would allow more guns into more public spaces and put even the most basic gun safety laws at risk of being repealed. In June 2022, the Supreme Court struck down the New York law as unconstitutional, but also went much further, rejecting the test lower courts had used for years when determining whether firearm laws were constitutional.

In doing so, the Supreme Court created a new constitutional test for deciding Second Amendment challenges. That test, now referred to as the Bruen test, says that when a law affects Second Amendment rights, the court must look to the history and tradition of firearm regulation in the United States to determine whether the law is constitutional. The Supreme Court said that modern firearms do not need a “historical twin” to be constitutional, but there must be a historical law that is “relevantly similar,” determined in part by why the laws were passed and how they are applied.

Policy recommendations and how you can act now.

The dangerous, growing mix of Second Amendment Extremism, lax gun laws, and an emboldened white supremacist movement will continue to threaten our democracy and public safety unless our elected officials take action.

As January 6 showed, strong gun laws work – but we still have far to go. It is urgent that our leads: 

  1. pass state and federal gun violence prevention laws; 
  2. support a reasonable construction of the Second Amendment; 
  3. direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to crack down on the criminal gun market.

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