Conspiracy theories about the federal government seizing Americans’ guns have been a mainstay of anti-government extremist groups, particularly militias, since the early to mid-1990s. Today, however, these theories have expanded beyond right-wing extremists. They are also gaining ground in conservative circles, from groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) to media outlets such as the Washington Times and Breitbart.
Anti-government conspiracy theorists, such as Alex Jones of InfoWars, have long promoted the belief that the government wants to use gun control measures merely as a preliminary step to confiscating individuals’ guns door to door. While Jones attracts millions of people to his website and radio show, he is considered a fringe figure. However, his theories about gun confiscation have gained ground in the mainstream.
Gun confiscation fantasies reached a frenzied pitch in the spring of 2015 after the news broke of Jade Helm 15, military exercises the government was planning to carry out in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. Conspiracy theorists claimed that the exercises were an excuse for the government to declare martial law and institute policies like gun confiscation. The theories gained so much traction that various politicians questioned the intent of the exercises and the Texas governor said that the Texas State Guard would “monitor” the situation.
Other incidents also popularized widespread conspiracy theories about gun confiscation. In the wake of a number of mass shootings around the country in 2015, President Obama took executive action to eliminate some loopholes in the country’s gun control laws. This decision by Obama incensed people who oppose gun control
John Nolte, editor-at-large of Breitbart, wrote in a January 2016 article, “The sinister plan is to drop the boom, maybe not on Obama’s watch, but the seeds have been planted: These people plan to flood the country with illegals, refugees, and early-release prisoners, and then disarm us.”
Some people went further than complaining. The Conservative Tribune, a right-wing online publication, asserted, “The gun control reforms they have called for lead inevitably toward national registration of all firearms, which will inevitably lead to confiscation of firearms, which in turn will result in a second civil war or outright revolution.”
In October 2015, the president first raised the issue of taking executive action on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. In an editorial after the incident, the Washington Times argued that the president was interested in “eliminating guns in the hands of the people,” adding, “Mr. Obama would eviscerate the Second Amendment to accomplish his goal of disarming ordinary law-abiding Americans.”
The NRA also reacted to President Obama’s gun control initiatives. In an article on the site of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, its legal arm, the organization wrote, “You don’t have to scratch very deep… to understand that what the president really wants to see in the U.S. is gun confiscation.” The article asserted that the president wanted to model his gun control programs on those of Australia and Great Britain where people do not have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
The progression of gun confiscation fantasies from being a rallying point for right-wing extremists, such as militias, to becoming accepted doctrine across the conservative spectrum is an alarming development.