This project was produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project involving top college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University
Fear of the federal government’s interference with Second Amendment rights and suspicion that elected officials are ignoring the “will of the people” have provoked a resurgence of self-described patriots across the country who say they are preparing to defend themselves and their rights by any means necessary.
Organizations tracking the movement say the number of groups has risen dramatically in the past six years.
“There’s a very unreasonable, ridiculously crazy attack on the Second Amendment and people that own guns,” said Cope Reynolds, a member of the White Mountain Militia in Show Low, Arizona. “If everything were not protected by the Second Amendment, the government would have the opportunity, if they so desired, to go unchecked with impunity and do whatever they want to do.”
Reynolds is the operations manager of Shots Ranch, a tactical shooting range and survival training facility in Kingman, Arizona. He considers this type of training to be necessary preparation for a time in America he sees as inevitable.
“We want people to be able to provide for themselves in a world where we might not be able to just run down to Wal-Mart at any time,” Reynolds said. “We think that at some point in America we’re probably going to experience those times and a lot of us think it’s not going to be far away.”
For individuals like Reynolds, the Second Amendment is an important check on the government and is needed to protect the Constitution.
“It’s the beauty and the danger of America’s Constitution,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Second Amendment expert. “Its great generalities are so vague that anyone can interpret them in light of their own experience and their own interests. And indeed, the Second Amendment is one of the most confusing textual provisions of the Constitution.”
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes like self-defense.
“It has certainly given fuel to gun rights proponents and to gun culture,” said Robert Spitzer, a political scientist, author and professor at State University of New York Cortland who specializes in gun issues. “It fortified, in a very specific way, the very idea that there is in law something called gun rights.”
The 2008 ruling held that the individual right to own a firearm is “unconnected with service in a militia.”
“There certainly is a belief, and it’s a long-standing belief, that somehow average citizens owning guns will somehow have a beneficial or therapeutic effect on government behavior,” Spitzer said. “It’s rooted in anti-government sentiment, which has a very long history in the U.S.”