We are doing it to ourselves, of course: crafting idols out of our politicians; stacking guns into shrines in our homes or wearing them across our chests like amulets; and poisoning our minds with litanies of wild conspiracies. We embrace extremism that leads to hockey sticks slashing across the heads of police officers and fists crashing through Capitol Hill windows. An unholy trinity of fake news, fanaticism and gun fetishism converged on Jan. 6 in a uniquely American threat to American democracy. Police were outnumbered and overwhelmed that day by a violent mob at the U.S. Capitol itself. Law enforcement officials were hesitant to use the lethal force entrusted to them to protect the nation’s legislators, at least partly because they feared provoking a hail of return fire from the crowd. This violence did not come out of the blue. As streets that had been emptied by Covid filled with protest marches, millions of anxious Americans bought a record number of firearms in 2020. The F.B.I. reports that it processed 40 million firearm background checks last year, beating the previous high by more than 10 million.
This January, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, 2.3 million firearms were sold in the United States, 80 percent above the previous year’s tally. In Michigan, where armed protesters against Covid-related restrictions stormed the state capitol last April, in a forerunner to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, gun sales surged more than 300 percent. In light of this trend, reinstating the 1994 assault weapons ban that had successfully reduced the number of mass shooting events would be a welcome legislative goal for the Biden administration. [view source]