Republicans Must Denounce Al Olszewski’s Dangerous Rhetoric

Reasonable people can disagree about gun policy. One might argue that, for a democratic republic to function, we need to be able to have a reasonable disagreement without calling those who disagree with us traitors or “enemies.”

But that kind of reasonable disagreement doesn’t characterize the debate on guns in the United States today.  For too many conservatives, the idea that there can be a debate about gun rights is anathema, and they would rather demonize their opponents as tyrants for holding—as the Supreme Court does and always has—the idea that government can impose reasonable limits on our rights to own and possess guns.

And that rhetoric is dangerous. Witness State Senator and candidate Al Olszewski’s response to the Virginia militia cosplay yesterday:

That’s the rhetoric of authoritarians and terrorists, not the language of those who aspire to lead states. Those who disagree with Olszewski are not his enemies; they are fellow members of a democratic society who happen to have a different view than his absolutist take on gun ownership.

Given the violence and resistance to government that has characterized the American West over the past few years, it’s especially dangerous to endorse the idea that governments who enact gun reforms in their legislative bodies are enemies or tyrants.

That kind of rhetoric enflames the Bundys and the Baldwins of the world and dangerously increases the likelihood of armed conflict between law enforcement and the growing anti-government movement.

Al Olszewski is absolutely entitled to hold his ahistorical and absurd views on gun rights, but instead of demonizing his opponents and dangerously ratcheting up the rhetoric in an already fraught moment, he should engage in reasoned debate with both those he agrees and disagrees with.

I’m pretty sure that the Founding Fathers—men of the Enlightenment—believed that kind of reasoned discussion is far more important than letting anyone play militia and bring his weapon of war to a rally.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • Dan Pogreba posits a typical liberal progressive opinion on state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Dr. Al Olszewski’s comments regarding the recent Virginia gun rights rally. Depicting Senator Olszewski’s comments as “dangerous” and “rhetoric of authoritarians and terrorists” is more than a simple exaggeration tactic commonly exhibited by radical leftists. It tiptoes dangerously into the waters of slanderous and defamatory commentary regarding the character of a man who has honorably served his country as an officer in the United States Air Force and continues to serve as a Montana State Senator.

    If one takes the time to review the entirety of the Senator Olszewski’s twitter thread, it is clear that he is simply stating that he has and will continue to support the Second Amendment right afforded all United States citizens to keep and bear arms. Frankly, having served as an officer in the U.S. Military it remains his duty to do so. It is respectable that Senator Olszewski continues to honor the lifetime oath he took as an officer in the Air Force: to defend the Constitution and this nation against all enemies, foreign & domestic.

    While I cannot speak for Senator Olszewski, I can state my own view that anyone who attempts to limit or revoke the freedom and liberty provided to me through the US Constitution and Bill of Rights is indeed, my opponent, rival, adversary and dare I say, enemy.

    Mr. Pogreba most likely doesn’t understand the nature of a military oath nor the consequences of not following it. I speculate the depth of his constitutional knowledge and military acumen may be limited. I suggest going forward he use caution with his words to ensure he is not slandering, defaming and inaccurately representing the character of an honorable man of service.

    • Janet,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. In some ways, your response makes the case better than I did.

      It’s dangerous to act as if one’s interpretation of the Constitution is the only one that is correct. It damages democratic debate, it debases our discourse, and it makes it impossible to have real discussions about national, state, or local issues.

      There is no precedent for the interpretation that any state limitation on the right to bear arms is impermissible. No court from the beginning of the Republic has held that view.

      To label those who disagree unpatriotic or the “enemy” is precisely the rhetoric used by extremists.

      I appreciate that Senator Olszewski served in the military, but to argue that military service affords him some special knowledge about the Constitution is absurd.

      There is no slander here, no defamation.

      It’s a call for our political leaders to end this extremist, dangerous rhetoric.

      It’s a call for people like Senator Olszewski to be better.

  • One could argue that “Authoritarians” and “Terrorists” ARE in fact “Traitors” and “Enemies” . Good thing this Hypocrite only has one vote.

  • Dang. How do you function so steeped in ignorance?
    Every single snarky ‘argument’ is based in fallacy and woeful understanding of basic Constitutional concepts.
    God bless ya.
    Recommend you check into some Hillsdale online government courses to brush up on what our founding documents actually say.

  • Upholding the Constitution is what politicians swear to do. There is nothing inflammatory about supporting our second ammendment rights! Typical leftist thinking trying to silence those that disagree with you!

      • Don. You could as easily GUT the First Amendment, “shall not be abridged” statement. Is that really what you are proposing we, free people of the united States, should do? Allow a few fanatics shut us up?

        • We did abridge the First Amendment in the courts to a degree, Jim, as to the free speech clause: you can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. There are other examples. It’s called a reasonable interpretation of the Bill of Rights. The same could be applied to the Second Amendment, unless you really believe everyone should have access to “ARMED with FULLY automatic assault weapons.”

  • Since Janet already did a phenomenal job cutting this trashy article to pieces I’ll just add a couple of historical points. Number 1, these ideologues of the enlightenment often settled their serious debates with duels using guns. They would laugh at the stupidity of allowing a government to take their guns. Secondly, Montana is the wild west. It’s in our blood to resist government authoritarianism.

    It must be really easy to get a job as a writer at the Montana Post. Maybe not, they seem to already be fully staffed by morons.

    • While your failure to avoid ad hominem arguments already rather effectively undermines your credibility, I am happy to continue the debate.

      1. There is a world of difference between gun control measures and taking people’s guns. Second, no Supreme Court decision has ever held that the right to own guns is absolute. Surely a state or the federal government can impose reasonable restrictions, right?

      2. Most towns in the “Wild West” did restrict gun possession and use. This article from Smithsonian Magazine offers an overview: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gun-control-old-west-180968013/

      3. The idea that government enacting regulation is authoritarianism is not supported by any constitutional or historical analysis.

      • So, some states “in the wild west” “restricted” gun possession. That is a clear 10th amendment argument, but runs afoul of the 2nd amendment, the “supremacy clause”, and the CLEAR admonition that ALL lawfully elected officials in the united States adhere to ALL the limitations enshrined in our Republican Constitution. AND, the Supreme Court’s decisions that the 2nd Amendment protects an “individual right” (even in Dred Scot, where it sided with those who would prevent blacks from the same right to “keep and bear arms” afforded the white supremacist rulers in – for example – Boston and New York…

  • to have a complete understanding of the situation would help here sir. Any attempts by any parties to limit constitutional rights is an attempt by the enemy of the people.

    To use or attempt to interrupt another’s voice is only a fool speaking.

    • “Any limit”?

      So would you call a government that banned machine guns “the enemy of the people”? One that banned the use and possession of artillery? Where is the line?

      Is the government engaging in authoritarianism when it prohibits concealed or open carry at a presidential rally?

      I’d love to learn the parameters of the argument here.

      • Your argument is specious. ARMED with FULLY automatic “assault weapons” police forces throughout the individual states of our republic are EXEMPT from the restrictions you seem to support. That makes YOU a “police state advocate”.

  • I personally think the author of this post is making a mountain out of a mole hill. I’m am so sick and tired of reading about people who got offended over something stupid when our President is going through bigger things. This post reinforces that Al gets my vote.

  • Those that would attempt to take away right given to us from God ARE the enemy. The enemy of self determination, the enemy of the family, the enemy of faith and the enemy of mankind

    • Glenn – Second Amendment Rights ARE NOT God-given rights! Nowhere in the Bible are people given the right to carry assault weapons. Read it. People with your mentality are the the enemy – of common sense.

      • I cannot quote the Bible, but Jesus and his disciples did admonish the followers of what became Christianity to “take up the sword” – THE “assault weapon” of the day – to defend righteous liberty.

  • Don Pogrebra, do you seriously think our founders put the right to keep and bear arms as the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights to protect hunting and target practice–they made it abundantly clear that it was to maintain the citizens’ ability to rise up against a tyrannical government, and that is why they made it abundantly clear that government was not to infringe it at all. Not one bit. To then give government the power of deciding what are “reasonable” “common sense regulations” of our defense against government is so patently absurd that I just can’t comprehend how you, Mr. Logic, can promote that ridiculous notion without any sense of embarrassment.

    • Not one bit?

      So your position is that a person should be able to own an atomic bomb? A dirty bomb? An artillery piece? A machine gun?

      A person should be able to attend a Presidential rally openly carrying his sniper rifle?

      I’m curious how you’d answer those questions.

      If your position is, yes, a person has an unalienable right to own a bomb or machine gun, there’s little point in our continued discussion.

      Happy to learn what you think.

      • I have learned that certain people phrase their questions to dictate the answer they want to elicit. You want to force me to lower my head in shame and say, “well of course people should not be able to have atomic weapons”, so (scuffs foot), yeah, I guess we need some “common sense” weapons laws. The thing is, that question and that answer are irrelevant. No one wants crazy people running around with nuclear weapons. I don’t want crazy people running around with sharp pencils. Crazy people, mad ex-husbands, people with nuclear weapons factories in their garage—we need to protect ourselves from these…somehow. Here’s the real question: Given the nature of the governed v. governors relationship, and our extreme basic need to always restrain the natural, universal progression of governments to ever-increasing control over the governed, is government the right jurisdiction for decisions about arms control? It would be naïve to trust that situation. That has killed millions and millions of people in the past. So my answer to the relevant question is no. Not one bit. As our founders knew from their studies of history, government should not have any control at all over the arms of it’s subjects. In life, many decisions consist of a number of open pathways and one or several absolutely blocked pathways. This is one of those cases. To prevent the much larger tragedy that so often occurs when governments incrementally disarm their citizens, we just have to come up with more inventive, other ways to defend ourselves against citizens with nuclear weapons. People are ingenious that way. (btw, machine guns? artillery pieces? Tanks? Helicopters? Hell, yeah! How did you get ahold of my Christmas wish list?)

        • Yeah, I think we have to disagree then, and I suspect your view (that people should be able to arm themselves with nuclear weapons and brandish them at presidential rallies) is one held only by a tiny minority of extremists.

          It could be right that only you (and this tiny percentage of Americans are right) or it could be that perhaps your view could use some refinement. I hope you’ll at least consider the possibility that the latter could be true.

  • If you don’t like our Constitution as written, be a man and say so instead of trying to twist the words and intent into whatever you want it to say and mean. That is so disingenuous, and in my mind cowardly. I’d respect you a lot more if instead you just came out and said you don’t like the 2nd Amendment. See how simple that sounds? “The beautiful thing about the truth is that it is so easy to tell.”~~Ammon Bundy

    • I’m glad that the American people pay out welfare to Ammon Bundy so he has time to whip up powerful quotes like that. 🙂

      No one in this post is suggesting that we abandon the Second Amendment. No one is suggesting that the Second Amendment is only for hunting.

      What I am suggesting–as has every Supreme Court–is that there are reasonable limits on that right, as there are for all the others. Unless you honestly believe that any person should be able to possess and brandish any weapon at any time, surely you can understand that there have to be limits.

      But every time we try to have that discussion in America, a small, loud group of zealots starts screaming that they are victims of tyranny.

      We can debate gun control without pretending that it means the Second Amendment will be destroyed. I welcome that debate. Do you?

      • Ammon Bundy was in prison for 2 years when he “had the time to whip that up” for the “crime” of resisting government tyranny in the manner of our forefathers. If you want to call that welfare, go ahead—that would be a typical liberal twist of reality. You don’t deserve to speak his name until you put your life on the line for freedom. “May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”.

        When people mention supreme court cases to defend unconstitutional actions, I just laugh. The supreme court is now the most unconstitutional body on the planet. They gave themselves the power to “define” what is constitutional. You know that don’t you? “Decisions” of the supreme court are completely null and void and of no consequence when they decide against the plain English of the Constitution.

        • We’ll have to disagree about the Bundys. You think they are patriots; I think they are cheats who have defrauded the American people by refusing to pay their grazing fees. I respect ranchers who do pay them more.

          Your idea about the Supreme Court runs counter to the mainstream of American thought and the very ideals of the founders, who established a Court they believed would be composed of the best legal minds of our country. While they have certainly made horrific decisions, the Supreme Court functions as a check on pure democracy, which is something I thought constitutional conservatives hate. Am I wrong?

        • Your contention about the plain language of the Constitution is wrong on at least three counts:

          1. Most importantly, it ignores that alone among the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment contains a modifying phrase. The Framers included the idea of a well-regulated militia for a reason.

          2. The use of the phrase “the people” is also important. Until the Heller decision, there was no understanding that it meant an individual right. That’s why we need legal scholars and historians to help us understand the meaning of the Amendment. “Plain English” just doesn’t cut it.

          3. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, some people were denied the right to bear arms by the government. It’s hard to square your “plain English” interpretation of the language with existing laws that did, in fact, limit the right to bear arms.

  • Wow. I’ve never read such a one sided, anti-American hate speech driven article before. It’s scary that anyone is blasting the senator for standing up for our constitution, protecting ourselves against tyranny. Having the right to bear arms helps the people retain power to not submit to an unjust government. If you can’t understand that by nearly every fallen country before or civil uprising then you never will. It’s completely un-American. I hope you don’t ever vote Dan, because this rhetoric and hateful speech is so skewed against what American was founded on and our ideals I don’t see how you call yourself an American.

  • Do you even know your audience?!?! Do you know what state you live in? Between MT, WY and TX, we’ll never let the 2nd amendment go away and let soft liberals try to infringe on our constitutional rights!!

    I’m guessing you live in Missoula, pandering to the transplant Californians that do no hold Montanan values.

    Statistically cities and states with stricter gun law regulations have higher rates of gun violence.

    CRIMINALS don’t care about your laws and restrictions and you’re just making it harder for law biding citizens to protect themselves and your clueless America hating self.

    • I do. I was born and raised here, “Chaz.”

      If you want to discuss the issues in this post, you’re more than welcome to, but insulting me and questioning my birthplace doesn’t do that.

      The Second Amendment is not absolute. The Courts have repeatedly made that clear. The question is what forms of gun control legislation are constitutional? Calling those who ask that question “unamerican” isn’t advancing the debate.

  • You know I was interested in your article (I followed a link from Dr. Al’s page) until you called the United States a Democratic Republic. We have the privilege of living in the greatest Constitutional Republic on the face of the planet and you might want to educate yourself on the difference. Also one comment of yours I scrolled by was about how someone “interprets” the Constitution? The document was written in plain English and shall not be infringed is pretty clear. I don’t care if someone has a belt fed machine gun (which are really fun if your interested) and shoots up a mall, murder is still illegal along with shooting up malls and there is no point in making the object used to commit the crime illegal.

    • I answered the objection about the “plain language” of the Constitution earlier, but I will try again here. There are three reasons why your interpretation (and that truly is all it is) needs reconsideration:

      1. Most importantly, it ignores that alone among the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment contains a modifying phrase. The Framers included the idea of a well-regulated militia for a reason.

      2. The use of the phrase “the people” is also important. Until the Heller decision, there was no understanding that it meant an individual right. That’s why we need legal scholars and historians to help us understand the meaning of the Amendment. “Plain English” just doesn’t cut it.

      3. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, some people were denied the right to bear arms by the government. It’s hard to square your “plain English” interpretation of the language with existing laws that did, in fact, limit the right to bear arms.

      And I think you’d find precious few people who agree with your version of what the Second Amendment means. The current President does not, the NRA does not, the Supreme Court does not. Perhaps you ought to ask yourself whether you might need to rethink your view just a bit?

  • There is no debating the 2nd Ammendment to the US Constitution. The language is very clear and concise. Liberal Democrats wish to bend and twist the meaning, but American patriots will not stand for any alteration. Honest American citizens should never be punished for the actions of criminals. Left wing liberal judges, who legislate from the bench, routinely early release violent criminals and give light sentences to repeat criminal offenders who commit violent crimes with firearms. Obama set a racial radical tone in the USA that is precursor for many law enfocement officers being murdered and assasinated in the line of duty. Democrats provide sanctuary to illegal violent criminals and regularily release them into communities to re offend and destroy more American lives. DON, you should be ashamed and your reporting is nothing less than pathetic.

    • Steve,

      It’s possible that you are right.

      It’s also possible that Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan (who banned guns), the NRA, every Supreme Court in American history, the Founders (who restricted gun ownership from the beginning of the country), and the vast majority of Americans who believe in some sensible gun control are right.

      Now, I understand that you believe your interpretation of the Second Amendment trumps all of those people, but it might be worth asking yourself how all of them managed to be so wrong while you’re so right.

      That kind of rigorous self-examination of ideas is important.

  • “reasonable speech control” next? “reasonable assembly control” next? where do you leftist fascists think it should stop? when YOU are the target of “control” for hiding behind masks and baseball bats used against US, the people who DEFEND you?

    When YOU are the “enemy” of the bloviating global cabal, and there is no one left to SHOOT back, to whom will YOU turn?

    • Most of the fascists are on the right – not the left. And its not the left who are trying to kill people in the protest rallies – it’s the RIGHT! White nationalists, Alt-Right, QAnon, Proud Boys, and on and on… however, the violence on both sides needs to stop.

      Who indeed will defend us? Your claim of the right to carry a weapon of your choice in any public place DOES NOT supercede MY right to be safe. Assault weapons need to be banned, and everyone who carries a gun should be licensed and thouroughly background-checked – period.

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