As a marker of the Republican Party’s ongoing radicalization, Doug Mastriano’s run for governor of Pennsylvania will prove revealing indeed.
Now Mastriano is bringing this question into even sharper focus. He has doubled down on the suggestion that even the most modest gun safety regulations are akin to Nazi tyranny.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Mastriano approvingly shared on Twitter this week a video of himself making a striking claim about guns and Adolf Hitler.
“Anytime there’s a shooting, the left will jump on that as a way to advance an agenda to remove our right to bear arms. ... We saw Hitler do the same thing in Germany in the ’30s.” Mastriano said in the 2018 video. “Where do the tyrants stop infringing on our rights?”
Which provides an occasion to highlight the through line linking all these ideological toxicities. Once you free yourself to claim regulating guns amid extraordinary day-to-day carnage is tantamount to Nazism, it’s a small leap to stealing elections.
In this move, the workings of democracy are themselves deemed illegitimate — even in the form of sensible gun laws — justifying pretty much anything in response. This becomes even more justified if you believe your gubernatorial campaign was anointed by God to “change history,” as Mastriano puts it.
In this week’s tweets, Mastriano said that, “historically, this [video] is accurate,” although as a history argument, it’s tendentious and absurd. What’s more, as the Inquirer reports, Mastriano retweeted a gun-rights group’s application of the claim to the current push for gun laws.
So what is the “agenda” that “the left” is pushing in response to the massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Texas, the gunning down of 10 people at a supermarket in Upstate New York, the relentless drumbeat of mass shootings, and the tens of thousands killed annually by guns across the country?
Well, reforms being considered include banning licensed sales to people younger than 21 of semiautomatic rifles — like those wielded by 18-year-olds in the New York and Texas mass shootings. They include banning high-capacity magazines that exacerbate such mass shootings, stiffening penalties on “straw purchases” and restricting “ghost gun” sales.
All this is hardly the stuff of jackboots and swastikas. If it is, then some members of Mastriano’s own party are flirting with Nazism as well: Senate Republicans are considering the red-flag compromise, and some Republican mayors are calling for a suite of similar proposals, including ones that would plug holes in the federal background check system.
Indeed, if any of these proposals pass, it will represent the workings of democracy. It would constitute elected representatives responding to a severe public health and safety crisis with modest regulations that would not “remove” the right to bear arms and put us on a slippery slope to tyranny, as Mastriano feverishly puts it.
But Mastriano’s willingness to go here itself signals a deeper threat. Mastriano, who played a central role in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 loss, endorsed the validity of certifying presidential electors in defiance of a state’s popular vote based on vote-fraud fictions. As governor, he’d have extensive control over future certifications.
Someone who is blithely willing to unshackle themselves from reality this way — to cast the workings of democracy behind modest gun regulations as goose-stepping fascist tyranny — is unlikely to see the popular vote as binding on any such future certifications.
There’s also a nexus here with Christian nationalism. Sarah Posner, a scholar of the religious right, has pointed out that this ideological and spiritual vision — which sees the nation as unmoored from its supposed White, Christian heritage and God-given mission — has become entangled with extreme manifestations of pro-gun sentiment.
In that vision, Posner argues, regulation of guns is not just a violation of freedom. It’s also an infringement on the Christian patriot’s duty to protect family and country, for which guns are divinely sanctioned instruments.
Given that Mastriano’s effort to overturn democracy for Trump was infused with Christian nationalist fervor — and that Mastriano plainly believes himself an instrument of God’s will — he likely believes that tyrannical gun regulations intrude on that spiritual duty and the role of guns in executing it.
We need to know how much of this sort of extremism the Republican Party — not to mention the party’s voters — are really willing to countenance.