Oklahoma lawmaker calls on head of OK2A to resign over "ammo box" comment

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The executive director of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association is facing calls to resign from a top legislator over comments made during an event in southern Oklahoma last month.

According to news reports, OK2A head Don Spencer told an audience in Duncan, Oklahoma “we win at the ballot box, so we don’t have to go to the ammo box.” On Thursday, state Sen. Lonnie Paxton, a Republican who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee (where many 2A-related bills are heard), called on Spencer to resign from the Second Amendment organization because of the comment.

“I have supported and continue to support the efforts of OK2A in their goal of protecting the Second Amendment, but Mr. Spencer’s words can only be seen as a direct physical threat against those candidates and office holders who they can’t beat in an election,” Paxton said. “Incendiary comments like this could push someone that might be unstable over the edge, resulting in physical attacks on elected members of the Legislature, Congress, or even local officials like city council and school board members.”

Paxton said he will always support thoughtful, responsible legislation that protects Second Amendment rights, but individuals in leadership positions have a responsibility of not enflaming an already volatile political environment.

“Don Spencer’s rhetoric is not new.  He has been vocally critical of legislators who do not follow his exact lead but calling for pulling out the ammo box as a way to deal with non-compliant legislators is a new low,” Paxton said.  “As a state Senator and chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, I am calling for OK2A to remove Don Spencer as executive director of this important organization.  As the leader of OK2A, his shameful and dangerous comments will result in the loss of his credibility and the ability to advance OK2A’s agenda in the Public Safety Committee.  I also call on fellow legislators to join me in publicly condemning his comments.”

My advice to Paxton? Take a deep breath and open up a history book. Talking about the ballot box as the proper alternative to the ammo box (and the importance of both) is nothing new. In 1867, William F. Butler, spoke at the first convention of the Negro Republican Party and proclaimed “”First we had the cartridge box, now we want the ballot box, and soon we will get the jury box.”

That same month, abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass told an audience “A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex.”

Douglass returned to that theme in the 1892 edition of his The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, writing “the liberties of the American people were dependent upon the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box; that without these no class of people could live and flourish in this country.”

I read Don Spencer’s comment as making that same argument; we use the ballot box (and jury box) to protect and defend our liberties against the prospect of government tyranny, with the cartridge box serving as the “break glass in case of emergency” option of last resort for the American people.

That’s not a call for individuals to commit acts of politically motivated violence, by the way. No one accused Frederick Douglass of encouraging vigilantism or political violence when he talked about our rights resting in three boxes, and it seems a real stretch to me to accuse Spencer of doing so. Quite the opposite, in fact. And while Paxton’s right about our current “volatile” political situation, that doesn’t mean that he should read more into Spencer’s comments than what’s really there, which only adds more fuel to the political brushfires smoldering across the land.

I view Spencer’s remarks, like those of Frederick Douglass, William F. Butler, and countless others as a reminder that our right to vote is the primary tool we have to fight the imposition of governmental tyranny and an encouragement to exercise that right at any given opportunity.

There’s a reason why each of these speakers put the cartridge box last in their list; it is the option of last resort, and one that I would argue really only comes in to play after the establishment of a tyrannical and lawless federal regime (read Federalist 46 if you want a sense of how James Madison thought the right to keep and bear arms would play a role if the federal government unconstitutionally usurped the powers granted to it by We the People). If anyone’s lost credibility here, I’d argue it’s Sen. Paxton, who appears to have completely missed the pro-voting, pro-participatory democracy point of Spencer’s comments.

We’ll see what Spencer’s response is, but this fight doesn’t bode well for any Second Amendment-related bills that get assigned to Paxton’s Public Safety Committee. In a state that’s so strongly supportive of the right to keep and bear arms, it would be a crying shame if good bills get derailed because of one senator’s unfamiliarity with the concept of the “boxes of liberty,” which has been around longer than Oklahoma has been a state.