Thanks to everyone who joined in and contributed towards fighting Measure 114. Unfortunately this regressive law passed, though extremely narrowly. Because 114 was written vaguely and potential litigation may slow things down, it’s difficult to say how things will unfold next. However, some issues can be addressed:
1.The Race Factor It’s not just an empty slogan when people say “Gun Control is Racist.” This typically comes into play through implicit bias in policing, yet Oregon has already provided especially blatant examples of this. Sheriffs in several overwhelmingly white counties have declared they will not enforce the measure. Even if they eventually reverse themselves, it will be obvious to rank and file officers what is expected, making Measure 114 a functional law against self defense only where significant communities of color exist.
2. Manufactured Moral Panic One of the most sensational claims promoted by gun control advocates in Measure 114 propaganda is that firearms are now the leading cause of death among children. This is only technically accurate using skewed definitions of the word “children” in two ways. The first is eliminating infants under one years old, whose mortality rate from various causes are higher than gun related deaths. The second is including young adults aged eighteen and nineteen, which bumps the statistics enough to surpass other leading fatalities.
It’s an incredibly cynical scare tactic, considering this age group votes, serves in the military, and in many cases have kids of their own. Gun violence is real and affects too many actual children, but manufacturing data to create a moral panic only makes dialogue towards solutions more difficult.
3. Money Talks I subscribe to many gun control email lists and see how fundraising ploys profit from skewed arms industry caricatures. Their carefully crafted image portrays plucky grassroots activists opposing a powerful NRA who bribe politicians with money from shady weapons manufacturers. Yet the numbers don’t match this fantasy. Pro-114 groups raised 2.4 million dollars, while those opposing scraped together just a couple hundred thousand. 114 backers reaped massive donations from billionaire tech magnates and the wealthy financier Michael Bloomberg.
The embattled NRA only ponied up $25,700 and then bungled reporting it, earning an $8,000 fine for their incompetence. The reality is pro-gun groups possess cultural clout but nothing approaching the vast resources of other notorious lobbying groups, such as Amazon or Pfizer. The NRA is a trash fire of racism and greed and operates nowhere near the same level as arms manufacturing behemoths like Lockheed-Martin or Raytheon who have little interest in donating towards 2nd Amendment causes.
4. Delays Can be Dangerous On December 8th all legal gun sales in Oregon will halt, unless some last minute injunction delays the measure. It’s unclear when they will continue, placing anyone who might need emergency self defense in a precarious situation.
Many times people have approached me for gun training who never thought they needed a firearm until something dramatically changed in their life. Perhaps stalking and violence from an ex-partner, with subsequent dismissiveness from the police. Perhaps a sudden barrage of death threats from fascists and discovering their home address broadcast on the internet. People in immediate danger must either face it unarmed or potentially buy illegal guns on the black market, further placing themselves in legal jeopardy.
5. Unintended Consequences Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982 and Democrats enjoy a lockdown on every statewide office yet this time their candidate Tina Kotek barely edged out her main opponent. Most analysis of this faults Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat running as an independent who possibly drew more votes away from Kotek than her Republican challenger.
Interestingly, Johnson was a very pro-firearm voice in the state senate who acknowledges owning a machine gun. In 2012 she spoke to the annual national meeting of the Liberal Gun Club in Portland, which I attended, and recounted hanging a pink bandoleer full of toy ammunition in the senate cloakroom to annoy anti-gun Democrats.
Laying blame on Johnson for denying Kotek a landslide victory is easy, yet left unexamined is how Measure 114 galvanized conservative voters. For example, Measure 111 guaranteeing affordable health care barely passed and even Measure 112 which removed slavery from the constitution only received a 55.6 majority. When gun control laws appear on the ballot, they endanger actual progressive issues by associated backlash and even Democratic candidates in ordinarily friendly territory.
1. I was asked by an indigenous activist in rural Oregon to help provide community defense training and organize security details for events. She lives under constant threat from local fascists who published her address on the internet and even the school her children attend, claiming they will kill her and the kids as well. Instead of investigating these threats, local police posted her photo on their websites as a warning to other activists, despite her never having been charged or convicted of any crime. In fear for her life, she passed a federal background check and was able to legally purchase a gun. If OR 114 was in effect, she would have also needed to obtain special permission from the police, the same ones colluding with fascists threatening to murder her family.
2. Just a couple months ago one of my close friends stopped a knife wielding man attempting a gay bashing attack in a grocery store parking lot. He drew his concealed carry pistol and pointed it at the man, immediately ending the assault. When police arrived, they questioned the attacker, and because my friend stopped him before anyone was injured, simply let him go. This is typical of most instances when a firearm is used for self defense and why statistics are so difficult to come by. Just as the cops were disinterested in an attempted gay bashing, nobody keeps files on cases where firearms ended conflicts nonviolently. The pistol my friend used had a capacity over ten rounds. If OE 114 were in effect, he might have been the one arrested.
These are just two of many circumstances that really drive home what a damaging law 114 would be and why I’m fighting back. My argument against it will appear in the Oregon voter pamphlet this November and I currently have a GOFUNDME set up to help with that expense. If you can contribute a few dollars, it really means a lot.
My brief article below will appear in the official Oregon voter pamphlet opposing Measure 114 during the upcoming elections this November. I currently have a GOFUNDME to help offset that considerable expense.
Rising Fascism Makes Community Defense Necessary
Between 2005-2010, I published a ‘zine called American Gun Culture Report. My writers were overwhelmingly folks of color, LGBTQ and others who owned firearms because they cared about community defense and knew the violent history of gun control being used to disarm persecuted populations.
Since those years, I have been contacted by countless individuals sharing stories about using guns to resolve dangerous situations. Typical were examples close to me. One friend pointed her shotgun at a man who broke into her house, scaring him away, and another friend recently drew his pistol on a knife wielding man attempting a gay bashing attack, holding him until police arrived. In none of these cases were shots fired and a firearm ended the confrontations peacefully.
Many people told me they kept such stories themselves, because there is such a harmful stigma connecting guns with conservative politics. There are easily available statistics about firearms being used for terrible acts, yet none documenting how often they save lives. However, just a brief look at American history demonstrates the important role armed defense has played, from the Appalachian Mining Wars to Mississippi Civil Rights struggle. In more recent times, I have provided firearms training out in rural parts of Oregon where immigrant communities exist under regular threat from Right wing groups and law enforcement is distrusted or simply unavailable.
But gun violence finally touched my life. Last February, a dear friend was shot and almost killed at the hands of a fascist mass shooter who opened fire on a peaceful police accountability protest at a Portland park. One woman died and several others were wounded before antifascist security used their AR-15 to quickly stop him. If Measure 114 were in effect, my friend and many others would surely be dead.
Before voting, please consider all the consequences.
Thank you for your time.
I will write a more comprehensive article detailing problematic issues with Measure 114, but in brief they are:
Police issued permits – Currently any Oregonian who passes an extensive background check through the federal NICS database can purchase firearms. 114 gives cops complete power to create their own secondary system, keep files on individuals and deny applicants using their own criteria. Given abuses widely documented among law enforcement, this would create an environment ripe for further corruption. Police could easily restrict permits to preferred individuals and deny others without oversight to determine if people from particular racial or ethnic groups, religious backgrounds, LGBTQ status or political affiliations were being screened out. It’s particularly alarming given the open collusion often seen between cops and militant fascist groups, not to mention the high domestic violence rates among officers, making them even more suspect in determining who should be allowed self defense rights.
Magazine restrictions – 114 bans magazines over ten rounds, which eliminates those used in the majority of firearms. It allows those already owned, but as there is no realistic way to document when, perhaps decades old purchases took place, this further gives the police questionable power. To provide perspective, there are currently millions of magazines over the limit in Oregon . Most gun violence either involves suicides or under ten shots being fired, so this law makes very little practical sense, other than making community defense more difficult.
Debating gun politics is never smart while another mass shooting dominates the media. Rational discussions are rarely possible while emotions remain elevated and newsfeeds are awash in trauma. Heated arguments only make productive communication harder later on. There’s nothing wrong with walking away and saving serious conversations for later.
This is always important but even more so when being disrespectful appears callous towards victims. Posturing and snarky comments may feel good in the moment but only solidifies opposition. Consider actually reading articles by anti-gun activists and becoming familiar with their perspectives. Many people have very sincere personal reasons for disliking firearms and should be empathized with, even if their solutions are shortsighted.
Derail any debate about the 2nd Amendment by pointing out it was the most intrusive gun control measure in American history. Like every other freedom in the Bill of Rights, it was intended for whites only and used as justification for mass gun confiscations and disarming Black militias. Learn about the Cruikshank supreme court case which maintained this interpretation well into the 20th century. The 2nd Amendment only holds meaning once occupied and reclaimed as a means to keep all our communities secure.
Since 2004 I’ve written about gun politics and conducted defensive small arms training among threatened communities. This background provided much perspective on the escalation following Donald Trump’s election which energized domestic fascist movements and set loose waves of assaults against immigrants, minorities and others along the left political spectrum. Everyone knows how this newly respectable xenophobia amplified right wing violence. Mass shootings, vehicle attacks and death threats against groups organizing to protect themselves.
Previously, most conservatives I encountered appreciated my efforts expanding gun culture outside it’s unfairly stereotyped niche of Republicans, rednecks and hillbillies. Now even mentioning that I do such work often draws comments that I should be killed. It’s a real shift. Over recent years protecting groups marching against state sanctioned terror, I’ve lost count of the times big trucks adorned with American flags and Trump banners revved their engines and raced toward pedestrians, only swerving away at the last minute.
The many victims at Charlottesville, El Paso, Charleston, Pittsburgh and the Portland MAX attack, to name only a few, were less fortunate. I know others beaten by fascists or severely injured from crowd control munitions during anti-Trump or Black Lives Matter protests, but always returned home safe myself. Most people close to me also came away relatively unharmed.
That grace period ended last weekend when a Portland man opened fire on activists peacefully demanding police accountability in a local park. He murdered a sixty year old disabled woman and wounded four others, several critically. One of the survivors is a dear friend of mine. She is likely only alive today because a nearby security volunteer shot back and disabled the man before his rampage continued.
Details are still emerging about this individual, but some things are clear. He was a fan of right wing figures and groups, from Alex Jones and Andy Ngo to the Proud Boys, plus idolized Kyle Rittenhouse, another armed man who went out looking to fight anti-fascists. His own longtime roommate has since spoken out, describing a trajectory of increased racism and misogyny that made her fearful, stating she believed the person who shot him “saved my life.”
Most who nurture imagined grievances, like the presidential election being stolen or Covid vaccines containing microchips, or that organized pedophiles are responsible for their woes, don’t engage in physical violence, yet still enable a toxic conspiracy culture. It took purely insidious motivation to convince someone that a sixty year old walking with a cane presented some threat requiring gunfire to solve.
I have much more to say about that, but at least there is one concrete thing we can do. The survivors here in Portland need financial assistance and if anyone can spare some dollars, I’ve verified that their GoFundMe account is active and going directly to help those affected. Thanks to everyone who can pitch in and help.
I’ve written before about the old time radio program Dr. Sixgun, which stands out as remarkable amidst the Western genre for its compassionate depiction of typically disparaged groups, such as immigrants and Indians. Instead of sanitized history, the story lines unflinchingly portray cruelty by American settlers and the human cost of colonization is on full display.
Because Dr. Sixgun presents such a contrary narrative among stereotypical Westerns and doesn’t shirk from social issues, it wasn’t surprising that the episode No Guns Ordinance touched on gun control. This one began with Dr. Grey Matson, the famed Dr. Sixgun himself, entering a town called Rail End. He became surprised upon discovering open carry was recently banned by order of the local sheriff, Marshall Anders. Despite his proficient reputation with a revolver, Dr. Matson remained a thoughtful physician who frequently treated shooting victims. He checked his six-gun without argument and then sought out Anders, curious to learn more about this experiment.
The marshall explained: “I can tell ya, if I had my choice, once I get hold of a crazy drunk on the way to the pokey on a Saturday night, I’d just as soon I was the only one totin’ a gun.” He elaborated as having been inspired by the iconic lawman Wyatt Earp. With this reference, Dr. Sixgun writers knew their history. Back in the day, even such classic frontier locations as Deadwood and Dodge City were known for strict gun control ordinances. In fact, Wyatt Earp’s famous shootout at the O.K. Coral involved his opponents violating firearms regulations in Tombstone, Arizona.
It’s no exaggeration that modern Arizona gun control laws are far more permissive than during Dr. Sixgun’s era. For example, I personally possess an out-of-state permit issued by Arizona which lets me carry concealed firearms there, plus several other states, despite my residence in Oregon. Highlighting this is important, as so much right-wing propaganda builds upon skewed pictures of the past, falsely mythologizing the Old West as a place where Americans lived more freely and that some slow decline in liberty has progressed since then. It’s all complete lies, of course. Frontier times were far more restrictive on individual lives than any conservative today would admit tolerating.
As the story continued, Marshall Anders boasted his policy had successfully reduced murders and Dr. Matson left the town feeling quite inspired, remarking: “That ordinance, that must be the answer . . . . .take the guns away and they won’t be so quick to fight…. I get awful tired of probing for bullets and sewing up wounds. I got more important things to do.”
Dr. Matson subsequently attempted persuading others that gun control could work yet only met with derision from others in the territory. Ranchers and bartenders and even his own local sheriff showed complete disinterest or open contempt for such a scheme, several calling it “against nature.” Faced with overwhelming opposition, he finally gave up promoting the idea. Some time later, Matson’s travels led him back to Rail End where he turned over his revolver to a new sheriff named Marshall Benson. It soon became apparent things were not well, despite surface tranquility. Sinister armed men lurked about, closely monitoring conversations between citizens and keeping tabs on everyone. Each wore an official lawman’s badge
It turned out months before, Benson and a gang of corrupt deputies had pushed Marshall Anders out of power and began running the place as their own personal fiefdom. With everyone else disarmed, no one could oppose them. Whereas most episodes of Dr. Sixgun resolve conflicts, this one concluded on a tragic note. Fearing for his life, Dr. Matson fled the town which remained in the grip of unaccountable cops, maintained through fear, and of course, a firearms monopoly.
Appropriately, the first scene Dr. Matson encountered after leaving Rail End, with its chilling calm, was a boisterous crowd of drunken cowboys waving revolvers and firing off shots willy-nilly. He regretfully acknowledged this as a preferable trade off against the police state tyranny so recently experienced. Wrap up narration dismally recounted that Rail End residents eventually placed hope in electing a new sheriff, though Benson’s leading opponent was murdered before this could take place.
It sounds reasonable at first, yet Matson’s observation presents a false choice. Banning firearms simply isn’t required for an oppressive government to exist, as examples from the Colfax Massacre to Black Wall Street demonstrate. In more recent times, Black citizens of Ferguson, Missouri were no less armed than other Americans, yet knew shooting back against police terror, as their ancestors sometimes had, would be futile. Just as it’s foolish to imagine eliminating firearms automatically creates peace, the reverse is also true. Well armed societies are often rampant with injustice. Gun control might be one factor in maintaining systems of tyranny, but not necessarily constitute the main ingredient.
Old time militias enforcing government sanctioned gun control? That’s certainly an image contrary to the one cultivated by many 2nd Amendment supporters. But while some harken back to a selective version of America’s past, in her recent book The Second, historian Carol Anderson carefully examines what purpose that amendment actually signified in practice. It’s a far cry from what modern day patriotic propaganda would have people believe.
Anderson’s work parallels one of the most exciting genres in American historical scholarship, which has seen increasing numbers of academics researching Black resistance movements that mobilized against post-Civil War Reconstruction and Jim Crow era persecution. While most white-washed histories of the Civil Rights struggle spin redemptive tales about noble suffering and non-violent tactics winning victories toward greater social equality, these new explorations grasp gut level human realities, often less appealing than earlier sanitized versions.
In just one sensational example, the historian Akinyele Umoja looked at a Mississippi region where KKK influence waned in the early 1960s, allowing establishment of successful voter registration drives. Yet digging deeper, he discovered this power vacuum only developed after Black militia members successfully repelled invading nightriders, before posting the decapitated head of one fallen Klansman on a bridge as warning. This act so horrified nearby white militants that they simply gave up control of the area. (1)
Anderson wrestles with issues no less intense, but from a different angle. She begins scrutinizing how gun control affected Black populations in the Americas under various colonial powers. During British rule, each of the original thirteen colonies enacted stringent laws forbidding enslaved population’s arms, plus highly regulating their ownership by any free people of color. (2) But even these small privileges were curtailed once the War of Independence began. North Carolina offered rewards to those who successfully confiscated guns from Black communities and other states clamped down harder as well. (3) No wonder they were fearful. Martha Washington was perhaps the first to use the phrase “contagion of liberty” (4) describing the terror herself and others whose wealth originated in human bondage felt after realizing so much lofty talk about Liberty, Inalienable Rights, and All Men Being Created Equal might spark similar aspirations among African-Americans, free or enslaved.
Indeed, many people of color were thrilled hearing these values so openly praised, yet in most states, militia membership and firearms had long been exclusively for whites only. Only after US forces suffered repeated defeats did several states begin recruiting Black men, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Then, when British forces began moving against South Carolina, US military officers begged state officials to let Black soldiers serve and bolster the ranks of exhausted militias. Incredibly, this American legislature deliberated and finally decided they preferred surrender to the British than allow non-whites arms. (5)
Still, some free Black militias had existed for decades who trained with their own rifles and earned exceptionally brave reputations. This was not under United States law however, but allowed by Spanish and French colonial administrations, especially in Louisiana. As soon as these areas fell under American annexation, the 2nd Amendment provided no protection and gun control laws enforced by white militias disarmed these populations as well. (6) It actually became an embarrassing point during the War of 1812 after British regular soldiers smashed through ineffective militia forces and captured the US capitol. Their next target was New Orleans, where the governor of Louisiana recognized state militia troops were greatly insufficient. Faced with dire circumstances, he offered rifles to Black militia veterans and begged for help. Six-hundred volunteered and joined with a multi-racial force that contributed one of America’s few military victories in the entire war. General Andrew Jackson (of all people) even commended them for special valor. Yet instead of medals, these courageous men were afterward awarded heavy labor details in swamps and the Black militias forcibly disbanded once more. (7)
Anderson’s study exposes a familiar repetition marching forward. While it’s not uncommon for modern pro-2nd Amendment advocates to reference what became known as Black Codes, when denouncing firearms regulations as racist, more rarely do they acknowledge the enforcement role militias played. In the case of Georgia, white men were required to own guns, but specifically in legal reference to the militia’s need for self protection while searching the homes of Black families for weapons. (8) Moving deeper into the nineteenth-century, numerous other states passed strict laws, from Virginia, where free Black people found with firearms received thirty-nine lashes, to Florida, where white militias could search the homes of Black families for arms whenever they pleased, and the more lenient North Carolina, which allowed free Black people to apply for yearly permits before owning anything from shotguns to knives. (9)
The list of draconian gun control measures considered legal under the 2nd Amendment, even long after slavery was abolished, stretches on. Time and again, it provided no protection for Black communities who defended themselves against organized violent attacks, from the Colfax Massacre of 1873, to the Hamburg Massacre of 1876, and the destruction of Black Wall Street in 1921. Courts and judges routinely dismissed the Constitution, Bill of Rights and 2nd Amendment included, as legal grounds for non-whites to enjoy their full human existence as Americans.
This should be a sharp wake up call to anyone still viewing the 2nd Amendment as some wise, holy governance handed down through time. It’s own authors supported the most invasive firearms confiscations in US history. Like the title of my weblog has long declared, the 2nd Amendment must be occupied and reformed… into a tool for seizing gun culture back from what the founders originally intended. Simply another way for maintaining white supremacy and upper class dominion. Liberty may be a contagion… and Martha Washington meant that as an insult- but we can still take pride spreading it far and wide.
Akinyele Omowale Umoja. We Will Shoot Back. New York University Press, New York. 2013. 58-9.
Carol Anderson. The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Bloomsbury Publishing, New York. 2021. 18.
I currently work for a low-income housing non profit. While being part of an industry that helps people in our community is rewarding, this regularly puts myself and my co-workers in contact with individuals experiencing crisis, whether mental health or substance abuse related. Despite occasional tense moments, we do our best de-escalating confrontations and negotiating solutions as best we can. Very rarely does anyone get hurt.
One exception took place several years ago at an apartment complex in our portfolio. A male resident barged into the leasing office with a baseball bat and struck the building manager over the head, knocking her unconscious. He then ran out and began assaulting other people nearby. Amidst this chaos, the manager recovered enough to retrieve a can of mace from her purse. She bravely intercepted the assailant and sprayed him down, incapacitating the man until police arrived.
Once she returned from a brief hospital stay, co-workers and residents congratulated this woman for quick thinking and resourcefulness that certainly prevented more serious injuries. Yet, our official corporate response was more subdued. An all-staff email reminded everyone that our employee agreement prohibited self defense instruments on company property. As one might imagine, this included firearms, but also pepper spray and electric tasers.
At the time, this sparked consternation, with several building managers openly declaring they would rather be fired than leave themselves defenseless. They pointed out how violent abusers stalk victims in many locations, workplaces included. Some women mentioned personally surviving domestic assault and how keeping a taser or pepper spray nearby was simply how they lived their lives now. Leaving self defense tools at home would create huge gaps in their personal safety… not just on site, but during commutes, plus any side trips or appointments along the way.
A damage control email quickly made the rounds, promising all field offices would soon have panic buttons installed under the desks. Some employees grumbled, pointing out any response would still be delayed, but in general, this declaration calmed things. After a couple months, I checked in with some managers, asking if their offices were set up yet. They grimly reported no. Perplexed, I questioned the head of maintenance, inquiring about progress. He responded vaguely, reporting that details were still being ironed out and assured me I’d be kept in the loop. More months went by…then years, and that was the last anyone heard about panic buttons as far as I’m aware.
So, what does this have to do with gun politics? Well, laws ostensibly regulating firearms sometimes reach much further than expected, just like workplace rules. Oregon Senate Bill 554, recently passed by the legislature reads:
166.370. (1)(a) Any person who intentionally possesses a loaded or unloaded firearm or any other instrument used as a dangerous weapon, while in or on a public building, shall upon conviction be guilty of a Class C felony.
The term “weapon” is defined by listing an array of objects including:
(c) Mace, tear gas, pepper mace or any similar deleterious agent as defined in ORS 163.211; (d) An electrical stun gun or any similar instrument;
Now, as everyone should be well aware, laws are not enforced equally. Regarding my earlier example, during an all-staff meeting following that incident, the head of HR reminded everyone about our policy against self defense items. I glanced over at one of the building managers who earlier voiced disagreement and sure enough, sitting on the table in front of her glinted a can of pepper spray clipped onto her key ring. Nobody said a damn thing.
It seemed moderately hilarious at the time, but looking back, highlights how privilege and bias play out. This building manager was a white woman, well regarded at our nonprofit after years of service, and clearly felt little concern over breaking a major company regulation while preserving her own sense of security. I absolutely support her in doing so, but also wonder about my other co-workers, Black and Brown women with similar safety concerns, yet less confident in their employment, who make personal risk equations every day. Which is more endangered right now? Their life or their job?
Likewise, as more locations adopt policies prohibiting many people’s self defense options, already marginalized populations necessarily feel the pressure more. Several years ago I received a tearful phone call from a friend in another city. She was sheltering in a public library after running from a man who had sexually assaulted her nearby. It seemed like an easy decision, but what if she had a mace canister buried in her backpack? Under SB 554, instead of finding sanctuary, she could now be a felon for violating laws promoted to the public as reducing gun violence. While my white co-worker might feel secure in authorities giving her a pass on that, in this case my friend hiding from her assailant was a Black woman, too afraid of the police to call 911.
None of these complications are discussed in major media accounts of SB 554. Instead it’s described only as a bill to mandate safe storage of firearms and allow greater restrictions on where guns can be carried. It’s understandable why people are concerned about these issues. Firearms remain a hot commodity for theft, and while hindering access in emergency situations is problematic, greater numbers locked up securely will hopefully reduce unauthorized access. Likewise, as someone who has faced down armed fascist groups on the streets many times, I understand more than most the knee-jerk impulse to ban firearms from public places.
Being a butch white man, personal safety is rarely a concern for me. Potential predators detect a hard target and cops see a buddy they’d probably enjoy some beers with. Yet among many women- or any less physically intimidating individuals, daily life often resembles an anxiety ridden obstacle course… taking inconvenient routes around dark streets, staying alert for signs an abusive ex is back in town or checking in with friends during dates. Large numbers of people I know habitually carry self defense spray. It’s unlikely anyone would support limiting their ability in doing so, yet SB 554 has done this with virtually no discussion. We can argue about gun control… but when the safety of our most vulnerable neighbors is compromised as a byproduct, only dangerous abusers benefit.
I began publishing my ‘zine, American Gun Culture Report, in 2005 to counter harmful firearms media narratives. These pervaded mainstream publications like Guns & Ammo or American Rifleman, where virtually every article was written by a white man from a right-wing political perspective. Fifteen years later, the old magazines have gone digital and their dominance is challenged by thousands of smaller weblogs, internet sites and video channels. However, it’s only a competition over advertising dollars. Firearms media remains overwhelmingly populated by white men placed along a regressive spectrum from simply conservative to outright fascist. If anything, diversity of opinion is shrinking and tolerance for others embracing the 2nd Amendment sadly diminished.
My past relationship with American gun culture figures was generally affable. Shortly before his 2006 death, I corresponded with Jeff Cooper, the developer of modern pistol shooting techniques, (and major right wing icon) who offered warm congratulations on my writing project.* In 2008 I confronted American Handgunner editor Roy Huntington, after his magazine seemingly endorsed anti-gay prejudice and he cordially wrote back, disavowing any accidental intolerance.** Then in 2010 I organized a fundraising event for the Oregon Firearms Federation with all leftist and other non-traditional gun clubs in the Portland area contributing. OFF director Kevin Starrett cheerfully accepted our cash and made a speech, stating that the 2nd Amendment was for everyone, no matter their identity or political stance.
Those days are long gone. Instead of conservatives pleased by others simultaneously accepting the twin gospels of John Browning and John Brown, it now only takes casual mention on the internet that I’m a leftist who teaches gun safety before death threats come along. Here in Oregon, Kevin Starrett currently spends time absurdly bemoaning public health measures amidst a pandemic that has killed over ¼ million Americans. In such abysmal times, it’s truly joyful when something better comes along.
Tacticool Girlfriend is definitely something better. Piercing through gun culture saturated by opinionated white men, she’s a leftist of color whose internet channel presents firearms advice suitable for beginners, yet more advanced viewers will still pick up valuable information. For instance, often neglected subjects like safety habits, first aid kits and hazardous lead contamination receive welcome attention. For a new voice where it’s most needed, check out her youtube and feel free to pick up TCGF gear as well.
RE: Is there anything particular that sparked the TCGF project?
TCGF: Honestly, I had been hoping to see something like this manifest for years. Everyone around me was constantly bemoaning mainstream gun culture and agreeing that we needed more diverse, alternative voices from our own communities within this realm. I certainly was one of those people and eventually got tired of asking and just decided to take it on myself. I’m really hoping to offer a refreshing, unique perspective that is more welcoming and not nearly as alienating as the majority of the monoculture around firearms tends to be. I have a strong stomach for it, but I’ve realized throughout the years how many people around me were holding back from getting into shooting because they were so repulsed by the paradigm around it. I’m really hoping to see that change.
RE: What’s your firearms background ? Is it something you grew up with or learned about later?
TCGF: I grew up in a home that was fairly anti-gun. The most I ever shot was an airgun in my childhood. It wasn’t until my late teens that I actually ended up getting into airsoft with some friends of mine, but I wasn’t terribly interested in the real thing yet. Eventually, those friends gifted me my first rifle – probably the same for a lot of people, a 91/30 Mosin-Nagant. I’ve always been an avid amateur historian and at this time, it was a perfect entry point to pique my interest in historical firearms. I would eventually snag a Tokarev TT-33 as well. It wasn’t until 2016, however, that I started to get into more contemporary firearms and look at them from a more practical, defensive standpoint.
RE: When studying the past, what events or epochs do you find most fascinating?
TCGF: It’s cliche, but I’ve spent a lot of time studying World War II. Beyond that, I really find the turn of the 19th to 20th century as well as the 1960s both very fascinating pivotal times across the world in general. Almost no matter where you look, things were evolving quite rapidly during those years, culturally and politically, often in tumultuous and unpredictable ways.
RE: Your videos are generally apolitical, though we live in an era where simply wearing masks implies taking a stance. Is it important for you to keep politics on the periphery?
TCGF: While I do have very specific political views, I want to make my channels as accessible and factual as possible. I could have taken a more specific BreadTube approach to appealing to a particular base, but I’m hoping to keep things more technical than anything. Also, while this isn’t normally my approach, in this project, I am hoping to span across spheres and reach people to bring us closer together and hopefully introduce perspectives where they normally wouldn’t cross otherwise. In essence, I simultaneously want to grow a more openly diverse community and normalize that moving forward. I need to break that mold somehow.
RE: How would you describe yourself politically and in what ways does that relate to firearm issues for you?
TCGF: That’s a good question. Labels are poor substitutes for describing the actual substance of a person’s identity, beliefs, and outlook. That being said, I’d call myself an anarchist without adjectives. There’s so many schools of thought and real life applications for various forms of ideology and understanding; too many to list and some that can’t truly be put into words. I don’t like being pigeonholed so I’ll leave it at that for now.
RE: So far you’ve covered quite a variety of subjects, from specific firearms reviews to general first aid and concepts like concealed carry. What would you like to cover next?
TCGF: I want to keep going with fundamentals and concepts such as techniques and gear, down to gear reviews like my latest. I don’t want to only become a gear review channel though, there’s so much to cover and I don’t have any shortage of topics on my ever-growing list. The skill sets and hardware required for various methods of firearm usage could be covered only in large volumes of books. Right now, I think I’m going to focus more on breakdowns of my setups and other examples to provide folks with a comprehensive base to build their own.
RE: For such a relatively brief existence, TCGF has really taken off in popularity. What factors do you see as creating that success?
TCGF: I’m really surprised just how successful it’s been so far. The audience I’m reaching is bigger than I could have ever imagined and it continues growing. I do truly think it’s because a lot of folks are relieved to finally have a source of firearms information that isn’t what they normally would be repulsed by. The base has always been there, it’s just been dormant and waiting for something like this, I think.
RE: The quality of your videos is very well done. Do you have a background in filmwork yourself or credit a talented production team?
TCGF: Thank you! I have always had a passion for photography, so I suppose that translates well into this. But I’ll be honest, I’ve never done video work until now. I’m certainly learning a lot as a result, though. It’s all been solo too, other than having friends do a little filming of me at the range for b-roll and such.
RE: Over the years I’ve enjoyed many encounters that really challenged gun culture stereotypes. Have you had notable experiences like that?
TCGF: The recent rise of people from the left arming themselves and organizing in ways that haven’t really occurred on such a scale since the 1970s is quite refreshing. We’re seeing a huge influx of people into this paradigm that normally never “belonged” in a cultural sense. Seeing clubs and groups across the country sprout up, bigger names being the SRA and JBGC, has been setting the stage for a significant shift in the status quo in this ecosystem. I think it’s allowed me to interface with people I normally wouldn’t and at least introduce visibility among people who may not otherwise come across certain people, outside poorly characterized mentions in news articles.
It’s really exciting to challenge the notion of what a gun owner looks like. Some people still have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that I’m actually doing what I’m doing – I get a kick out of that. Some of the responses I get on my posts on social media are especially entertaining. I’ll never forget the time that someone claimed that I have a boyfriend who let me “play with his guns” and that I had an elaborate training and filming crew, as if I couldn’t own firearms myself and run this entire channel solo, sans having a friend here and there grab some footage of me (with my camera no less) at the range.
RE: Do you have a favorite firearm, in whatever way that means to you?
TCGF: Honestly, not to be pedestrian, but I love my AR-15 more than any other gun I’ve owned. It’s boring because it’s so easy to operate and just works every time. It’s very utilitarian. I appreciate mine all the more because I assembled it myself.
RE: I really like the honeycomb pattern on it. Is that using spray paint and fishnets or from a higher end process?
TCGF: That was just a pattern created by using a laundry basket net mesh as a stencil with the spray paint.
RE: You described your upbringing as fairly anti-gun. Is that still a sensitive family topic or something you’ve had success getting past?
The topic certainly creates some tension among my parents, namely my father. He grew up in and fled a country devastated by war. I can’t blame him in the slightest for having such a negative association with firearms. He’s more than entitled to his disgust for them (especially from a political perspective when it comes to how he relates that to the arms industry) and I absolutely sympathize with that. We simply agree to disagree and get along just fine with that.
RE: If money and access was no object, what firearm or weapon would you like to review?
TCGF: Probably something full auto, like an MG3 no doubt.
(Above) If you have one of these, TCGF would like to borrow it.
* I initially sent Cooper a letter listing many of his most notorious stances over the years, from supporting South Africa’s apartheid regime, other fascist governments and making various racist statements. He exhibited zero remorse but seemed to appreciate being challenged. Cooper doubted that leftist gun culture existed, let alone any worth writing about, but urged me to “carry on” and said he found our discussion “stimulating.” 5/11/2005
Elise Letizia uses she/her pronouns, lives in New Hampshire and runs an internet project called The Liberal Hunting Enthusiast which exists on Instagram, WordPress and Youtube. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. All photos used with permission from her IG account.
Ross: How long have you been a hunter and what sparked that?
Elise: Two years ago my dog caught and killed a rabbit in our yard. I was going to compost it (since I worked for a commercial composting company that could handle meat and bones) but instead decided to utilize the meat, so I skinned and cleaned it and made a delicious rabbit stew. This was the experience that connected my theoretical interest in hunting to a tangible one.
Ross: What sort of raining or education have you undertaken?
Elise: My husband and I took an online hunter education with an in-person field day last April and obtained our New Hampshire licenses after that. We did a mentored grouse hunt in October as well as a deer hunt with a friend. Both hunts were amazing but we did not harvest an animal. I went out over the winter for a small game season (snowshoe hare and squirrel) with still no harvest. We’re participating in spring turkey and haven’t harvested anything yet, but love the experience and learning curve!
Ross: Is this related to other sporting pursuits?
Elise: I have always been an outdoor enthusiast with a love for nature and the environment. I studied natural resources at an agricultural high school and have been passionate about sustainability since then, including our food sources (in regards to both animal protein and produce). I took the NH Natural Resources Stewardship program in 2015 and one of the classes was about hunting and the North American Model of Conservation. I was amazed to learn about the history of hunting and trapping in the US and about how the current model is sustainable for both game and non-game species conservation. I love the idea of conservation through ethical consumption, and fully believe that supplementing my diet with hunting, fishing, foraging is the most sustainable way to source food, especially living in a rural area.
Ross: What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about hunters?
Elise: One is that hunters just want to shoot an animal. I have never met a hunter that thought like that, and in fact, in my experience hunters are very concerned with the ethics of harvesting an animal for food. I think there is a stereotype of hunters being a certain demographic and while historically true, there are more women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and Liberal/Left people getting into hunting and firearm ownership! That is exciting, I am passionate about making these practices widely available and accessible to all people.
Ross: Were you a gun owner before becoming a hunter? Would you still have firearms if not for that purpose?
Elise: My husband bought a rifle before we were into hunting with the intent to use for hunting and home defense. I was less than thrilled, but over time going to the range, I became interested in shooting sports. Then, when I wanted to start hunting I got a Ruger 10/22 for small game like squirrels and rabbits. I now own a 20 gauge Mossberg 500 for turkey, upland bird, and small game. I also have Glock 48 that I carry with me when hunting or hiking alone. I think now, with the understanding of firearms I have gained, I would still own firearms even if I did not hunt.
Ross: Do you use the term Liberal as your political identification in a general sense? Is there anything on the Left spectrum that you resonate with more specifically?
Elise: I do use this term in a very general sense. Liberalism: being open to new behaviors or opinions, a willingness to discard regressive traditional values and embracing education for broadening a person’s knowledge. Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others, but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty. I am definitely Left-leaning in regards to social betterment and individual civil rights/liberties, and actually see the 2nd Amendment as a part of this – something that directly supports these views.
Ross: Many Liberals I’ve known considered hunting unethical. How would you respond to their concerns?
Elise: I love and respect animals, and was a vegetarian for several years, although my friends will tell you I was the worst vegetarian, frequently eating meat when local and sustainable options were available – for me, my body just feels better when I have some animal protein. I was definitely on board with the idea of hunting but wasn’t sure I could handle the complexity of caring about animals and also hunting them for food. I think this paradox is part of what keeps me interested, it’s a challenging practice – one that is almost spiritual for me (as an eclectic agnostic).
Ross: Does the Democratic Party resonate with you?
Elise: I no longer identify as a Democrat (for many reasons, mostly that partisan politics and the assumption that one will blindly accept a specific stance on any given issue) and think of myself as an independent and even a moderate who is willing to work toward common ground and better dialogue involving difficult issues. I am always trying to entertain new perspectives with the goal toward understanding and empathy, not necessarily agreement. I feel most strongly about the equity of all peoples, such as LGBTQ rights and achieving racial justice.
Ross: What led you to start this project and what are your goals with it?
Elise: I wanted to give my Left-leaning friends and family a unique perspective on hunting and firearm ownership, a lived experience not often portrayed by mainstream media (usually there is a very negative stereotype around gun ownership and hunting). My goals are simply to provide that perspective in hopes that it can cultivate understanding for these subjects.
Ross: Have you gotten any pushback? If so, is it more from anti-hunting folks or Right-wingers who don’t want Liberals taking away their issues?
Elise: Actually, I have received very little pushback. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many Left-leaning folks are open-minded to what I have to say (possibly because most of my current followers know me personally). There have been a few that simply don’t want to entertain this perspective, perhaps it complicated their own belief system and challenges them in a way they aren’t ready or willing to deal with – and that is okay, too. Most of my Conservative followers are supportive since my experience tends to shed a more positive light on them than mainstream media, and the gun community and hunting community are far more welcoming and accepting than I ever would have imagined. Of course, there are always outliers – I’ve been called a “snowflake” a time or two, it can sting at first but I remind myself that snowflakes are beautiful and unique and try to take it as a compliment.
Ross: Are you involved with any groups related to hunting or shooting?