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.
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
Customization is an important part of being a gun owner. Discovering individual preferences that come into play through selecting different trigger weights, sights, hand grip and stock styles are major ways to become a more effective shooter. Making those adjustments yourself as much as possible creates familiarity that only helps the process. But it’s not just technical upgrades that are available. Some people prefer shiny stainless steel finishes and others classic gunmetal blue. Aftermarket options exist that can make the final product completely unrecognizable from its original state.
Still, it’s important to be sensible about your choices. I remember years ago reading an article by gun expert Massad Ayoob where he discussed ways juries become biased about armed defensive situations. He maintained the more aggressively a firearm was named or appeared played significant part in influencing verdicts. In other words, someone who defended themselves with a Masterpiece Arms Grim Reaper would come across as more sinister than the same person bearing an STI Lawman, even if all other circumstances were the same.
Ayoob advised that anyone selecting a concealed carry weapon should always imagine how, worse case scenario, it might come across in court. For example, I once met a man who carried a Glock pistol he had engraved with an image of the mid ‘90s subculture comics character Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. The fellow laughed off my concern, but I remember declaring that should he ever actually used the pistol, it wouldn’t matter if a whole kindergarten was saved, he would still end up before a horrified jury trying to justify that name.
Because gun culture is so embarrassingly hyper-masculine, it’s unsurprising many companies now offer customized versions of firearms catering to such unwise aesthetics. Massad Ayoob has written about his dim view of the comics vigilante Punisher skull that can be found emblazoned on many guns and several manufacturers make AR-15 lower receivers with not only death’s head graphics but even cast into actual skull shapes. As a design, the results are unavoidably tacky, but also point towards literal overkill. Firearms already look intimidating enough without excessive machismo making gun culture less accessible.
Besides intimidating imagery, even worse are the political themes. One particular company, Spike’s Tactical, has become especially notorious on that front. Probably their best known offering is the AR-15 “Snowflake” lower receiver with fire control options ranging from:
“SAFE SPACE” (safe)
“FULL LIBTURD” (fully automatic)
Yet Spike’s most toxic product is the AR-15 “Waterboarding Instructor” receiver. This one lets operators select between:
In short, scoffing at serious war crimes. It’s simply shocking that a company who markets itself to law enforcement and the military would openly advocate state sanctioned torture, even disguised as a lame joke. Our grandparents generation executed Japanese officials after WWII for committing such atrocities. The permissive culture among modern day Right wingers merely sees an excuse to chuckle and make a few bucks.
However, Spike’s Tactical doesn’t limit their politics to just mocking sensitive liberals or applauding government sponsored terrorism. Just four months after the 2017 Unite the Right Rally, organized by White Nationalists in Charlottesville, where one of them murderously rammed a vehicle into massed counter-demonstrators, Spike’s issued a new ad campaign showing several men in tactical gear with AR-15 rifles facing down black masked figures. The copy read: “NOT TODAY ANTIFA,” with a list of multiple cities where anti-Fascist actions had occurred, including Charlottesville. In a press release, Spike’s described their graphic as simply reacting against Antifa, a so-called “violent group,” dodging the fact it clearly demonstrated solidarity with groups committing actual violence across America whose rising death tolls have required stringent anti-Fascist responses.
Unfortunately these regressive trends are only growing among firearms manufacturers. Most recently Palmetto State Armory got into the game with their “Build the Wall” AR-15 receiver, marked:
“10 FEET HIGHER”
This is particularly sickening given that President Trump’s wall building rhetoric has accompanied horrificabuses along the border region. In fact, at one recent rally, Trump simply laughed when one of his supporters advocated shooting immigrants on the Mexican frontier. We truly live in a culture beyond parody. How much longer until some marketer comes up with a special “Muslim Ban” or “Proud Pussy Grabber” themed firearm?
For the moment, it’s definitely an uphill battle, but Leftists need to tear gun culture back from the Right wing forces who have dominated it far too long. The human rights of self and community defense belongs to everyone, not only those burdened with fragile male egos and stunted political views. Let’s hope for a day when someone makes a Harriet Tubman rifle receiver. They can label its fire controls:
In America today, many people experience relatively little contact with police and subsequently base their opinions about law enforcement more through media portrayals than reality. My life has provided examples in three distinct ways that are worth sharing.
Personal: I’m a working class white man in Portland who often carries a gun. That makes for a lot of common ground between myself and most local cops. In virtually every case where I have been pulled over for traffic infractions or had other occasion to interact with police on an individual level, I am treated respectfully and sometimes even like a blue collar brother. Officers waive away multiple equipment violations on my vehicles, simply dispense verbal warnings and after inspecting my Concealed Handgun License (CHL), often feel comfortable casually chatting about firearms. Based on this history, I actually feel more anxiety driving through an intersection where I know red light cameras are posted than if I notice patrol cars following me. That’s textbook White privilege.
On the Job: I work at a building for women who come from domestic violence, substance addiction and houseless backgrounds. This population suffers high levels of trauma, PTSD and mental illness, making for a highly vulnerable community. As one might imagine, the site is a natural magnet for male predators in search of victims. We dial 911 as needed.
While every filmatic treatment features these calls being answered immediately by a capable human, in reality there is often a messaging system, significant wait, and eventually a harried operator looking for excuses to divert any concern towards non-emergency services. Here’s one classic example:
A very large intoxicated man came into the building after visiting hours one night, terrorizing everyone with his yelling and drunken antics. The 911 operator didn’t consider this very serious and passed me off to non-emergency. They in turn advised me that police would respond when they had time. Women kept approaching me in tears, asking why nobody cared about their safety. After a couple hours, four officers responded and made the man leave. About twenty minutes later he returned and gained entry once again, resuming his previous behavior. 911 still didn’t consider this man who had repeatedly violated a women’s shelter to be worth their time. Non-emergency once again said police would respond whenever possible. Around 4am, two cops finally showed up and reluctantly heard my account of the evening. They ran the man’s name through their database and told me this individual in our building was a notorious violent felon and they had standing orders to only deal with him in groups of four or more. With that information passed along, they swiftly departed, leaving us to handle the situation ourselves.
Or try one from just last week:
A nine month pregnant resident had been repeatedly beaten by the father of her child and so we trasspassed him from the building. One afternoon he showed up outside, screaming threats against the woman and specific staff members. Terrified, she warned us that he was extremely violent and had a gun. Our building manager called 911 and amazingly, when an officer showed up over an hour later, the man was still outside. The cop behaved in a very condescending manner with the manager (also a woman) as though her account of the situation couldn’t be trusted. Then, while talking to the resident, who remember, was extremely pregnant and whose life had just been threatened, the police officer yelled at her, accusing her of being too emotional. If this unprofessional manner wasn’t enough, the cop eventually strolled outside to speak with the man whose actions caused all this in the first place. The two of them laughed together, joked around and even exchanged a friendly fist bump before the officer left. Both men were White. The pregnant woman is Black.
Update from 12/3/18
The same man who had beaten his pregnant ex (and was disrespected by a cop when she warned them he was dangerous and armed) showed up at the building with a shotgun and tried to force his way inside. Police appeared and peacefully arrested the man, then released him on bail just a few hours later.
Politically: I could go on and on about historic collaboration between law enforcement and regressive social forces in America, but one current event carries more immediate gravity. On August 4th, the right wing group Patriot Prayer, known for attracting White Nationalists and fascists, (including one who murdered two people last year) held a rally in Portland. A large community response turned up, opposing them. Police in riot gear separated both groups, and then abruptly turned on the counterprotesters, firing 40mm concussion grenades designed for airbursts, directly into the crowd. Several people were badly injured, including one man struck in the back of the head so hard it shattered his helmet. If not for that safety device, he would surely be dead.
In Summary: As a working class White man in Portland, on an individual level I am given the benefit of most doubt by police officers. “Better fix that tail light, buddy!” or “Remember next time, you really gotta carry insurance papers!” or even “How do ya like that 9mm carry rig?”
But once I reach out to law enforcement requesting help at a facility assisting women on the lowest rungs of society, that all evaporates. Suddenly I’m a time waster. A generator of annoying paperwork. The people I work with aren’t perceived as trustworthy and male abusers seem greatly sympathetic by comparison. We are dismissed as quickly as possible, left to figure out problems on our own, yet with little authority.
It’s even worse once I operate as part of a collective opposing injustice in our community. Police officers have wide discretion in their use of violence and low accountability. The cop who fired what was nearly a lethal shot against the antifascist activist recently clearly felt little reason for concern, despite being caught on camera violating the proper use of a crowd control weapon.
The answer is real community policing.* Average people may not be able to interpret forensic clues that catch some devious mastermind, but most crime is highly localized. We all know our neighborhoods; the usual flow of people, which houses host loud parties and who yells at their spouses daily. Law enforcement must be decentralized so that first responders in an emergency are from that same community, already know the background situations and have a stake for how everything turn out. If power is abused, there should be a transparent review process with actual consequences. By the same token, consequences must exist for individuals making frivolous accusations, which are often used to target minorities.
Until power is granted to govern our own communities, people will simply rely on distant authority figures with little personal investment in the outcomes of their work. Every day I see a direct human cost when the solutions are obvious. We can do so much better.
*Virtually every police force claims that they practice community policing. See here for a typical jumble of buzzwords that the Portland bureau hammered together.
Together their surnames sound like a Black Metal band on trial for church arson, but Oliver North and Marion Hammer recently managed in just one day to throw additional fuel on everything that makes the National Rifle Association such a trash fire.
On May 7th, the NRA announced their next president, an iconic position historically often given to retired military officers or more recently, Right Wing public personas. Lt. Col. North fills both requirements. While he came across sympathetically to many during the 1980s as a stoic scapegoat from the Iran-Contra scandal, his career more recently involved playing a Fox News contributor in the most typical scribble-by-numbers sense. Wide eyed disbelief at how Democrats allegedly hate police officers, sorrowful head shaking when activists shout anti-war slogans and incongruous outrage at NFL players peacefully kneeling during the national anthem as protest against State Terror by police forces.
Instead of winning more people over in support of gun rights, choosing North signals that the NRA seeks no deviation from it’s tragic policy of marrying the 2nd Amendment to regressive political and unrelated social issues. While the human right of self defense should hold universal appeal, it has instead promoted characters like Executive Vice-president Wayne LaPierre, who wrote sarcastically against feminism, singled out Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for attack* and repeatedly blamed shootings on video games. Of course, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests video games make teenagers extremely boring, yet no scientific link has ever been found to demonstrate that digital violence ever leaves the domain of ones and zeroes.
Still, LaPierre’s bungles pale in comparison to NRA board member Ted Nugent who most infamously created a new definition for White privilege when he evaded legal jeopardy after threatening to machine-gun President Obama, besides calling him a “subhuman mongrel” and then issuing a half-apology no parent would accept from their six-year old. Nugent’s other antics include referring to Hillary Clinton as a “bitch,” whore” and “toxic cunt” besides a whole host of slurs against Black and queer folks among many others. His dimwitted social observations are hardly original among the most ignorant, but by elevating such a man so highly, the NRA irresponsibly gives clear endorsement to such views. One could hardly imagine a better way to alienate decent minded people from the gun rights movement than a 60 second google search of Nugent’s quotes.
Then, if this wasn’t all bad enough, just hours after Oliver North’s new job announcement hit the airwaves, former NRA president Marion Hammer appeared on the NPR program All Things Considered. Immediately she fired off a classic culture wars bazooka. In her social analysis, the root cause of gun violence is “the breakdown of families. Parents don’t raise children the way they used to. There are too many children who grow up on their own without guidance.”
Hammer didn’t specify further, but it’s clear where she was riding the family values train and is an easy argument to dismiss. For example, divorce rates in the European Union as a whole are roughly identical to the United States, just under 50%. However, the EU is much more friendly territory for gay marriage and adoption, gender equality, including trans rights, not to mention atheism, abortions, birth control access…etc…etc…in other words, the vast host of issues that conservatives blame on destroying traditional virtues. Yet despite these trends not increasing divorce rates, they also don’t lead to Europeans murdering one another with the same enthusiasm as Americans. It’s obviously something else.
Unfortunately, North, LaPierre, Nugent and Hammer are ideological prisoners, clawing at any excuse to blame shootings on something besides guns, yet ignoring what actually makes the United States so dangerous. Institutional racism is a huge factor, yet kneeling at football games never hurt anybody. Video games don’t kill, but toxic forms of masculinity remain dominant themes among mass murderers. Healthy families are obviously important, but children raised by queer parents are no worse than others. Systemic poverty destroys whole communities, leading to tragic violence levels, yet the NRA would rather play off skewed Right Wing social biases than face the truth. It weakens their organization long term and sadly, hampers the work of everyone who cares about the right to be armed.
*Both from Wayne LaPierre and James Jay Baker. Shooting Straight: Telling the Truth About Guns in America. Regnery Publishing, Washington DC, 2002. 3 & 129.
Language Choices:The way we talk frames everything else and couldn’t be more crucial because the real goal is persuading others. For example, when people discuss why they own firearms, it frequently comes from a perspective that makes the issue seem overly individualistic. Take a more collective approach and use words like Community Defense. Avoid cliche stances and arguments. Employ current terms that identify your social awareness. Learn the history of government sanctioned violence in America. Explain how oppressed peoples have always banded together using every tactic of resistance at their disposal, including arms. Point out how gun restrictions historically disempower such marginalized groups. Clearly condemn White Supremacist and police terrorism.
Humanize Adversaries: Understand that people who support gun control don’t hate freedom, they just hate seeing dead children on television. Conversely, make it clear where your own beliefs come from. For myself, I purchased my first gun after an extended research project about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It impressed me that such effective mass murder could take place largely with machetes and made me reevaluate what causes violence in societies. I wanted to become a more valuable member of my community in case of collective attacks against vulnerable people, as has happened in America before.
Make Concessions: People often enter a political debate convinced that compromise means weakness but there’s nothing wrong with flexibility. Good faith negotiations require that on both sides. Recognize we never get exactly what we want in life and especially not in politics. Pick a few things worth bending around. Maybe that’s raising certain age limits, or requiring more intensive safety classes for concealed handgun licenses or regulating bump stocks like full-auto rifles are already.
Check Your Privilege: People often take this the wrong way, but it’s not so hard to understand. Just be honest about who you are and how you got where you are. For example, I arrived where I am in life through tons of hard work but unavoidably also by taking advantage of my ruling class race and gender. That doesn’t mean everything came easy but it sure helped give me a leg up over many other people and it’s foolish to pretend that isn’t part of my success. Don’t let reality make you defensive, but instead take it as a lesson in humbleness.
Burn the NRA: This is a great time for anyone who cares about the future of self defense to incinerate their NRA card. When gun control supporters criticize them, vehemently join in. Point out how during the early 20th century, when Black Americans were put on trial for defending themselves against lynch mobs, they sat on the sidelines as leftists like the attorney Clarence Darrow upheld the 2nd Amendment in court as a human right for everyone. The NRA is racist, a fear mongering disaster and completely incompetent. Don’t hesitate to distance yourself from that cultural trash inferno.
Avoid Macho Posturing: Remember that advertisement from a few years back suggesting an AR-15 could reissue your “man card?” Ever notice how many guys like to pose for internet photos with their pistol pointed directly at the camera? What about all the machismo flying around about how .45 pistols are more manly than 9mm? These are all pretty much the definition of toxic masculinity in action and turn otherwise sympathetic people against gun culture.
Health Care Hypocrisy: There’s few things more embarrassing than when 2nd Amendment supporters suddenly become mental health advocates. If you are a Conservative, Liberals will immediately want to know what you have ever done that could strengthen the social safety net in general or specifically provide funding for mental health care. Besides scapegoating the mentally ill, should it turn out you voted for candidates or policies that actually reduced access to such services, this political dodge won’t fly very far.
Big Picture Mentality: It’s the long view that matters. People focus on particular details or anecdotes that reinforce their narrative but remember that social violence in America is a giant spectrum. It goes up and down through complicated factors unrelated to how many weapons are available or what regulations exist. Don’t let sensational incidents distract from the fact that most gun related deaths involve pistols, close proximity and a small number of shots fired.
Less Flag Waving: Most Liberals have a knee jerk reaction against the kind of bloated pageantry that many right-wingers enthusiastically embrace. They are rightfully suspicious after so many terrible disasters from the Vietnam and Gulf Wars to the Patriot Act came packaged inside red, white and blue wrapping paper. Ideas should stand on their own merits without patriotic camouflage. Don’t let gun rights be visually lumped in with so many other failed and ignoble exercises.
Don’t Open Carry: I understand how for many folks, the open carry movement is about culturally normalizing firearms and raising awareness. These are completely worthwhile sentiments. However, if you’re trying to win people over by showing off a black rifle in the deli line, some reevaluation is in order. This comes across as an intimidation tactic and makes few friends compared to the numbers it alienates.
The March for Our Lives movement has been getting a lot of attention lately. It’s always inspiring to see young people getting active towards causes that bring about positive change. However, this particular one exhibits fundamental problems that demand examination. A helpful way to illustrate what’s wrong in a substantive manner is by making political comparisons with the modern Tea Party. Let’s rewind for a moment and see how that’s important.
Back in 2009, American conservatives hit especially hard times. During a two term Republican administration under George W. Bush, the country became mired in Eastern wars with no end in sight, plus entering the worst economic depression since 1929. The middle class, long in decline, contracted even more sharply. People who leaned right politically suddenly found long held assumptions shattered, with establishment Republicans unable to offer satisfying answers. On top of that, Democrats had elected Barack Obama as president, a Black man (with an Eastern sounding name no less), overturning centuries of cultural and racial precedent.
For Americans with a liberal bent, that provided an outlet: Reject the Bush era wars and policies by voting for Obama and give him a chance to fix things. Even among us leftists who expected little from corporate Democrats anyway, there was a hopeful sense afoot, at least enough to keep off the streets for a while and see what would happen next.
That’s why, when rage erupted against government bailouts for the financial industry, whose unregulated greed had caused the economic crash, it came from the right, even though leftists had been leading critics of corporate welfare for decades. However, that anger became channeled aside almost immediately. When news pundit Rick Santelli made his famous rant against the banks, he explicitly did so in the name of Capitalism, calling for a “New Tea Party.” Many American conservatives resonated with his message, something Republican party apparatchiks tied strongly to Wall Street, couldn’t effectively voice.
What emerged from all this was a movement of people with very legitimate grievances against the status quo, yet guided and amplified by wealthy interests such as the Koch brothers. Foregoing any critique that could effectively address economic inequality, the Tea Party ultimately recycled familiar failed ideas. Instead of corporate accountability, their 10 point plan advocated striking down environmental regulations and subsidized health care, besides supporting lower taxes and more respect for the Constitution…etc, etc.
Shift forward to 2018 and it’s the Democrats in trouble. They self-sabotaged a popular candidate out of their own presidential primary in favor of one with a more business friendly platform, only to see her lose against Donald Trump, whose constant bungles would have made any other politician’s campaign self implode. Despite everything but a Mt. Rushmore sized neon sign advertising that Americans are hungry for serious political and economic reform, Democrats have still largely been content offering half-hearted resistance in the face of Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric, support for White nationalism and whatever the scandals du jour may be.
In other words, March for Our Lives materialized at a similar point in time but reversed. It’s also inspired by perfectly legitimate concerns: violence in American society is widespread, unavoidable and everyone knows someone affected. Women abused by partners, soldiers with PTSD from unnecessary wars and even whole communities of color terrorized by police departments. Of course, violence isn’t unique to the US, but a particular form of mass murder has become notorious within American society, what emergency drills call an active shooter. It’s specifically such an individual who caused the deaths of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida last February, spurring the movement’s formation.
There are naturally significant differences besides similarities. The Tea Party arrived after economic catastrophe on a national scale as part of longtime worsening trends. Members of society most affected by it came from lower class and marginalized populations whose mass displacement into homelessness, addiction and suicide can never be fully quantified. March for Our Lives, on the other hand, mobilized in response to school shootings, a phenomenon on the decline for decades, despite sensational incidents played up in the media. Victims of class warfare are nameless, frequently unsympathetic figures. Solutions to economic problems, guaranteed incomes for example, often seem vague or too radical. Murdered tenagers, on the other hand, are universally relatable. People want tangible solutions and the issues appear more clear cut: simply curtail guns to stop guns killing people. Fundamental critiques of the social inequities that cause violence are more difficult to digest or be summed up in a meme.
Here’s how it broke down in practice. The Tea Party took widespread outrage against economic injustice and directed it safely away from taking up measures that might threaten the status quo. Right wing business interests funneled money toward the movement and conservative media outlets gushed enthusiastic coverage. By the same token, almost a decade later, March for Our Lives quickly allied with powerful economic forces. Democratic billionaire Michael Bloomberg provided assistance and high end fashion brand Gucci became its first large doner, besides other corporate backers. Citibank got in on the action, making moves to pressure clients toward more gun restrictions as did Walmart and other major retailers. Even prominent universities pledged they would not look askance at applicants disciplined by their high schools after walking out of classes for anti-gun protests. Then on March 24th, mainstream media outlets suspended ordinary schedules to provide live streaming coverage from Washington DC and other local marches.
Contrast that with the treatment of movements bringing other serious social problems to the fore. Would Gucci fund an event against police terror? Lyft drive anti-war demonstrators around for free? Citibank support protests highlighting Wall Street corruption? Look at news coverage for some perspective. The January 20th Women’s March culminated one year after the first, a year during which sexual violence, workplace discrimination and cultural misogyny rose to a level of awareness never seen before. Powerful men fell from grace, even well known offenders who had previously lived immune from conduct criticism. Significant subjects were raised that affected absolutely everyone in society. Despite this, the massive event took place with scarcely any attention from major networks.
Women’s issues, though directing affecting more than 50% of the population, are just one of many fallen by the wayside in comparison with the current media obsession around gun control. It’s a shame, because social violence is a serious problem and should be addressed as such. Like anything else, it’s the big picture that counts, yet March for Our Lives becomes fixated on minutia, often with little concern for facts. As observed before, school shootings are rare and declining, yet the movement claims them as an epidemic, just as it demonizes semi-auto rifles, which are only used in a tiny fraction of crimes. It doesn’t make for sensational headlines, but the vast majority of murders involve handguns, close proximity to the victim and only a few shots fired. Still, fear becomes drummed up around “assault rifles,” “high-capacity magazines,” and “high-powered” firearms.
Just as the Tea Party channeled conservative angst in a safe direction, March for Our Lives, strongly supported by 1% elites (that many liberals opposed during the Occupy Wall Street movement), appropriates frustration with the emerging Trump era and dilutes it. Suddenly, people who previously opposed regressive economic forces have found themselves on the same side as Walmart, the notorious destroyer of small businesses. Taking just two cases of many, Citibank cynically profited supporting the murderous South African apartheid regime and just last year was forced into settling 97.4 million dollars after a money laundering scandal. Picking up the gun control bandwagon provided much needed good press for both companies.
Still, despite the community destruction and very real bloodshed caused by corporations, it’s rare to find mainstream criticism. CEOs in suits, after all, don’t cast an alarming shadow for most people. Every cause needs a villain and the NRA, with its uncritical backing of Trump and incompetent public relations might as well come from Hollywood central casting. Tone deaf 2nd Amendment supporters openly march with rifles, playing up to embarrassing stereotypes and tying their gun ownership with any number of regressive issues. No wonder armed people on the left have been keeping quiet for fear of social ostracization. Many times lately I’ve seen individuals who own guns for protection, perhaps because of violent former partners or whose grandparents generation fought off the KKK, sit silently while friends (oblivious to that) ask: “Why would anyone need an AR-15?”
Of course, there’s an answer and it’s especially alarming to see liberals clamoring for greater firearm restrictions at the same time as the far right is becoming more radicalized. Emboldened by scarcely veiled support from the Oval Office, domestic fascism has become just another legitimate point of view and White Nationalists gone on the offensive. Tragically, many who formerly claimed solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters pointing out systemic racism in law enforcement, now expect Black populations to disarm and become dependent on those same police for community defense. That scenario is even featured in a major work from the White Power canon, The Turner Diaries, where racist insurgents rejoice after state gun control measures leave neighborhoods of color completely vulnerable to extermination.*
Of course liberals aren’t thinking about that when they opine against semi-auto rifles, despite their historic use in America** by marginalized populations to defend against lynch mobs and other collective attacks. It’s more comforting for them to imagine cartoonish redneck hillbillies being persecuted or camo wearing militia members rounded up. But just as the War on Drugs served as cover for the large scale incarceration of Black and Brown people, who would really be targeted during a War on Guns?
March for Our Lives deserves congratulations for enthusiasm and making effort to spotlight media bias in reporting about shootings in urban versus suburban schools. It may still find its own footing and offer up productive solutions toward reducing violence, however, that’s unlikely so long as the organization marches alongside regressive social forces. The measures it proposes do nothing to challenge institutional racism, skewed economic systems and toxic forms of masculinity, all of which are much larger factors behind violence of all kinds, not simply school shootings or particular tools used for violence. Americans should demand real solutions, not distractions that ignore root causes.
*Andrew Macdonald aka William Pierce. The Turner Diaries. Barricade Books, New Jersey, 1978 (1996 edition). 145.
**For further reading see:
Charles E. Cobb. This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible. Duke University Press, Durham. 2016.
Nicholas Johnson. Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. Prometheus Books, New York. 2014.
Akinyele Omowale Umoja. We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement. New York University Press, New York. 2013.