Tag Archives: Gun Control

SB 554 and the Self Defense Collateral Damage

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.

Biden’s War on Pistol Braces

Why not regulate guns as seriously as toys?

-Nicholas Kristof, New York Times editorial headline, January 12, 2011

“In the US we have more federal regulations over toy guns than real ones”

-Senator Cory Booker, tweeted May 7, 2019

“Everyone knows that teddy bears aren’t as dangerous as firearms. But these classic toys have to satisfy a wide range of safety standards before they make their way into a store, much less a child’s hands. Guns, on the other hand, face few such requirements.”

-Patrick Coffee, Adweek, March 31, 2017

Too many such false generalizations and emotional platitudes dominate firearm debates. It’s absurd, of course, as guns in the US are highly controlled, far beyond most consumer products. Particularly frustrating is how capricious and arbitrary many gun regulations are. For one, the difference between a rifle and pistol is defined by barrel length. Anything over sixteen inches is a rifle. Anything under that is technically a pistol, unless it has a stock for shouldering which makes it a short barreled rifle (SBR). An SBR requires registration, more background checks and additional taxation. This becomes more bizarre upon observing that barrels on US military standard issue M4 carbines are 14.5 inches, making semi-auto civilian versions without stocks technically handguns.

Even more obtuse is that SBRs are supposedly regulated out of fear that short rifles represent a special hazard as concealable for use in crime. This dates from the National Firearms Act of 1934, a legislative backlash against prohibition fueled violence during the ‘20s, sensationalized by gangsters wielding legal, full-auto Tommy guns. But much changed between then and now. Rifles with folding stocks or bullpup designs were unusual in the early 20th century, but later became much more common. Yet as long as their barrel remained over 16 inches, or entire length over 26 inches, no NFA violation occurred. 

Such rifles were untypical among criminals, therefore, no reason was seen to close any alleged “bullpup or folding stock loophole” in the NFA. Gun violence in the US is essentially handgun violence. Pistols are small, easily concealed or disposed if needed, and because most armed exchanges involve only a few shots at very close range, best suited for most illegal endeavors.*

From left to right: Scorpion 9mm pistol with 8” barrel and SB Tactical brace. FN PS90 5.7×28 bullpup rifle with 16” barrel, AK-47 7.62×39 rifle with folding stock and 16” barrel.

Now, the particular design of an M4, just like its more famous relations, the AR-15/M-16, involves a buffer tube that extends behind the hand grip, much like a rudimentary stock itself. Many shooters over the years saved time and money by simply buying short barreled AR pistols and bracing against the buffer tubes for steadiness while firing. Others used slings for the same purpose with stockless AK or other large pistol variations.

Standard AR-15 lower receiver with buffer tube exposed. Left in this condition or with a brace it remains legal for -16” barrel configuration but with a stock, as a +16” rifle or SBR only.

Eventually, a creative Iraq war veteran noticed some disabled vets, who formerly enjoyed sport shooting, might continue if a way existed to strap pistol carbine variants around their forearms. He began modifying the AR platform, which most obviously lent itself toward the effort, as it’s buffer tube already formed an anchor point. In 2013, a company named SB Tactical began producing arm braces for this purpose, with a letter from the ATF certifying them as legal pistol attachments. These became very popular, not only among disabled persons, but anyone who appreciated better controlability. Beside the benefit created using these braces as advertised, it soon became obvious they made shouldering possible. Internet gun culture quickly filled up with articles and videos discussing the potential legality of this practice, and cautioning against posting photos with pistols unstrapped and shouldered, lest regulators find an excuse to ban the devices.

Rear view of SB Tactical brace above and typical AR-15 stock below

For a couple years, braced pistols flew under the mainstream radar. I regularly read anti-gun newsletters and only once or twice saw brief mention. The apparent absence of these pistols (or even proper SBRs with stocks) among violent incidents weakened arguments for greater restriction, so in an odd unspoken truce, both gun control groups and shooting enthusiasts largely kept silent about braces, though for quite different reasons.

Eventually, as more manufacturers began selling braces, the original intent became muddied. From any observers standpoint, it was obvious SB Tactical’s brace was built to be strapped around the users forearm. By contrast, the later Shockwave brace looked more like an actual stock and didn’t even come with straps, though featuring slots they could fit through. The question of what made stocks and braces different revolved more around length of pull than anything else. This refers to the measure between a trigger and the end of a rifle stock, under the idea that a short brace is uncomfortable to shoulder, clearly making it a byproduct of design, not the primary intent. However, every person is different and while someone with long arms might find shouldering a brace problematic, smaller framed individuals could do so with ease.

SB Tactical brace above and Shockwave brace below

As more braces became available, the ATF received increased queries for clarification. It’s understandable why companies desired individual affirmation, as nobody wants a product that is legal one day and a felony the next. In 2015, what many gun owners feared finally happened. A new ruling came out stating that shouldering braces transformed them into an unauthorized SBR. For two years, this firearms accessory actually made people criminals the instant they assumed a particular stance holding it. Then, in 2017 a reversal was issued maintaining braces were legal, no matter how an individual used them.

It took until 2019 before any notable crime involved a braced pistol, the Dayton, Ohio mass shooting which killed nine victims. This tragedy illustrates why cracking down on pistol braces makes little sense. The supposed reason SBRs were originally so heavily regulated is that smaller rifles are somewhat concealable. However, as decades of criminal activity demonstrate, rifles simply aren’t part of most gun violence, no matter their size. In this instance, concealment wasn’t even attempted. The perpetrator suited up with tactical gear from his vehicle before rushing across a parking lot and opening fire on a crowd. While the brace made his 10.5 inch barrel AR style pistol easier to handle, the increased velocity provided by a 16 inch rifle barrel would have actually been deadlier and a proper stock made it even more controllable. It’s obviously small consolation to survivors, but the fact a braced pistol was used likely prevented increased casualties. 

This horrifying event was almost precisely replicated in March of 2021 during the Boulder, Colorado shooting which took ten lives. Again, a 10.5 inch AR style pistol wasn’t concealed by the shooter who wore blatant tactical gear and opened fire across a parking lot. Just as before, a more orthodox rifle would have only raised the body count. However, this took place following the 2020 elections which put Democrats in political majorities and after four years of Trump’s cozy relationship with the NRA, anti-gun supporters were hungry for anything, no matter how symbolic.

Therefore, the fact pistol braces wafted for years amidst a regulatory grey area suddenly became brandished as if they formed significant aspects of mass shootings. Just as Trump banned bump stocks with a simple executive action, President Biden could do the same, and while courts might eventually strike it down, a short term win would be achieved. That’s why anti-gun activists rejoiced when Biden asked the ATF to once more clarify if pistol braces create SBR rifles, with a statement that they “can make a firearm more stable and accurate, while still being concealable.” All this despite the estimated 3-4 million braced pistols already sold, yet which appear in few crimes and none known where concealability played a role.

What’s truly heartbreaking is America actually suffers from significant social violence. Structural racism. The failed war on drugs. Domestic assaults. Rising fascist movements with alarming support inside the police and military. Even within firearm related statistics, the overwhelming majority of deaths are suicides. None of these issues even slightly involve the the tedious minutia regarding how many quarter inches differentiate a brace from a stock.

Banning braces simply means widespread illegal materials abruptly in circulation, more opportunity for biased law enforcement ruining lives, and while many urban liberals likely envision White rural rednecks being persecuted, the reality is always more prisoners of color locked away. Democrats still have time to veer away from squandering political capital in a post-Trump era where real change is possible, not on pointless distraction from real problems.

*The actual number of shots fired during armed encounters is very difficult to determine. Police reports are typically unhelpful and so most estimations are based on anecdotal evidence. However, these tend to agree on the basic elements: that such exchanges are brief, close and with only a few shots fired. In my own experience of interviewing many persons who used firearms for self defense over the years, this bears up, except that in every time related, the mere presence of a gun was sufficient to defuse situations nonviolently.

The Legacy of Doctor Sixgun

“You’re family men, decent enough people. But you’ve got a lot of frustration and hate in you, so you get together and do things that make you feel big and brave, only they aren’t so big and they aren’t so brave when you stop to think about it . . . you’re all sort of ashamed and nobody looks much like a brave hero . . . You men are guilty of murdering your own souls… what’s decent and good in you!” 

-Grey Matson aka Doctor Sixgun, addressing a mob of nightriders

One doesn’t usually think of old time Western radio dramas as a resource for positive social awareness. These epics were traditionally tailored as nationalist mythology to assuage White guilt over genocide against native populations during the bloody conquest of North America. So it’s particularly interesting a vein of the genre, known as “adult Westerns” took a highly complex approach that stood apart from the more common “black hat / white hat” cowboy narratives that portrayed settlers and European colonialism optimistically, while glossing over their human cost.

The most successful of these was surely Gunsmoke, which aired on radio stations from 1952-62 and also in a popular television version until 1975. Yet another lesser known drama from that era remains well worth examining. This show, called Doctor Sixgun, lasted only a single season from 1954-55 and informed listeners through an intro that it’s protagonist was a “symbol of justice and mercy” perhaps warning away Western fans who preferred more macho gunplay and less introspection. 

It followed the exploits of a frontier physician named Grey Matson (played by Karl Weber) known to locals as Doctor Sixgun, yet famed for solving problems through wit and compassion more often than his revolver. While falling for occasional problematic ethnic stereotypes, it’s remarkable how well the storylines hold up. Throughout multiple episodes, Dr. Matson presents sympathetic perspectives regarding nearby Indian tribes without sugarcoating the actions of White townspeople and military officers attempting to exploit or murder them.

Karl Weber in 1945

During one especially wrenching episode, ”Atonement for Cowardice” (November 7, 1954) Dr. Matson intervened after an elderly alcoholic continually degraded himself in public for liquor. However, the man refused any assistance, choosing instead to wear a dog collar and entertain local roughnecks who kept whisky flowing in return. It concluded with the man’s death, but not before letting him share the tragic story he claims caused his condition, lending a final tone of dignity instead of mockery.

Most notable in today’s political environment is “The Immigrant Settler” (October 21, 1954). It began with an introduction from Dr. Matson’s frequent companion, a Romani peddler named Pablo, who declared: “There was the time when my good friend, Doctor Sixgun, had to cure an epidemic, a strange disease which infects men whose heart is filled with hatred.”

The first indication of this epidemic came when a crowd of masked men called “nightriders” assaulted the homestead of an immigrant family, in obvious allusion to the Ku Klux Klan, who were often known by the same term. Significantly, earlier in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education struck down school segregation and brought about a major moment in the American Civil Rights struggle, alongside escalating Klan related political violence against it. Most Doctor Sixgun radio listeners would have immediately made the association with current events.

It’s important to note, while the KKK has since become synonymous with racist lynchings, bombings and other brutalities, this episode aired long before some of their most notorious acts. The 16th St. Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, for example, wasn’t until 1963. It’s possible many White people tuning in would have only associated the KKK with it’s much more socially acceptable incarnation earlier in the 20th century when politicians openly posed for photo ops with hooded Klansmen and President Wilson lauded D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which celebrated them. In other words, painting the KKK as villains in a popular radio script that year was hardly easy virtue signaling.

What’s also interesting is the attacked family were Norwegian immigrants. Many today forget that the concept of White supremacy only recently evolved into an idealization of pan-European culture, often fixated upon Nordic peoples as pinnacles of racial purity. Years before, a strict hierarchy existed in the pseudo-science, which regarded Southern and Eastern Europeans as quite inferior, including the Irish and other western Celts. Scandinavians were sometimes singled out for persecution in America because so many of them became involved with union organizing.

Once Dr. Matson discovered members of his community were being terrorized, he approached the local sheriff, who suddenly showed little enthusiasm for law enforcement, stating: “I’m against this night ridin’ as much as any man, but it’s a thing you can’t fight! For one thing they wear pillowcases… you can’t identify them! . . . the boys are just gettin’ rid of a little steam!”

The reluctant sheriff only agreed he would take action if Dr. Matson could round up a posse of ten or fifteen men. Unfortunately, this attempt at playing Abraham to save the city of Sodom failed. Everyone Matson attempted recruiting either feared the vigilantes, or secretly counted among their ranks. However, his investigation did turn up one woman who informed on her deceitful husband and revealed their next target was Pablo. 

Together, Dr. Matson and Pablo concocted a scheme that caught nine of the nightriders, including their ringleader, a leading sheriff’s deputy who immediately fled town. The remaining men were subjected to a tongue lashing from Matson who passionately decried their inhumanity, leaving them publicly unmasked and ashamed. Pablo then generously declined pressing charges, observing: “…they have harmed themselves enough.”

The whole story, despite being set one-hundred and fifty years in the past and broadcast almost seventy years ago, resonates deeply today. Waves of recent xenophobia would have saddened, but not shocked Doctor Sixgun. He spotlighted how common prejudices among ordinary people can be mobilized into violence, especially when law enforcement is actively complicit, like the guilty deputy- or simply looks away as the weak-willed sheriff preferred. There remains no simple vaccine against this epidemic, which still runs strong, turning infected hearts toward hatred and making immigrants targets. We can learn much from a well-intentioned physician who countered its spread, at least in his part of the West on old time radio waves.

Interview with the Liberal Hunting Enthusiast

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.E5D7A40E-F04A-4DBC-B2A8-0DC3DFF1EF99

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. 668F004B-A921-4BCF-8929-DA99A52C4F1A

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. 

EF06742A-5A63-454B-B952-1ADCDAFBA3EFRoss: 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. 85C369D5-A76F-4FBC-95B7-5215BDFBC476

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?

Elise: Yes, I am a Liberal Gun Club member and the Gun Owners of America as well, although I frequently disagree with some of their sentiments. I don’t belong to the NRA as their original goal of educating people about firearm use and safety has become lost to partisan politics and corruption. I follow several groups like Armed Equality, Pink Pistols, and the National African American Gun Association. I also belong to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.AACB359F-6826-4F5D-BB9F-2C2F1B5C93AF

Unmasked Gun Politics 2020

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(above) Seattle women during the 1918 flu outbreak

One might expect that the Covid-19 pandemic has nothing to do with US gun culture. After all, this is a war being fought at the viral level, with scientists struggling to develop a vaccine and essential workers as exposed front line troops while others remain under quarantine to slow the spread. But this is still America, where the 2nd Amendment creeps through any door left even slightly ajar. 

Massive job layoffs highlight every divide across society and because this catastrophe has pushed the domestic unemployment rate over 14%, here’s an economic confession: I’m a commercial fisherman who often spends months in the Gulf of Alaska and currently works for the facilities department of a housing nonprofit. As long as appliances break, plumbing leaks and electrical systems fail, I’ll be repairing them. Of course, exposure to building residents puts my household at greater risk. The cruel reality is, many desperate people I know from affected industries would happily trade places to gamble their lives (plus those of loved ones) against paying rent and bills.

Therefore, I’m fortunate my paycheck hasn’t decreased as so many others desperately hope unemployment benefits will kick in while strained food banks now supply their families. It’s easy for tech sector employees and upper class professionals to work from home and stay safe, yet entire less fortunate industries have completely vanished. No surprise many among the laid-off lower class resonate with Right-wing agitators calling the epidemic a hoax or spreading other dangerous conspiracy theories.

It’s a convenient shift in reality for White Nationalist and other fascist groups who have surged since the 2016 election. Their xenophobic aims translate neatly into a world increasingly unfriendly toward outsiders, exemplified by President Trump ignoring accepted science based terms in favor of “Chinese virus” amidst a flurry of racist attacks targeting Asians. Right-wing rallies now call for ending stay-at-home orders, where marchers demand they be allowed haircuts in salons and venues be opened once again. Feigned concerns about disease transmission provides an easy smokescreen for anti-immigration measures that long predated Covid-19.

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(above) 1919 ad from the San Francisco Chronicle

This is far from an unprecedented phenomenon. During the 1918 global flu pandemic, some Americans formed an Anti-Mask League, held large protest meetings and a bomb was even intercepted en route to a leading public health official. But support for protecting communities also ran strong. Fines were handed down against individuals who flouted mask ordinances and those who refused to pay or resisted found themselves arrested. In one instance, a San Francisco health officer shot and wounded three people after being assaulted while performing his job. Conversely, in today’s climate, several people have been attacked for either wearing masks themselves or simply requesting others do so. One store employee was apparently murdered after asking a patron to comply with company mask policy.

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(above) from the San Francisco Chronicle in 1918. Let’s bring back “mask slacker.”

In the vein of so many recent Right-wing actions, anti-lockdown protesters now often bring rifles and publicly parade around wearing tactical gear. It must be unsettling to spend so much time and money in preparation for battling sinister forces, but instead find themselves facing overworked nurses and doctors. These medical professionals were generally unarmed, though at least one nurse stood up against the masses endangering her community with a holstered pistol on display.

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(above) Arizona protesters vs. nurses

It’s all far removed from apocalypse scenarios long fantasized about in media and literature. Crafters fabricating masks on sewing machines out of scrap material to supply their co-workers aren’t obvious heroes for those who expected such roles would be played out by patriotic men with AR-15’s. One Right-wing figure I follow on the internet openly bemoaned his sorrow that the end days had seemingly arrived but without zombies or terrorists for him to shoot. I’m glad my original firearms training came from Leftists who taught me that guns form an important part of the activist tool box… but not the only one. Instead of flaunting firepower, my neighborhood quarantine actions have involved less sensational tasks such as building community relationships and sharing frozen fish from last summer’s catch.

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(above) armed protesters outside the Michigan capitol building

However, such productive activities are less displayed in some quarters. On the most overtly militant front, armed protesters invaded the Michigan state capitol building, threatening lawmakers and waving anti-quarantine signs. It seemed they had taken a page from Black Panther tactics over fifty years before. The important difference being, when Black activists did the same thing in California to protest state sanctioned terrorism against their communities, political forces (including the NRA and then-Governor Ronald Reagan) immediately pushed through tighter gun control legislation. Less reported, was that following the Michigan occupations, one Black state Democratic representative refused to be intimidated and showed up at work surrounded by supportive citizens carrying rifles

Still, the big picture remains grim for communities of color. Not only are infection rates higher because of greater job exposure and lower quality medical care, but law enforcement crackdown bias as well. The divide is especially obvious in hot spots like New York where likely well over 20,000 people have died. Under such drastic conditions, quarantine measures are especially serious and face covering remains mandatory. Yet cops in White communities have responded to lawbreakers by handing out free masks. The same activity in Black parts of town saw violators met with no such charity and at least one incident of police violence.

9A944DE3-F544-4783-AD44-2F6F3F1C14BEThe pandemic has also proven useful to gun control groups, who always find images of militia types effective fundraising tools and aren’t above distorting a medical crisis to push their agenda. For example, in late April the Brady organization sent out an email decrying how some firearm retailers had adopted a drive-through model, claiming “guns should not be sold like fast food” and that this allowed “the quick, curbside pick-up of guns.” Of course, they didn’t mention that federal background checks still apply and while individuals might pick out a shiny new revolver while cruising by, they couldn’t take it home any sooner. The reality is, massive increases in purchases have caused delays making guns slower to own than ever before. One friend of mine recently bought his first pistol and took most of a week before being approved. Historically, a more typical wait in Portland is 10-20 minutes.

Covid-19 has highlighted social problems that long existed and simply amplified them. Police brutality, emboldened fascist activity, the growing wealth divide and skewed access to health care. None of these grim realities should be new information. Yet perhaps the most saddening element on display is how many Americans feel even the simple act of wearing a mask to be overly burdensome. President Trump and his staff refuse, even after outbreaks affecting the highest levels of government. On any list of sacrifices, this surely requires the least effort. Their symbolic value carries great weight, besides helping reduce the spread of disease.

Like the armed nurse who donned her mask while facing down anti-quarantine protesters, we can be prepared on multiple fronts and take a stand against harmful ignorance. Jobs come back and money can be earned again but lost human lives are gone forever. So wear masks with pride, demonstrating that some folks still care about making the world beyond themselves a better place. It’s a more necessary idea than ever.

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GSG MP-40 Review: Partisan Edition

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Several years ago German Sport Guns, most well known for producing .22 caliber incarnations of iconic firearms, released a 9mm semi-auto version of the MP-40, probably the most recognizable sub-machine gun from WWII. The first available cost around $650 and received terrible reviews. Probably worse than any I’ve seen before. Videos showed the bolt handle flying off, rear sight loose, a terrible trigger, magazines falling out, repeated failures to feed and more. I immediately put the thought of taking such a risk far from my mind. Three years passed and suddenly an ad showed up in my email. It was the prodigal GSG MP-40, only now priced at $477. I checked the internet and discovered new reviewers reported the gun performing quite well. It seemed GSG had gotten their act together. 

So I ordered one. When it showed up, the sheer weight felt impressive, yet improvements were definitely required. The charging handle was slender and secured by a weak spring inside the bolt but that proved easy to switch out with a thicker one and more robust spring combination. Likewise the trigger bar took only a few minutes to replace with an improved version. The rear sight seemed solid, with a flip up notch for longer range. It also came with several front sights which are easy to slip in place after removing the barrel nut. Original MP-40s used an under folding metal stock, available now as an extra for those who don’t mind the trouble of a tax stamp. I preferred a side folding SB Tactical brace which is much cheaper, avoids paperwork and aesthetically fits the style. 

C126F463-89A0-4BAC-8DD5-CBEE3B72D410I headed out to the woods for a range day, with an Evo Scorpion and PSA AKV as sub-gun comparisons. For my first test, I threw in a magazine of FMJ rounds, expecting it might need a break in period. Instead, each shot rattled off just fine, the trigger breaking crisply every time. I ran through three more magazines with zero problems. Surprised but pleased, I switched to a mag of Federal 115 gr. +P+ hollow points. Earlier reviews specified GSG MP-40s struggled chambering FMJ rounds and performed even worse with other varieties. Again, no issues. Next I tried the same experiment with Magtech flat-nosed 95 gr. JSP. They worked great also. 

Loading up again with FMJ, I made a serious attempt to make the gun malfunction. Some folks online claimed grasping the magazine at all while firing would cause jams while others suggested holding the extended magwell gently might not. I tried both ways, even gripping the magazine quite hard, yet nothing went awry. I shot it upside down, sideways, slow and rapid fire. The magazines are listed for 25 round capacity, while wartime originals held 32, but I squeezed in 28 several times. No matter what, the MP-40 cycled and went bang every time. All told, we burned through about 350 rounds without a single failure. Not the most exhaustive test, but for the subject of so many dismal experiences several years ago, quite an improvement.

BEB948A8-874F-429F-AEA0-B287CC2C52FAAccuracy was impressive. My partner and I fired casually at cans from about 40 yards and made hits easily. She appreciated how the long forward mass kept it steady in her hands.  I definitely agreed. If any contrast appeared between the other guns, it highlighted the advantage that heft ads for follow up shots. My Scorpion is a pure delight, but definitely bounces a bit from recoil. Same with the AKV, though less pronounced, as it has a solid steel fore grip. No such movement from the MP-40. It’s weight could grow annoying slung over your shoulder, but makes double taps feel like it’s tank mounted. 

One other interesting aspect are the magazines. The MP-40 came with a plastic loader which I immediately tossed aside, priding myself on always filling mags without such contrivances. Yet, these magazines defeated me. Their follower cants forward in such a way that it binds unless something narrow pushes it straight down between the feed lips, letting cartridges slide into place. I’m sure some other method could be found in a pinch, but the loader does make it easier. I’m unsure why earlier reviewers had trouble with magazines dropping out accidentally. Mine all locked solidly into place, though sometimes requiring an extra slap underneath when inserted on the closed bolt. They slid out easily with a touch of the release button.

Takedown is somewhat annoying. A screwdriver or stout fingernail removes a tiny c-clip allowing the retaining bolt to be hammered out with a punch or dowel. Odds are good that pesky clip will escape forever someday. Before that happens, I plan on replacing the retaining  bolt with one I can simply secure with a nut. To make it look more authentic and aid in field stripping, I cut the upper housing with an angle grinder. That makes it unnecessary to remove the charging handle, which is now spring-loaded solidly in place anyway. I’ve read others have chosen to weld it but for now, that seems like overkill. 

C7BC7DC0-A42C-42EE-9997-A912F31F0FC7The safety requires special mention. It’s a 360 degree spinning dial mounted under the receiver just behind the mag well. An arrow points forward for FIRE and crosswise for SAFE, assuming you have time to flip it upside down and check. I used red fingernail polish to highlight the F side and left it black for S which at least allows visual inspection from the side. Still, it’s a pretty questionable system. In times of urgent combat stress, unslinging the MP-40 and verifying its status seems dubious. I’d be curious to know what the WWII German manual of arms suggested regarding that. The best method could potentially be three main conditions. 

Option A requires remaining on SAFE while carried at low ready, a round chambered, and one hand below the receiver with support fingers resting on the dial. If enemy contact initiates, one click either way and you’re good to go. Option B would keep the safety on FIRE, with the chamber empty and bolt notched open. Under ordinary circumstances, the MP-40 could be slung that way, yet brought into action quickly by slapping the cocking lever home. Not very stealthy, but potentially less awkward than a haphazard spin of the roulette wheel searching for FIRE in an emergency. Option C is for storage or other low risk circumstances and simply leaves the gun on SAFE with its bold closed and chamber empty. 

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(above) Partisans with captured MP-40s

The final issue is political. It’s a cop out to simply buy a weapon so heavily tied to Nazism and think no explanations are in order. We live in a time of increasingly violent xenophobia where misguided individuals embrace trappings of fascism while dismissing any scrutiny as unwarranted. I appreciate firearms no matter their origin and have accumulated a variety for training and community defense, but recognize the need to differentiate my MP-40 from others keeping it as a totalitarian fetish. Therefore, I decided to customize the gun in tribute to WWII European partisans who fought bravely against high odds with captured weapons.

At first, painting the silhouette of a hydra on the MP-40 seemed appropriate, because German anti-insurgency medals from the period depicted a spear piercing this mythical multi-headed beast. Still, a rather obscure reference. It ultimately made more sense to use the well known Iron Front anti-Fascist arrows, broadcasting my affiliation loud and clear. To accompany this aesthetic, I wanted the gun to look as if it had seen action from Italy and Yugoslavia to the Warsaw Ghetto. That entailed painting the original shiny black finish matt grey and then hitting most of the edges with sandpaper for a well worn patina. I also painted the plastic grip, brace and side panels brown before giving them similar treatment.

In the end, more range time will be required before my MP-40s status can be settled. At the moment, it remains an interesting project, significant in the development of modern weaponry, yet more than just a display piece.

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Checking in With First Time Gun Owners

A9FC8D07-0FFE-4EFE-8730-B42F814D9AC0It took a few days longer than I expected for the Brady anti-gun organization to send out an email addressing Americans stocking up on firearms as fears about the corona virus spread. They used one of their typical fundraiser templates, building off worries that more armed individuals must necessarily cause violence. It’s an effective emotional argument, yet glosses over the more complicated reality that social inequalities are the real cause of such strife. In fact, levels of available firearms have fluctuated over years, unconnected with violence.

Still, the Brady email does raise an important concern. Too many folks purchased their first gun without adequate preparation and now exist in situations where their cities may be on lock-down, local ranges closed, shooting classes cancelled and little available otherwise for education except the internet.  I always recommend that whenever possible, individuals conduct careful research beforehand, evaluate what firearm best fits their life, become familiar with relevant laws and try firing different varieties in controlled situations first. Unfortunately, we’re past that point now.

No one can ignore the increasingly violent xenophobia which has swept across the US in recent years. Prejudices which always existed are now part of mainstream political dialogue with assaults against minorities rising. Most currently, virus hysteria fueled persecution against Asian communities is growing and explicitly stoked by President Trump himself. It’s entirely possible that before long, food supply shortages and other social breakdowns could allow even more widespread attacks. No surprise many people feel increased vulnerability and have sought enhanced personal security options when such measures felt unnecessary just short weeks ago.

Therefore, the first gun some find themselves owning could simply be whatever was left over once they made their way through long lines at local sporting goods stores. There’s no substitute for real world experience, yet we must make the best of difficult situations. 

  1. Start by researching. Is your gun suitable for self defense? Do you have the correct ammunition? Does it require magazines? If so, did it come with extras? What about cleaning and secure storage options? There will be a great variety of information online about your particular firearm but focus on such important questions first. Later on, dig into forums where folks with years of experience have gone into depth about potential problems that exist or other issues to be aware of.

 

2. Become comfortable safely handling your firearm. Remain very conscious of how you do so. If you notice your finger immediately lands on the trigger while casually picking it up, break that habit. If you must handle it by the grip, either wrap your whole hand below the trigger guard or straighten your index finger above (not over) it. A common startle reflex is for hands to clench and that could easily cause an accidental trigger pull. Always treat your gun as if it was loaded. That includes making sure it’s never pointed at anyone while in your hand. A competent person should be able to maneuver their firearm around a crowded room without barrel-sweeping anyone. Think about what lies behind objects. Most ordinary walls, floors or ceilings will not stop a bullet. Definitely read more articles about gun safety.

3. Learn the law. Despite misleading statements by anti-gun group, firearms are highly regulated, both federally and locally. Find information specific to your state, city and county as laws vary widely. There may be magazine capacity limitations, restrictions over concealed or open carry and even technical differences between pistols or rifles affect what equipment may be added. Violating any of these could be a felony. Don’t be scared by this, but take it as a serious reason to become more informed.

New gun owners doing research will immediately notice unfortunate tendencies on the political spectrum. While a good deal of practical information is available online, and in other media, the vast majority comes from a highly regressive white male dominated Right wing viewpoint. The first thing to remember is that this doesn’t reflect reality. Folks from all walks of life keep firearms and you should eventually find online groups you feel comfortable joining. Build up connections and develop resources so that when quarantines are lifted, you can go shooting with people who are better informed. However, if things get drastically worse and that isn’t possible, here is some basic emergency advice.

  1. Defend lives, not property. There is no object you own worth anyone dying. Firearms are for last ditch personal protection, not killing a neighborhood teenager running away with your car stereo. I’ve had my stereo stolen too and it was annoying but if yours was worth stealing in the first place, you can probably afford replacing it. Making the choice to end someone’s life over something worth a couple hundred dollars is completely immoral.

2. Be sure you’re ready. Even in a life or death situation, killing another human being is the toughest decision you’ll ever make. If you feel you won’t be able to act when necessary, probably leave your firearm locked up. Otherwise, an already violent situation could be escalated instead of ended and subsequently arm a dangerous person with your gun.

3. Load hollow points. If you do end up shooting someone, hopefully you use the right ammunition. Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) is great for target shooting and training but can easily pass through objects. Obviously that’s a hazard for anyone else in the area. There are many kinds of hollow points, but all are designed to expand for greater lethality and also reduce over-penetration. Definitely research this more regarding your specific firearm.

4. You’re no operator yet. Keep a realistic mindset about entry level abilities. Most people only see gun play in movies where heroes can easily disarm villains with non-lethal shots. In an armed confrontation, even the most well trained individuals must cope with floods of adrenaline and tunnel vision. Likely there could be other disorienting circumstances, such as low light, multiple assailants, and innocent bystanders. Not the time for trick shooting. Most self defense scenarios take place at close range. Once you’ve made the choice, aim for center of body mass and cease fire immediately once the threat is over.

5. Don’t stress out. This has been a dump of heavy information, but the good news is that in a highly uncertain world, you are now better prepared. Owning a gun is a weighty responsibility, but please take the time to educate yourself and become someone your community can truly rely on as we pass through these dark times together.

Death Threats and Red Flags

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Above: this photo earned the author a death threat just ten minutes
after being
posted on a sub gun internet fan page.

”Extreme Risk Protection Orders” or “Red Flag Laws” present an interesting form of gun control, currently adopted by seventeen US states. These exist in various forms and allow temporary firearm confiscation, even if no laws were actually broken by the individual in question. They are typically granted by judicial decision at the request of family members, concerned friends or police officers and present one of the few gun control positions enjoying relatively broad support across the political spectrum.

In the two years since Oregon adopted a Red Flag Law, it’s most commonly involved domestic violence situations or suicide risk. For me, these social issues hit close. I’ve lost friends to suicide and also spent five years working in a women’s shelter. Any means for potentially making violent partners less deadly carries undeniable appeal. Still, I worry about the potential for abuse because laws are only as fair as those enforcing them. 

There’s plenty of reasons I feel trepidation. For example, one year ago a resident who was nearly nine months pregnant with an abusive ex-partner’s child, turned up covered in bruises after being beaten by him again. While she cried in the managers office, her ex raged on the sidewalk outside, screaming threats against her and my co-workers. Incredibly, he was still there when a cop showed up twenty-five minutes later. The responding officer then yelled at the woman for being too emotional and on his way out, actually gave her abuser a fist bump. The very next evening, her ex came back with a shotgun and was arrested attempting to break in. 

Given the notorious connection between police officers and domestic violence, this  camaraderie shouldn’t be shocking. It’s also worth observing the cop in question and the abuser were both White. The pregnant woman was Black. Of course, it goes deeper than personal anecdotes. There are countless other examples for why law enforcement has accountability problems, from Ferguson, Baltimore, Portland and everywhere in between.

During times where people distrust police, and Right wing terrorist sympathies originate from the president, it’s unsurprising marginalized communities are banding together around defense and mutual aid. Sometimes this involves training with arms.

Now, most sensational outrages by Fascist militants occur against relatively wide targets of opportunity, like the El Paso shooter who drove hundreds of miles to find a favorable location for slaughtering Mexican-Americans or the one who selected a particular Charleston church because of it’s Black congregation. As terrible as those events were, more dangerous are the less organized acts, a national pogrom occuring in plain sight yet receiving fewer headlines… the rising wave of violence against people of color, immigrants, Jewish and LGBTQ communities.

Against this background, the issue of Sgt. Shane Michael Kohfield presents many complications and deserves scrutiny. To sum up, Kohfield is a military veteran experiencing mental illness, substance abuse and PTSD who attended a 2018 Right wing rally in Portland. There, he claims anti-Fascist protesters assaulted him, yet without details of physical injury. Kohfield subsequently wrote a Texas politician demanding “Antifa” be condemned as a terrorist organization and declared if the government didn’t take action, he would orchestrate “genocide” against them. The FBI opened a file regarding this. Next he showed up outside the Mayor of Portland’s house while repeating his threats through a loudspeaker. This ostentatious display caused agents to temporarily confiscate his firearms using Oregon’s “extreme risk protection order.”

Kohfield’s case presents a unique political twist. Indeed, Kohfield’s own father testified he posed significant risk of committing murder.* Like many anti-Fascists, I’ve received my own share of death threats, so I’d be lying if the news such a person had been disarmed— no matter by who or how temporary, didn’t provide some satisfaction.   

4C64B5F1-F3D5-4FED-816D-44972AD14A4FThen this September, Kohfield appeared on the Lars Larson show, a Northwest conservative talk radio program. Their recorded exchange is well worth hearing. Kohfield sounded confused and nearly incoherent at first. Despite everything, I immediately felt badly for him. It should have been obvious this was someone who needed help, not a person in any condition to make public commentary. Instead, Larson vacillated between chiding him for muddled statements and then goading more extreme directions. Kohfield seemed reluctant to restate his earlier violent outbursts, perhaps feeling understandably ashamed, yet Larson prodded him into specifics.

Kohfield: First veterans join Antifa social media pages and groups, and get names of most active members and social media, along with getting the arrest records from rallies and write down all the names they see. The veterans will use background check programs to get all the home addresses of Antifa. Using the intelligence they have gathered, the veterans will take maps of the cities where Antifa are known to live there, grid overlays will be placed over the maps of the cities, the veterans will be broken down into squads, each squad will be assigned a grid and given names and addresses in their assigned grid square. There’s an ap called Route4me that can be downloaded on a phone with the GPS, it is an ap that allows delivery truck drivers to enter more than one address, unlimited addresses and ap plot turn by turn the best route to deliver the packages. The veterans would use Route4me to find the most expedient route to hunt down the most violent members of Antifa in their beds at night until every one was gone in every city in America, if need be, in a single well coordinated night. The losses for Antifa would be catastrophic

Larson: So you are planning to hunt down and kill members of Antifa?

Kohfield: No. No.

Larson: But that’s what you just described!

Kohfield then attempted to backpedal and equivocate his statement, both denying this plan endorsed violence but also declaring anti-Fascists deserved death if they became a lethal threat, something he clearly believed was reality, having earlier claimed “Antifa” chased “conservative” citizens around with knives while being protected by the police. Larson made no attempt to correct his fanciful imagination, but only pressed for more details.

Larson: What do you plan to do to them when you get to their home and they’re asleep in their beds?

Kohfield: According to the plan, it would be kill.

Larson let him ramble on for another 15 seconds and suddenly ended the interview, not before thanking Kohfield for his service. 

There’s a lot to be angry about here, and it’s more complicated than the fact an unstable man with military training openly contemplates slaughtering Americans in their beds. While Kohfield seems an obvious villain, Lars Larson more richly deserves that billing. It’s completely irresponsible allowing someone clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis to make murderous public statements that will follow them the rest of their lives. Larson blatantly exploited Kohfield’s disturbed state for radio sensation, without making any attempt to assist the man. Larson is someone with a widespread following who many on the Right take seriously. By not challenging  Kohfield’s toxic social delusions, he reinforced the fantasy that “Antifa” represents some sinister organization bent on killing others. 

But it’s only a relatively minor news story. One could imagine the national outrage if some progressive radio show let a Leftist militant describe plans for death squads around the country to assassinate sleeping bankers in their homes. Of course, in our consequence-free climate where the current president wantonly pardons war criminals, and the previous one authorized assassinating citizens without trial, perhaps Americans would accept that extrajudicial killings of anti-Fascists might be an extreme, but ultimately legitimate political stance.

This case also sets worrying precedent in firearms policy. Kohfield brought his threats to an escalated level by broadcasting them at the Portland mayor’s house, yet was convicted of no crime. The question for armed anti-Fascists becomes, at what point does this affect us? For some time there have been movements by powerful people in government toward declaring “Antifa” a terrorist group.  After taking action against a figure on the Right, state agencies may feel political pressure to next target anti-Fascists with  “extreme risk protection orders.”

Therefore, we must be very clear about what community defense means and make sure no excuse can be given for authorities disarming vulnerable populations during these fraught times. Everyone should agree:

It’s doesn’t mean assassinating people in bed at night.

 It’s doesn’t mean preemptively shooting anyone, no matter their political affiliation. 

It absolutely means firearms are for defending against immediate life dangers, not property.

It absolutely means keeping our friends and families safe through mutual aid, training for emergencies and with force as a clearly defined last resort. Guns have their place in the social justice toolbox, but only when all other means have been exhausted.

* Kohfield has disputed this aspect of the story and claims his father was misquoted in  media accounts.

 

The Trump Diaries: Confronting New American Fascism

“…in the age we live in, a well-displayed villany takes the place of all the finer qualities and the more infamous a man, the more people are disposed to credit him with intellectual force and moral worth.”

-Octave Mirbeau. The Garden of Evil, 1899.

“… you get beatings, burnings… They’re a package. And there may be even nastier things in that package. [His] supporters are more than a little seduced by [his] talk of making America great again.”

Octavia Butler. The Parable of the Talents, 1998.

 

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Lately, current events read almost verbatim from the pages of popular dystopian novels, with themes spanning Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 immediately recognisable. Women’s reproductive freedoms rolled back, violent attacks against minorities increasing, gay rights on the defensive and President Trump’s doublespeak tweets mixing fact and fantasy across a media landscape where anything seems plausible. Mirbeau’s late nineteenth-century observation about the power of naked corruption brandished in full view seldom rang so true. Butler’s prophetic description of an apocalyptic demagogue hits even closer to home.

Yet among fictionalized worst case scenarios is one book most students of English literature are likely less familiar with. That is The Turner Diaries, published originally in 1978 by longtime racist activist William Pierce (aka Andrew Macdonald) and essentially a blueprint for the extermination necessary in creating a White Nationalist future. It’s not the only tome on xenophobic reading lists, with Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints, enjoying high profile popularity (1) lately, but The Turner Diaries carries particular weight. This is because it inspired a murderous White power terrorist cell during the early 1980s and is generally connected with the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing. (2)  Not many authors have directed multiple readers toward such sensational militant actions.

While it may seem at present the chance of genocidal warfare is an exaggerated concern, amidst many reasons to oppose Donald Trump, his barely veiled support for White Supremacy tops the list. This began even before the 2016 election and was significant for why conventional wisdom suggested he could never become president. Promoting the bizarrely racist birther attack against Barack Obama was an early indication and it only solidified after Trump showed reluctance to disavow an endorsement from David Duke, the notorious former KKK leader.

In retrospect, this single act (or lack of one) stood out as a stark indicator of the changed world we now live in. Traditionally, most Americans have silently accepted the bureaucratic injustice of prison sentencing disparities and other ways institutional racism occurs, yet in modern times been repelled by overt bigotry, such as represented by the KKK. Still, Trump’s step over that line elicited merely a yawn among supporters and quickly faded, replaced by other scandals.

Trump clearly felt emboldened by the lack of consequence for this and other violations of the norm, like encouraging violence at his rallies, and as his unlikely technical win unfolded, a chilling wave swept across the country. In Portland I first heard about it from local friends of color who recounted strangers making racist comments in public as never before. One local Black woman, who sometimes wears scarves that people mistake for Islamic dress, told me she became fearful taking public transit after multiple people scolded her angrily to “go back home.” Most troubling was another Portland area Black woman beaten with a brick by men who shouted pro-Trump slogans during the assault.

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(Above) Unite the Right 2017

Rising violence against minorities is measurable nationally using crime statistics, even down to specific peaks following Trump’s mass rallies. Tragically, the Right wing body count is only growing. Nine killed by a White supremacist at a Black church in Charleston. Eleven murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue by an anti-Jewish extremist. Even the New Zealand mosque shooter who massacred fifty Muslims cited Trump as inspiration. When asked by a journalist if growing White Nationalism was concerning, the president answered negatively, passing up another moment to distance himself from this toxic movement.

But no one should have been surprised. After one man murderously rammed his car into a packed crowd of of demonstrators protesting the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, an event organized by White Nationalists, Trump infamously declared both sides equally at fault. In telling priority, one of his first acts as president was defunding programs aimed at countering domestic terrorism, even one focused specifically on neo-Nazis.

There are many disturbing similarities between Trumpism and Pierce’s fictional ideology inspiring Americans toward race war. For instance, while the pages are full of hatred towards Leftists, traditional Conservatives and Libertarians are also marked for destruction. Just as those same elements within the Republican party found themselves sidelined by Trump’s bloc. Indeed, before 2016, most political observers believed he could never even become nominated because establishment forces opposed him as an extremist. Libertarians still experience difficulty accepting his authoritarian leanings and during the election, Democrats expected a landslide victory because Trump seemed to have as many enemies on the Right as the Left. What they missed, after eight years of a charismatic Black man serving as president, was deep xenophobia still buried throughout American society. Every drop untapped political fuel.

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(Above) Unite the Right 2017

While Republican policies of old at least paid tribute to limited governmental ideals or limits on centralized power, Trump simply doesn’t bother and his supporters remain unfazed… so long as big government aims its big guns at unpopular minorities. He has many times endorsed religious persecution against Muslims— a dramatic abuse of federal power, and enthusiastically supports state involvement in the economy, both by starting trade wars and then borrowing money to bail out businesses damaged by them.

Of course, Trump’s fiery campaign talk about breaking up banks and regulating Wall Street fell by the wayside long ago. Distractions range from his social media feuds to noisy focus on the southern border, where human rights abuses regularly unfold, dulling public outrage to the sight of corralled humans behind barbed wire in overcrowded camps.

Beyond that, Trump openly admires dictatorial leaders around the globe and has several times stated he would disregard unfavorable election results. Attempts to curb his blatant violations of executive power by other political branches have failed. In short, we are are tasting the emergence of New American Fascism:

– a strong government allied with corporate powers toward

furthering the agenda of an unaccountable figurehead at the

expense of marginalized communities-

While Pierce doesn’t use the term Fascism, it’s very clear his writing aspires toward an idealized version of Germany’s Third Reich. He drops occasional details noting the bravery of SS soldiers, coyly mentions Hitler as “the Great One” (3) and is murderously explicit about how all non-Whites should be wiped out. In the furtherance of this goal, one particular tactic bears current relevance. As The Turner Diaries concludes, Pierce’s race warriors brutally conquer southern California and enact strict segregation policies. They force away all surviving people of color in hopes they will overwhelm national resources, calling this tactic “demographic war.” (4) Anti-Fascists will be “trapped by their own propaganda line, which maintains that each one of these creatures is an ‘equal,’ with ‘human dignity’ and so forth, and must be treated accordingly.” (5)

This is essentially the same idea Trump has advocated by suggesting asylum seekers be diverted into so-called “sanctuary cities.” It’s unclear how this could be accomplished logistically, yet resonates among those who view non-White immigrants as ravening hordes of rapists, instead of simply workers and families seeking a better life. Just as Pierce hoped ‘demographic warfare’ would turn Whites against people of color, this proposal invites discord among urban dwellers, many who oppose iron fisted immigration policies, yet also don’t expect small numbers of localities to reasonably absorb so many newcomers alone.

It’s easy noting connections between The Turner Diaries and rising bigotry today, but much examination still gets important aspects wrong. For instance, a recent NPR segment declared the book is about “Jews and black people who disarm white Americans, take away their guns so that they can’t resist the government.” That’s actually the opposite of what happens. Pierce’s narrative describes how federal anti-gun legislation becomes enacted with the intention of disarming all civilians, but his White protagonists are the only ones who don’t comply. This makes it easy for them to eventually slaughter the ‘Jews and black people’ who trustingly followed the law.

At one point he writes: “…whenever we ran into Blacks near a filling station, we simply opened fire on them . . . It’s a damned good thing they have no firearms or we’d be in a hell of a jam now.” (6) Then later: “…good thing the civilian population was disarmed . . . years ago. If more Blacks had guns there’d be no way we could deal with them…” (7)

NPR bungles such basic elements just as most Democrats and Liberals continue misunderstanding the gravity of our current situation and confuse Trump with some rough incarnation of business-as-usual Conservatism. Fascism is a very different animal. It satisfies an increasingly violent thirst for change among Americans who feel shut out as the middle class disintegrates and mainstream parties falter at offering real solutions.

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Fascism can’t be successfully confronted by following traditional rule books, as should be obvious to those frustrated by the lack of legal consequences for Trump’s contemptible acts. This isn’t the old days where a president like Nixon could be brought down by intrepid reporters discovering some hidden crime that shocked the nation. Trump’s criminality take place in the open and crowds cheer him for it. Just as Fascism represents nontraditional alignments of Right wing power, robust and flexible Leftist politics are required to defeat it.

The Turner Diaries envisions a scenario where relatively small numbers of Fascists defeated enemies who lacked such flexibility. Trump’s administration grinds onward despite widespread unpopularity for the same reason. Timid response from the Democratic party are ineffective, only emboldening  Right wing reaction. Everyone who struggles against the New American Fascism must keep all options on the table and remain armed because White Nationalism goes hand in glove with genocide. The dangers have never been so real within most of our lifetimes.

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Note: I will be commercial fishing in the Gulf of Alaska for most of the summer and unlikely to post again for a while. Thanks to everyone who reads along and joins in!

 

1 Trump administration insider Steve Bannon positively reviewed it, for instance.

2 Timothy McVeigh read the book and even sold copies to others. His bombing attack bears similarities to an event described in the text but McVeigh never linked his personal anti-government sentiments with racist politics. A review of The Turner Diaries on one prominent White Nationalist website admits he was a “non-racialist” and the Leftist journal Race Traitor declared McVeigh “did not appear to be a white supremacist . . . He did not bomb a black church. He did not plant a white bomb.” John Garvey. “The Life and Death of Timothy McVeigh.” Race Traitor, Fall 2001. 7.

3 Andrew Mcdonald. The Turner Diaries. Barricade Books, NJ. 1996 (1978 original) 210.

4 Ibid. 155.

5 Ibid. 155-6.

6 Ibid. 145.

7 Ibid. 150.

Masculinity, State Torture and Gun Culture

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.

3CBDE02B-7005-4CB0-967C-D6D89A234AA2Still, 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.

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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.

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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) 

“TRIGGERED” (semi-auto) 

“FULL LIBTURD” (fully automatic)

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Yet Spike’s most toxic product is the AR-15 “Waterboarding Instructor” receiver. This one lets operators select between:

“DRY,”

“WET” 

“DROWN ‘EM”

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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.

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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:

“DETAIN,”

“DEPORT” 

“10 FEET HIGHER”

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This is particularly sickening given that President Trump’s wall building rhetoric has accompanied horrific abuses 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:

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