Tag Archives: Gun Control

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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The Need for Real Community Police

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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.

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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.

NORTH & HAMMER: More Reasons to Burn the NRA

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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.

Ten Tips: How to Talk to Liberals About Guns

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.
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  2. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.