Tag Archives: guns

The Second, Militias, and Gun Control

Old time militias enforcing government sanctioned gun control? That’s certainly an image contrary to the one cultivated by many 2nd Amendment supporters. But while some harken back to a selective version of America’s past, in her recent book The Second, historian Carol Anderson carefully examines what purpose that amendment actually signified in practice. It’s a far cry from what modern day patriotic propaganda would have people believe.

Anderson’s work parallels one of the most exciting genres in American historical scholarship, which has seen increasing numbers of academics researching Black resistance movements that mobilized against post-Civil War Reconstruction and Jim Crow era persecution. While most white-washed histories of the Civil Rights struggle spin redemptive tales about noble suffering and non-violent tactics winning victories toward greater social equality, these new explorations grasp gut level human realities, often less appealing than earlier sanitized versions.

In just one sensational example, the historian Akinyele Umoja looked at a Mississippi region where KKK influence waned in the early 1960s, allowing establishment of successful voter registration drives. Yet digging deeper, he discovered this power vacuum only developed after Black militia members successfully repelled invading nightriders, before posting the decapitated head of one fallen Klansman on a bridge as warning. This act so horrified nearby white militants that they simply gave up control of the area. (1)

Anderson wrestles with issues no less intense, but from a different angle. She begins scrutinizing how gun control affected Black populations in the Americas under various colonial powers. During British rule, each of the original thirteen colonies enacted stringent laws forbidding enslaved population’s arms, plus highly regulating their ownership by any free people of color. (2) But even these small privileges were curtailed once the War of Independence began. North Carolina offered rewards to those who successfully confiscated guns from Black communities and other states clamped down harder as well. (3) No wonder they were fearful. Martha Washington was perhaps the first to use the phrase “contagion of liberty” (4) describing the terror herself and others whose wealth originated in human bondage felt after realizing so much lofty talk about Liberty, Inalienable Rights, and All Men Being Created Equal might spark similar aspirations among African-Americans, free or enslaved.

Indeed, many people of color were thrilled hearing these values so openly praised, yet in most states, militia membership and firearms had long been exclusively for whites only. Only after US forces suffered repeated defeats did several states begin recruiting Black men, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Then, when British forces began moving against South Carolina, US military officers begged state officials to let Black soldiers serve and bolster the ranks of exhausted militias. Incredibly, this American legislature deliberated and finally decided they preferred surrender to the British than allow non-whites arms. (5)

Henley’s Additional Regiment, an integrated unit from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, 1779.

Still, some free Black militias had existed for decades who trained with their own rifles and earned exceptionally brave reputations. This was not under United States law however, but allowed by Spanish and French colonial administrations, especially in Louisiana. As soon as these areas fell under American annexation, the 2nd Amendment provided no protection and gun control laws enforced by white militias disarmed these populations as well. (6) It actually became an embarrassing point during the War of 1812 after British regular soldiers smashed through ineffective militia forces and captured the US capitol. Their next target was New Orleans, where the governor of Louisiana recognized state militia troops were greatly insufficient. Faced with dire circumstances, he offered rifles to Black militia veterans and begged for help. Six-hundred volunteered and joined with a multi-racial force that contributed one of America’s few military victories in the entire war. General Andrew Jackson (of all people) even commended them for special valor. Yet instead of medals, these courageous men were afterward awarded heavy labor details in swamps and the Black militias forcibly disbanded once more. (7)

Anderson’s study exposes a familiar repetition marching forward. While it’s not uncommon for modern pro-2nd Amendment advocates to reference what became known as Black Codes, when denouncing firearms regulations as racist, more rarely do they acknowledge the enforcement role militias played. In the case of Georgia, white men were required to own guns, but specifically in legal reference to the militia’s need for self protection while searching the homes of Black families for weapons. (8) Moving deeper into the nineteenth-century, numerous other states passed strict laws, from Virginia, where free Black people found with firearms received thirty-nine lashes, to Florida, where white militias could search the homes of Black families for arms whenever they pleased, and the more lenient North Carolina, which allowed free Black people to apply for yearly permits before owning anything from shotguns to knives. (9)

A contemporary artist’s depiction of the Colfax Massacre

The list of draconian gun control measures considered legal under the 2nd Amendment, even long after slavery was abolished, stretches on. Time and again, it provided no protection for Black communities who defended themselves against organized violent attacks, from the Colfax Massacre of 1873, to the Hamburg Massacre of 1876, and the destruction of Black Wall Street in 1921. Courts and judges routinely dismissed the Constitution, Bill of Rights and 2nd Amendment included, as legal grounds for non-whites to enjoy their full human existence as Americans.

This should be a sharp wake up call to anyone still viewing the 2nd Amendment as some wise, holy governance handed down through time. It’s own authors supported the most invasive firearms confiscations in US history. Like the title of my weblog has long declared, the 2nd Amendment must be occupied and reformed… into a tool for seizing gun culture back from what the founders originally intended. Simply another way for maintaining white supremacy and upper class dominion. Liberty may be a contagion… and Martha Washington meant that as an insult- but we can still take pride spreading it far and wide.

  1. Akinyele Omowale Umoja. We Will Shoot Back. New York University Press, New York. 2013. 58-9. 
  2. Carol Anderson. The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Bloomsbury Publishing, New York. 2021. 18.
  3. Ibid. 18-19
  4. Ibid. 45.
  5. Ibid. 21.
  6. Ibid. 60.
  7. Ibid. 69.
  8. Ibid. 35.
  9. Ibid. 70-71.

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.

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 Tacticool Girlfriend

I began publishing my ‘zine, American Gun Culture Report, in 2005 to counter harmful firearms media narratives. These pervaded mainstream publications like Guns & Ammo or American Rifleman, where virtually every article was written by a white man from a right-wing political perspective. Fifteen years later, the old magazines have gone digital and their dominance is challenged by thousands of smaller weblogs, internet sites and video channels. However, it’s only a competition over advertising dollars. Firearms media remains overwhelmingly populated by white men placed along a regressive spectrum from simply conservative to outright fascist. If anything, diversity of opinion is shrinking and tolerance for others embracing the 2nd Amendment sadly diminished.

My past relationship with American gun culture figures was generally affable. Shortly before his 2006 death, I corresponded with Jeff Cooper, the developer of modern pistol shooting techniques, (and major right wing icon) who offered warm congratulations on my writing project.* In 2008 I confronted American Handgunner editor Roy Huntington, after his magazine seemingly endorsed anti-gay prejudice and he cordially wrote back, disavowing any accidental intolerance.** Then in 2010 I organized a fundraising event for the Oregon Firearms Federation with all leftist and other non-traditional gun clubs in the Portland area contributing. OFF director Kevin Starrett cheerfully accepted our cash and made a speech, stating that the 2nd Amendment was for everyone, no matter their identity or political stance. 

Those days are long gone. Instead of conservatives pleased by others simultaneously accepting the twin gospels of John Browning and John Brown, it now only takes casual mention on the internet that I’m a leftist who teaches gun safety before death threats come along. Here in Oregon, Kevin Starrett currently spends time absurdly bemoaning public health measures amidst a pandemic that has killed over ¼ million Americans. In such abysmal times, it’s truly joyful when something better comes along.

Tacticool Girlfriend is definitely something better. Piercing through gun culture saturated by opinionated white men, she’s a leftist of color whose internet channel presents firearms advice suitable for beginners, yet more advanced viewers will still pick up valuable information. For instance, often neglected subjects like safety habits, first aid kits and hazardous lead contamination receive welcome attention. For a new voice where it’s most needed, check out her youtube and feel free to pick up TCGF gear as well.

RE: Is there anything particular that sparked the TCGF project?

TCGF: Honestly, I had been hoping to see something like this manifest for years. Everyone around me was constantly bemoaning mainstream gun culture and agreeing that we needed more diverse, alternative voices from our own communities within this realm. I certainly was one of those people and eventually got tired of asking and just decided to take it on myself. I’m really hoping to offer a refreshing, unique perspective that is more welcoming and not nearly as alienating as the majority of the monoculture around firearms tends to be. I have a strong stomach for it, but I’ve realized throughout the years how many people around me were holding back from getting into shooting because they were so repulsed by the paradigm around it. I’m really hoping to see that change.

RE: What’s your firearms background ? Is it something you grew up with or learned about later?

TCGF: I grew up in a home that was fairly anti-gun. The most I ever shot was an airgun in my childhood. It wasn’t until my late teens that I actually ended up getting into airsoft with some friends of mine, but I wasn’t terribly interested in the real thing yet. Eventually, those friends gifted me my first rifle – probably the same for a lot of people, a 91/30 Mosin-Nagant. I’ve always been an avid amateur historian and at this time, it was a perfect entry point to pique my interest in historical firearms. I would eventually snag a Tokarev TT-33 as well. It wasn’t until 2016, however, that I started to get into more contemporary firearms and look at them from a more practical, defensive standpoint.

RE: When studying the past, what events or epochs do you find most fascinating?

TCGF: It’s cliche, but I’ve spent a lot of time studying World War II. Beyond that, I really find the turn of the 19th to 20th century as well as the 1960s both very fascinating pivotal times across the world in general. Almost no matter where you look, things were evolving quite rapidly during those years, culturally and politically, often in tumultuous and unpredictable ways.

RE: Your videos are generally apolitical, though we live in an era where simply wearing masks implies taking a stance. Is it important for you to keep politics on the periphery?

TCGF: While I do have very specific political views, I want to make my channels as accessible and factual as possible. I could have taken a more specific BreadTube approach to appealing to a particular base, but I’m hoping to keep things more technical than anything. Also, while this isn’t normally my approach, in this project, I am hoping to span across spheres and reach people to bring us closer together and hopefully introduce perspectives where they normally wouldn’t cross otherwise. In essence, I simultaneously want to grow a more openly diverse community and normalize that moving forward. I need to break that mold somehow.

RE: How would you describe yourself politically and in what ways does that relate to firearm issues for you?

TCGF: That’s a good question. Labels are poor substitutes for describing the actual substance of a person’s identity, beliefs, and outlook. That being said, I’d call myself an anarchist without adjectives. There’s so many schools of thought and real life applications for various forms of ideology and understanding; too many to list and some that can’t truly be put into words. I don’t like being pigeonholed so I’ll leave it at that for now.

RE: So far you’ve covered quite a variety of subjects, from specific firearms reviews to general first aid and concepts like concealed carry. What would you like to cover next?

TCGF: I want to keep going with fundamentals and concepts such as techniques and gear, down to gear reviews like my latest. I don’t want to only become a gear review channel though, there’s so much to cover and I don’t have any shortage of topics on my ever-growing list. The skill sets and hardware required for various methods of firearm usage could be covered only in large volumes of books. Right now, I think I’m going to focus more on breakdowns of my setups and other examples to provide folks with a comprehensive base to build their own.

RE: For such a relatively brief existence, TCGF has really taken off in popularity. What factors do you see as creating that success?

TCGF: I’m really surprised just how successful it’s been so far. The audience I’m reaching is bigger than I could have ever imagined and it continues growing. I do truly think it’s because a lot of folks are relieved to finally have a source of firearms information that isn’t what they normally would be repulsed by. The base has always been there, it’s just been dormant and waiting for something like this, I think.

RE: The quality of your videos is very well done. Do you have a background in filmwork yourself or credit a talented production team?

TCGF: Thank you! I have always had a passion for photography, so I suppose that translates well into this. But I’ll be honest, I’ve never done video work until now. I’m certainly learning a lot as a result, though. It’s all been solo too, other than having friends do a little filming of me at the range for b-roll and such.

RE: Over the years I’ve enjoyed many encounters that really challenged gun culture stereotypes. Have you had notable experiences like that?

TCGF: The recent rise of people from the left arming themselves and organizing in ways that haven’t really occurred on such a scale since the 1970s is quite refreshing. We’re seeing a huge influx of people into this paradigm that normally never “belonged” in a cultural sense. Seeing clubs and groups across the country sprout up, bigger names being the SRA and JBGC, has been setting the stage for a significant shift in the status quo in this ecosystem. I think it’s allowed me to interface with people I normally wouldn’t and at least introduce visibility among people who may not otherwise come across certain people, outside poorly characterized mentions in news articles.

It’s really exciting to challenge the notion of what a gun owner looks like. Some people still have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that I’m actually doing what I’m doing – I get a kick out of that. Some of the responses I get on my posts on social media are especially entertaining. I’ll never forget the time that someone claimed that I have a boyfriend who let me “play with his guns” and that I had an elaborate training and filming crew, as if I couldn’t own firearms myself and run this entire channel solo, sans having a friend here and there grab some footage of me (with my camera no less) at the range.

RE: Do you have a favorite firearm, in whatever way that means to you?

TCGF: Honestly, not to be pedestrian, but I love my AR-15 more than any other gun I’ve owned. It’s boring because it’s so easy to operate and just works every time. It’s very utilitarian. I appreciate mine all the more because I assembled it myself.

RE: I really like the honeycomb pattern on it. Is that using spray paint and fishnets or from a higher end process?

TCGF: That was just a pattern created by using a laundry basket net mesh as a stencil with the spray paint.

RE: You described your upbringing as fairly anti-gun. Is that still a sensitive family topic or something you’ve had success getting past?

The topic certainly creates some tension among my parents, namely my father. He grew up in and fled a country devastated by war. I can’t blame him in the slightest for having such a negative association with firearms. He’s more than entitled to his disgust for them (especially from a political perspective when it comes to how he relates that to the arms industry) and I absolutely sympathize with that. We simply agree to disagree and get along just fine with that.

RE: If money and access was no object, what firearm or weapon would you like to review?

TCGF: Probably something full auto, like an MG3 no doubt.

(Above) If you have one of these, TCGF would like to borrow it.

* I initially sent Cooper a letter listing many of his most notorious stances over the years, from supporting South Africa’s apartheid regime, other fascist governments and making various racist statements. He exhibited zero remorse but seemed to appreciate being challenged. Cooper doubted that leftist gun culture existed, let alone any worth writing about, but urged me to “carry on” and said he found our discussion “stimulating.” 5/11/2005

** Detailed in AGCR winter/spring 2009 and 2010.

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.

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.

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.