I’ve written before about the old time radio program Dr. Sixgun, which stands out as remarkable amidst the Western genre for its compassionate depiction of typically disparaged groups, such as immigrants and Indians. Instead of sanitized history, the story lines unflinchingly portray cruelty by American settlers and the human cost of colonization is on full display.
Because Dr. Sixgun presents such a contrary narrative among stereotypical Westerns and doesn’t shirk from social issues, it wasn’t surprising that the episode No Guns Ordinance touched on gun control. This one began with Dr. Grey Matson, the famed Dr. Sixgun himself, entering a town called Rail End. He became surprised upon discovering open carry was recently banned by order of the local sheriff, Marshall Anders. Despite his proficient reputation with a revolver, Dr. Matson remained a thoughtful physician who frequently treated shooting victims. He checked his six-gun without argument and then sought out Anders, curious to learn more about this experiment.
The marshall explained: “I can tell ya, if I had my choice, once I get hold of a crazy drunk on the way to the pokey on a Saturday night, I’d just as soon I was the only one totin’ a gun.” He elaborated as having been inspired by the iconic lawman Wyatt Earp. With this reference, Dr. Sixgun writers knew their history. Back in the day, even such classic frontier locations as Deadwood and Dodge City were known for strict gun control ordinances. In fact, Wyatt Earp’s famous shootout at the O.K. Coral involved his opponents violating firearms regulations in Tombstone, Arizona.
It’s no exaggeration that modern Arizona gun control laws are far more permissive than during Dr. Sixgun’s era. For example, I personally possess an out-of-state permit issued by Arizona which lets me carry concealed firearms there, plus several other states, despite my residence in Oregon. Highlighting this is important, as so much right-wing propaganda builds upon skewed pictures of the past, falsely mythologizing the Old West as a place where Americans lived more freely and that some slow decline in liberty has progressed since then. It’s all complete lies, of course. Frontier times were far more restrictive on individual lives than any conservative today would admit tolerating.
As the story continued, Marshall Anders boasted his policy had successfully reduced murders and Dr. Matson left the town feeling quite inspired, remarking: “That ordinance, that must be the answer . . . . .take the guns away and they won’t be so quick to fight…. I get awful tired of probing for bullets and sewing up wounds. I got more important things to do.”
Dr. Matson subsequently attempted persuading others that gun control could work yet only met with derision from others in the territory. Ranchers and bartenders and even his own local sheriff showed complete disinterest or open contempt for such a scheme, several calling it “against nature.” Faced with overwhelming opposition, he finally gave up promoting the idea. Some time later, Matson’s travels led him back to Rail End where he turned over his revolver to a new sheriff named Marshall Benson. It soon became apparent things were not well, despite surface tranquility. Sinister armed men lurked about, closely monitoring conversations between citizens and keeping tabs on everyone. Each wore an official lawman’s badge
It turned out months before, Benson and a gang of corrupt deputies had pushed Marshall Anders out of power and began running the place as their own personal fiefdom. With everyone else disarmed, no one could oppose them. Whereas most episodes of Dr. Sixgun resolve conflicts, this one concluded on a tragic note. Fearing for his life, Dr. Matson fled the town which remained in the grip of unaccountable cops, maintained through fear, and of course, a firearms monopoly.
Appropriately, the first scene Dr. Matson encountered after leaving Rail End, with its chilling calm, was a boisterous crowd of drunken cowboys waving revolvers and firing off shots willy-nilly. He regretfully acknowledged this as a preferable trade off against the police state tyranny so recently experienced. Wrap up narration dismally recounted that Rail End residents eventually placed hope in electing a new sheriff, though Benson’s leading opponent was murdered before this could take place.
It sounds reasonable at first, yet Matson’s observation presents a false choice. Banning firearms simply isn’t required for an oppressive government to exist, as examples from the Colfax Massacre to Black Wall Street demonstrate. In more recent times, Black citizens of Ferguson, Missouri were no less armed than other Americans, yet knew shooting back against police terror, as their ancestors sometimes had, would be futile. Just as it’s foolish to imagine eliminating firearms automatically creates peace, the reverse is also true. Well armed societies are often rampant with injustice. Gun control might be one factor in maintaining systems of tyranny, but not necessarily constitute the main ingredient.
Old time militias enforcing government sanctioned gun control? That’s certainly an image contrary to the one cultivated by many 2nd Amendment supporters. But while some harken back to a selective version of America’s past, in her recent book The Second, historian Carol Anderson carefully examines what purpose that amendment actually signified in practice. It’s a far cry from what modern day patriotic propaganda would have people believe.
Anderson’s work parallels one of the most exciting genres in American historical scholarship, which has seen increasing numbers of academics researching Black resistance movements that mobilized against post-Civil War Reconstruction and Jim Crow era persecution. While most white-washed histories of the Civil Rights struggle spin redemptive tales about noble suffering and non-violent tactics winning victories toward greater social equality, these new explorations grasp gut level human realities, often less appealing than earlier sanitized versions.
In just one sensational example, the historian Akinyele Umoja looked at a Mississippi region where KKK influence waned in the early 1960s, allowing establishment of successful voter registration drives. Yet digging deeper, he discovered this power vacuum only developed after Black militia members successfully repelled invading nightriders, before posting the decapitated head of one fallen Klansman on a bridge as warning. This act so horrified nearby white militants that they simply gave up control of the area. (1)
Anderson wrestles with issues no less intense, but from a different angle. She begins scrutinizing how gun control affected Black populations in the Americas under various colonial powers. During British rule, each of the original thirteen colonies enacted stringent laws forbidding enslaved population’s arms, plus highly regulating their ownership by any free people of color. (2) But even these small privileges were curtailed once the War of Independence began. North Carolina offered rewards to those who successfully confiscated guns from Black communities and other states clamped down harder as well. (3) No wonder they were fearful. Martha Washington was perhaps the first to use the phrase “contagion of liberty” (4) describing the terror herself and others whose wealth originated in human bondage felt after realizing so much lofty talk about Liberty, Inalienable Rights, and All Men Being Created Equal might spark similar aspirations among African-Americans, free or enslaved.
Indeed, many people of color were thrilled hearing these values so openly praised, yet in most states, militia membership and firearms had long been exclusively for whites only. Only after US forces suffered repeated defeats did several states begin recruiting Black men, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Then, when British forces began moving against South Carolina, US military officers begged state officials to let Black soldiers serve and bolster the ranks of exhausted militias. Incredibly, this American legislature deliberated and finally decided they preferred surrender to the British than allow non-whites arms. (5)
Still, some free Black militias had existed for decades who trained with their own rifles and earned exceptionally brave reputations. This was not under United States law however, but allowed by Spanish and French colonial administrations, especially in Louisiana. As soon as these areas fell under American annexation, the 2nd Amendment provided no protection and gun control laws enforced by white militias disarmed these populations as well. (6) It actually became an embarrassing point during the War of 1812 after British regular soldiers smashed through ineffective militia forces and captured the US capitol. Their next target was New Orleans, where the governor of Louisiana recognized state militia troops were greatly insufficient. Faced with dire circumstances, he offered rifles to Black militia veterans and begged for help. Six-hundred volunteered and joined with a multi-racial force that contributed one of America’s few military victories in the entire war. General Andrew Jackson (of all people) even commended them for special valor. Yet instead of medals, these courageous men were afterward awarded heavy labor details in swamps and the Black militias forcibly disbanded once more. (7)
Anderson’s study exposes a familiar repetition marching forward. While it’s not uncommon for modern pro-2nd Amendment advocates to reference what became known as Black Codes, when denouncing firearms regulations as racist, more rarely do they acknowledge the enforcement role militias played. In the case of Georgia, white men were required to own guns, but specifically in legal reference to the militia’s need for self protection while searching the homes of Black families for weapons. (8) Moving deeper into the nineteenth-century, numerous other states passed strict laws, from Virginia, where free Black people found with firearms received thirty-nine lashes, to Florida, where white militias could search the homes of Black families for arms whenever they pleased, and the more lenient North Carolina, which allowed free Black people to apply for yearly permits before owning anything from shotguns to knives. (9)
The list of draconian gun control measures considered legal under the 2nd Amendment, even long after slavery was abolished, stretches on. Time and again, it provided no protection for Black communities who defended themselves against organized violent attacks, from the Colfax Massacre of 1873, to the Hamburg Massacre of 1876, and the destruction of Black Wall Street in 1921. Courts and judges routinely dismissed the Constitution, Bill of Rights and 2nd Amendment included, as legal grounds for non-whites to enjoy their full human existence as Americans.
This should be a sharp wake up call to anyone still viewing the 2nd Amendment as some wise, holy governance handed down through time. It’s own authors supported the most invasive firearms confiscations in US history. Like the title of my weblog has long declared, the 2nd Amendment must be occupied and reformed… into a tool for seizing gun culture back from what the founders originally intended. Simply another way for maintaining white supremacy and upper class dominion. Liberty may be a contagion… and Martha Washington meant that as an insult- but we can still take pride spreading it far and wide.
Akinyele Omowale Umoja. We Will Shoot Back. New York University Press, New York. 2013. 58-9.
Carol Anderson. The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Bloomsbury Publishing, New York. 2021. 18.
I 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
This letter is my response after a week of listening to Right wing religious talk radio while at work. Of course, with all the money activists can collect from George Soros, soon I won’t need a job at all! That myth was a particular obsession of theirs, but with so much foolishness being broadcast, it would have required a twenty page letter to counter even their most absurd theories.
9700 SE Eastview Dr.
Happy Valley, OR 97086
Dear Rose City Forum,
As someone who finds value receiving feedback, whether positive or negative in my own endeavors, I thought you might appreciate some from me.
The FM function on my radio ceased working last week, so I have been tuning into RCF on my lunch breaks with much enthusiasm. I perhaps differ from your typical listener, being a long time militant Leftist and Atheist, who focuses on providing small arms training and knowledge among subculture communities, yet come from a Christian background which provides an interesting context to absorb your program from. I always enjoy hearing perspectives different from my own.
I was particularly struck by a few items, most shockingly upon hearing ill considered apologies for the police officers who beat Rodney King, but also from the extended piece using an old television show plot with examples to demonstrate supposed values lost by modern society. I found it amusing, since the same folksy anecdotes used to castigate dishonesty and lack of concern for others, while promoting alleged Conservative values, are essentially the same ones that formed who I am.
I became a Leftist because I believe strongly in fair reward for honest labor, consequences for failure and despise freeloaders. Of course, the most egregious examples countering my values to be seen in America are endemic throughout the skewed Capitalist system. Yet instead of hearing righteous anger directed by RCF at, for example, massive rewards given to Wall Street bankers after driving their companies into the ground or other injustices of economic equality, RCF instead seems primarily concerned with condemning broken windows and minor social disturbances in reaction to, say, instances of State Terror in Ferguson, as revealed by investigations into their police dept. or endorsing the election of a President who openly admires a totalitarian, anti-democratic state like Russia. It’s baffling to imagine such cognitive dissonance.
At any rate, until I either repair or replace my radio, I plan to continue tuning in. Thank you for providing much insight into your though process and segments of society that I wholly oppose.
There’s a narrative the NRA is pushing that I want to break down. Unsurprisingly, they are reveling in Donald Trump’s victory, calling it “a stunning political upset–led by America’s gun owners.”(1) Their bold assumption is essentially that the election constituted a national referendum on gun rights, as embodied by themselves.
Indeed, during times when many Republican leaders shrunk from association with Trump, the NRA provided complete, uncritical support. While establishment icons from the Bush family to Colin Powell, Mitt Romney and even the Koch brothers turned against a candidate who bragged about sexual assault, smeared a Gold Star family and changed policy stances at the slightest breeze, the NRA never wavered. As I wrote in October, they stood almost alone by refusing to even acknowledge issues that made so many high profile conservatives spurn Trump. Of course, this seemed particularly odd, given his mixed record supporting their main focus, the 2nd Amendment.
If there is any reason for them to take credit, it is Hillary Clinton. While Democrats, in general, spent the last twenty years viewing gun control as a losing issue, Clinton mistakenly sensed a change in the air and attempted taking advantage of the one place she could be perceived as politically Left of Bernie Sanders. Clinton and the NRA leadership may have little in common, but one thing shared is their overestimation of the firearm factor.
Instead of guns, the single greatest element in the 2017 presidential election was sheer dissatisfaction with the status quo. Angry voters from every direction sought a standard bearer. Clinton tried haphazardly to bear that mantle, which fell much more naturally around Sanders shoulders, enough that it took a rigged primary system to make her the Democratic nominee. Trump, on the other hand, harnessed this groundswell and rode it to victory, even trampling roughshod over his own party elites. The point is, Democrats apparently didn’t hold Sander’s weaker record on gun control against him and at the same time, Republicans rejected candidates with much stronger pro-2nd Amendment claims.
The NRA oversells their value in Trump’s win and by the same token, paints all opposition to him as anti-gun. They do this using conflation. On the cover of America’s 1st Freedom for January, images of gun control promoting billionaires George Soros and Michael Bloomberg hover above a crowd of placard waving anti-Trump activists. An article inside then declares: ‘“Not My President” protesters symbolize a looming threat to gun rights–one that didn’t accept defeat on election day.”(2) However, for all their alleged symbolism, if you look at the anti-Trump signs being carried, they say nothing about firearms at all. Instead, the messages read: “LOVE TRUMPS HATE” and “REFUSE TO ACCEPT A FASCIST AMERICA” and “UNITED AGAINST HATRED.”(3)
There are many issues uniting Americans who despise Donald Trump. Gun control simply isn’t one of them. If anything, the wave of racist attacks and actions unleashed by his victory has made the Left more conscious of their vulnerabilities, as seen by increased gun sales to women and minorities, greater interest in groups such as The Liberal Gun Club and even just my own personal experience of more Lefty Portlanders seeking information about firearms and Concealed Cary Permits.
This Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump is scheduled for inauguration as President of the United States, while again, protests oppose him nationwide. With Republicans primed to control every branch of government, the NRA needs enemies justifying scare tactics in their fundraising. Now that Obama and Clinton are removed, they will continue using anti-Trump activists instead. Don’t believe it.
As Trump is sworn in, I will be out on the streets of Portland with thousands of others who refuse to accept naked authoritarianism at the helm of State power. He cannot take office without a great cry against his lies, contempt for women and minorities and complete disregard of the Constitution. The tone must be established that armed Americans have a duty and presence in opposition, despite how the NRA portrays reality. I will be proud marching among comrades from every background in this and implore everyone who cares about creating a just, equitable future to join with us.
It’s easy for me to forget America has changed. I get up every day, drive around Portland, make plumbing and electrical repairs and feel like a completely respected member of the community. Today I interacted with a glass contractor, tow truck driver, galvanized pipe vendor and numerous other people, including a random man who tapped on my passenger window as I ate lunch and courteously requested I be careful of his vehicle when I moved my truck later. Like usual, never once was I made to feel socially slighted or uncomfortable as a White American.
Contrast that with my wife’s daily experience as a Black American. In the days since Donald Trump’s election, she’s dealt with increased blatant racism, from being called the worst racial epithets or told to “go back home” in public. That plus many more negative experiences, such as customers at her job who would rather wait for a White clerk than be served by her. Over time, that kind of treatment can really grind a person’s humanity down.
(above) Mr. and Mrs. Eliot
But it’s not just day-to-day respect I enjoy. Over the last eleven or so years, I’ve actively promoted and conducted firearms training, primarily among marginalized groups with a leftist slant. It has all occurred in the open and often documented by this weblog or my former ‘zine, American Gun Culture Report. For example, there’s an old OCCUPY photo of me holding some socially subversive placard, with an AK-47 slung over my shoulder. In other words, my social message could be interpreted as: “Here I am, status quo, I’m striving to bring about your downfall while armed to the teeth!”
Yet in all that time, I’ve never faced significant social sanction beyond the odd email or forgettable internet comment. Now, while my activities have certainly been more small scale than, for instance, Black Lives Matter, recall the massive backlash against that group and other Black Americans who organized in response to unjustified police shootings and State Sponsored Terrorism in Ferguson, Missouri.
What is the definition of modern American privilege? It’s me. Despite virtually all sensational mass shootings in the US being carried out by White men with a grudge against society, I still get a free pass to criticize with my rifle at the ready. Even when facing repressions that some might imagine only exist in the most distant, corrupt corners of the world, Black Americans are frowned upon over everything from minor rioting, to peaceful protests or even objecting when strangers touch their hair.
(above) a sample socially subversive placard
What can White Americans do in this age when action against vulnerable communities becomes increasingly acceptable? First of all, don’t be a privilege denier. It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that worldwide, people receive better treatment based on skin color. That’s just a social reality. Next? Resist by every means possible. My own privilege has many times put me in positions to call out injustice. Determine appropriate times for the soap box, ballot box and cartridge box, then use them accordingly.
Seasoned 2nd Amendment advocates can be even more valuable. Right now many people have become first time firearm owners, alarmed by the wave of violence against people of color and others. Most would benefit from training and instruction. Be an armed ally, for those who can’t with such ease. Take new folks out to the range and teach the safety and skills they need.
But most of all in this coming era, don’t be silent. Don’t be a bystander. Take agency no matter what. Never let neutrality melt into complicity.
This being my first writing since the election of Donald Trump, I’d like to admit being very wrong. Again. Like most observers, the chance of him even becoming the Republican presidential nominee seemed so remote, I completely discounted it. From an article last March, I apologized about that oversight, making note of how unprecedented it was that, in this day and age, a high profile politician could come so far while promoting nakedly racist policies, as opposed to the more socially palatable (yet just as fundamentally racist) economic agendas embraced by both Republican and Democratic elites.
Then, in late October, I predicted Trump’s defeat “which looks increasingly certain (barring some new sensational Clinton revelation), will only cement the 2nd Amendment alongside misogyny and comb-overs in American political consciousness.” In all fairness, however, the FBI re-opening Clinton’s email scandal was hardly new or sensational. The main disturbing revelations were long exposed, serving perhaps just enough of a reminder to tip the balance against her.
Not wanting to sound alarmist or overly demonize Trump voters, I’m well aware the White Nationalist element among them is not a majority. Many simply picked him as being the only candidate opposing Clinton, a status quo politician backed by the reviled economic 1%. Still, that’s no excuse. It’s an unacceptable decision to spite Wall Street hedge fund managers by actively sacrificing the vital interests of vulnerable fellow citizens and immigrants.
Now here we are. Trump the president-elect. Fascism represented among his senior staff. Racist attacks on the rise nationally. Nearby in Oregon, a black woman was beaten by brick wielding white men who allegedly praised Trump during the assault. It’s pretty much the kind of worse case scenarios that prompted me to become a gun owner in the first place. Already, I’ve been contacted by more Portlanders than usual seeking firearms training and information about concealed carry permits.
It remains to be seen if the true face of Trump in action will indeed swing federal power down in the worst ways, with mass deportations, religious registries and press censorship. Until then, his election emboldens bigots on a local level to increasingly abuse minorities. This must be strongly countered by every means available. It’s all very well and good to signal solidarity using safety pins, as many Americans are these days, but a symbol is only effective when backed with substance against violence. Many lynch mobs and racist attacks have been thwarted when opposed by armed resistance. Less so if sewing supplies are the only recourse.
Countless brave people from our shared history have successfully confronted fascism and state terror. In the coming months and years, we may be tested just as surely. The spirit of Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade live on inside everyone who chooses such paths. With those inspirational legacies, we still have hope for the future.
First of all, I’d like to admit that I was wrong. Terribly wrong. As recently as five months ago, during casual political discussions, I spoke breezily about the unexpected longevity of Donald Trump’s candidacy and what a fascinating window it shone onto disaffected elements within the Republican Party. My observation always concluded, “But he can never be president.”
While Trump remains far from actually winning the presidency, I was still wrong. Of course, what I meant, was that an establishment candidate must inevitably triumph, with vast superpac resources and party backing. Rank and file Republican voters might briefly flirt with entertaining, yet absurd personalities like Ben Carson or Trump, but someone on the order of a Jeb Bush would necessarily become nominated. That’s how the game works. Or worked.
For now, we can skip over the litany of inconsistencies, incredible claims and bizarre statements by Trump that would have shattered any other serious campaign and have already turned most party power brokers against him. By this point, his opponents are well aware of them and most supporters simply don’t care. However, for a weblog about firearms and social violence, the calls to action uttered by Trump himself require serious scrutiny.
Irresponsible rhetoric is nothing new to American presidential politics, from caustic personal insults during the 1800 Thomas Jefferson .v John Adams campaign, to John McCain’s joke about bombing Iran in 2007. Trump possesses no reservations against using similar language regarding political opponents, but ups the ante by encouraging rally attendees to physically attack protesters, even claiming he will pay their legal bills if arrested. Crowds are listening.
Besides a reluctance to distance himself from the endorsement of KKK leader David Duke, Trump’s gatherings have become noted for assaults, not to mention hand-raising “loyalty oaths,” which many perform in a classic Heil Hitler salute. In one amazing incident, Trump campaign officials didn’t even bother relegating one of their neo-Nazi volunteers to stuffing envelopes in a back room, but let her be interviewed on television, with fascist tattoos prominently displayed. For an election cycle already over the top, it’s beyond parody.
Now, many people observing these incidents immediately take a predictable worse case scenario and compare the situation with 1933 and Hitler’s rise in Germany. I am hesitant at making such a leap, but still, the potential for civil disorder appears to be growing. No matter who becomes nominated by either party, 2016 will surely be a very bitter election. Trump has already threatened supporters will riot if his bid is thwarted at the Republican convention.
Assuming, it is indeed Trump on the Republican side, what might his adherents do if he looses the general election? Will people who consider this man their saving grace from alleged hordes of Mexican rapists, simply concede defeat, after being urged to take matters into their own hands? Or, conversely, should he win, take that victory as license to exercise violence against Trump’s declared foes among minorities?
I hate to think of what might be possible under these conditions, which is the reason I became a gun owner in the first place. Historically, whenever skeptics asked why I keep an AK-47 handy, my response, as a historian, was generally: lynch mobs. While some comfortably imagine such terrible outbursts only occurred long ago in America’s past, per just one example, it was 2007 when a racist crowd attempted murdering two Latino men, just several miles south of my home in Portland, Oregon.
Though Trump has clearly mastered redirecting class resentment along ethnic and religious lines, his supporters shows signs of being uncontainable. The 2016 presidential race is already leagues off any map into uncharted territory. If frustrated or euphoric right wing voters use violence against vulnerable members of society, it may very well fall on common people to make hard choices. Turn away in shock, or respond with prompt action.
Far too often in US history, individuals have taken the easy path and let mobs carry out extremist justice, from Gold Rush era purges against American Indian to the Zoot Suit riots against Latinos and Blacks of 1943. Should Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” signal a return to the days of unaccountable pogroms, armed citizens must be ready to counter them. If dark days lie ahead, at least we can choose not to enter them helplessly.
Several years ago, my friend Ann encouraged me to order an AK-47 parts kit. She had been building them in her garage for some time, in fact, I’d written an article about the process for my old gun politics ‘zine AGCR. Soon enough it showed up. A decommissioned Romanian rifle with the stamped receiver cut in sections. It reeked of cosmoline. A capital letter G stood out boldly, engraved on the rear sight block.
For me, that was a bonus. It stood for Garda, a special section of the Romanian military created as a citizens militia. Nicolae Ceauşescu, the longtime dictator, originally founded it in response to Soviet Russian crackdowns on freedom movements throughout Eastern Bloc countries during the late ‘60s. This put Romania in an uncomfortable position, wholeheartedly accepted by neither side during the late Cold War. The Garda persisted, conscripted mostly among young people and issued AK-47 rifles, ostensibly providing a loyal armed force to maintain civil order in times of crisis.
Over time, Romania became an increasingly bitter country, wracked with economic troubles and autocratic rule. Then in 1989, as other Communist states folded through relatively peaceful transfers of power, Ceausescu’s regime hung on. The Garda proved reluctant to fire against their own neighbors and significant numbers turned on the government. Weapons intended for entrenching a totalitarian ruling class instead took part in tearing it down. Little wonder I thrilled at holding such a piece of history.
Ann and I pressed out its barrel, then removed the stock and other components, before fabricating a replacement receiver from sheet metal. We installed a new trigger group, pistol style grip and muzzle compensator. After much grinding and welding, it functioned reliably at last. The old Romanian AK had turned into a US legal semi-auto firearm. Around then, Ann informed me that every home built rifle needs a name.
I pondered this. It was early autumn of 2011, and while commercial fishing in the Gulf of Alaska over the summer, repercussions after the Arab Spring democratic uprisings played out over our deck speakers via satellite radio. One by one, repressive governments collapsed, from Libya to Egypt, shaken by a mix of mass demonstrations and in other cases, armed resistance. Just as enormous halibut succumbed under our sharp knives, dictators like Gaddafi and Mubarak fell from power.
Of particular interest was Tunisia, where the unrest began. My shipmate Anissa, came from a Tunisian family, and together we learned how it started, after a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire to protest unjust treatment by government agents. Just two weeks following his sacrifice, Ben Ali, the national leader for over two decades, was forced into exile.
Inspired by these events, movements against authority spread, eventually to the US just as fishing season ended. Like others in my fleet, I proudly joined the domestic occupation movement, personally waving a Tunisian flag in solidarity with their cause. The choice seemed obvious. I named my immigrant AK-47 Bouazizi.
Recently, I took the final steps toward dedicating it. After years with the name simply painted on a standard wooden stock, I carved a custom one from oak. The traditional ones are quite short, designed for soldiers wearing cold weather gear, so I cut this one almost two inches longer, making it more comfortable to shoulder. On one side, I engraved the name in Arabic letters, and on the other, using Old German script. Then across the top, I added Tunisia’s crescent and star. With metal shavings and glue, I inlaid the patterns, then sanded everything flush once it dried, creating a nice faded effect. A couple layers of stain and lacquer later, I screwed it solidly in place. Complete at last.
My rifle memorializes historic stands against tyranny and injustice across continents, cultures– and the power of common people to throw off oppressors. It will be many years before the true course of Romanian and Tunisian destinies play out, but brave people who took incredible chances to forge it for themselves should never be forgotten. I am honored to commemorate one of them. Mohamed Bouazizi didn’t die in vain.