STAND DOWN

Posted in Rants on June 2nd, 2014 by Ed

(Editor's note: I'm going to try updating at noon rather than midnight for a while. My hypothesis is that it will accommodate Summer Academic Schedule a bit better.)

It turns out that someone employed by the NRA has a basic grasp of the way a normal person reacts to seeing dangerously zealous and ignorant people walking into quasi-public establishments like malls and restaurants carrying loaded semiautomatic rifles. The organization's DC lobbying arm is asking Texas open carry advocates to stand down, explaining to people who need to have this explained to them that normal people whose lives do not revolve around fetishizing firearms find it "downright weird" and "scary." Most importantly, from the NRA's perspective, the more gun owners behave in such a fashion, the lower the odds that their cherished open/concealed carry laws will be enacted. It's the classic internal clash between the movement members who have half a brain and those whose thought process occurs mostly in the intestines and gonads.

HomeDepotOCT-3crop

(Side note: so when the "threat" materializes, is she going to drop the infants in order to use that rifle? I mean, the Gay Black Muslim Teenage Immigrant Union-Member Welfare Mother Assailant certainly isn't going to wait for her to set her children down in a stroller before blowing her away.)

And now for something completely different. Hold on, I'm going somewhere with this.

Regular readers know that I'm, if not "obsessed," at least very interested in the Cold War. I recently re-read Victor Sebestyen's 1989, an excellent take on the fall of non-Soviet communist regimes in Europe. In any book about the final years of the Cold War, several cliches and tropes are usually well-represented. One – and this is Sebestyen's biggest failing, I believe – is the "Pope John Paul II killed communism!" line that no actual historian takes seriously anymore. The second is the dynamic explanation for why the revolutions of Eastern Europe, Romania aside, unfolded bloodlessly. Once it became apparent that Gorbachev had no intention of using Soviet military power to intervene, the communist regimes of Europe were left with only one choice to retain their power: to use their own military and police forces to put down anti-government protests by force. The cliched explanation for failing to use that option is that those domestic security forces "would not be willing to fire on their own people." Whether this is entirely true is questionable, but if one reads enough books about the fall of communism this phrase will be encountered no less than several hundred times. In short, while Soviet tanks might be more than willing to roll through Prague shooting at Czechs, Czech tanks would not.

I often wonder how much the militarization of police and the "Us vs. Them, citizens are all the enemy" mentality of American law enforcement (coinciding with the War on Drugs, but that's another story) is responsible for the looniest aspects of gun culture in the US. After all, can any sentient observer be unclear on how ready and willing American police are to shoot "their own people", in the parlance of hacky Cold War prose? Left, right, black, white, old, young…pretty much everyone realizes that American law enforcement from the local patrolman to the ATF have proven themselves to be itching, or at least willing, to whip out their piece and start shooting at the slightest provocation – real or imagined.

It takes only passing attention to the news to see how easy it is to get cops to beat the shit out of unarmed public protesters en masse or that every couple of days some innocent and usually black pedestrian ends up dying in Mysterious Circumstances or that some kid gets beaten to a bloody pulp for daring to be insufficiently deferential to Officer Friendly. While old, white America may actively cheer the use of police power against Leftists, minorities, and Punk Teenagers, they're certainly coherent enough to connect the dots that police will basically do anything they're ordered to do, and a lot of things they're not, when it comes to inflicting violence on their fellow citizens.

How much, I wonder, of the armed-to-the-teeth culture on the far right is a reaction to the way law enforcement behaves in this country? Back in the 90s things like Waco and Ruby Ridge were rallying cries on the far right for the specter of the government coming to get law abiding gun owners, but even without reference to such extreme examples it isn't hard to make the connection between the police beating up Occupy protesters and poor black males today and those same police posing a threat to Responsible Gun Owners tomorrow.

Arguably, law enforcement suffers the most from the loosening of gun laws in the last thirty years, as they now face better and more lethally armed criminals with less reserve about shooting (or shooting back) at police than ever before. Maybe – just maybe – some parts of the American public that believe it is necessary to be so heavily armed might not feel it quite so necessary if police were not so goddamn violent, aggressive, and downright mean so often in this country. Sure, some people are nuts and would make all the same pro-gun arguments no matter how police behaved, and at the same time some cops are Good and don't treat every person they meet like The Enemy. It stands to reason, however, that the militarization of law enforcement and the drop-of-a-hat willingness to use force is not entirely unrelated to the increasing popularity of the idea that individuals must arm themselves as a bulwark against the power of the state.