Monthly Archives: February 2016

Bloomberg’s Class Warfare

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I recently received an e.mail from the billionaire Wall Street financier, and former New York city mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Well, it was actually his pet project, Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control organization. As a socialist, I’m highly skeptical of most any agenda pushed by front groups for the ultra-wealthy, (Bloomberg being only one of many billionaires on their advisory board) and this was no exception. At any rate, their communication was promoting a new video by the comedian Rachel Dratch. Here is her written introduction:

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I can think of a lot of things that don’t go well with drinking alcohol: Calling your ex. Performing heart surgery. Knitting. A loaded firearm. We can all agree that mixing that stuff with alcohol makes for a pretty dangerous cocktail. That’s why I was shocked to learn that you can legally carry a loaded gun in places that serve alcohol in 49 out of 50 states. Who thought this was a good idea?! And it’s just one of the crazy gun laws the NRA has fought for in statehouses across the country. The good news is, there’s something people like you and me can do about it: Check out the video I made about “What Could Go Wrong?” when guns and alcohol mix. Then, sign up to get involved to stop the gun lobby from pushing their extreme laws in your community. I spent my comedy career on Saturday Night Live doing some pretty ridiculous stuff. But “let’s allow guns in bars” is the kind of idea that’s too ridiculous to make up. And it’s being pushed by the same extremists who want guns in mental institutions, day care centers, and in the hands of felons and domestic abusers. It’s going to take people like you and me — sane, reasonable people — standing up to these reckless laws in our neighborhoods, cities, and states, if we want to keep our families safe.

Besides irresponsibly asserting that anyone actually desires arming mental patients or violent abusers, Dratch handily distorts consuming alcohol with a far from universal end result: murderous-drunkenness. It’s a bizarre oversimplification to imagine having casual drinks turns average people into staggering menaces who can’t be trusted with knitting needles or would shoot up a bar Wild West style given the opportunity. Nobody would survive a happy hour if that were true. Also, the worst likely scenario involving knitting and drinking is a tacky scarf. People don’t down several beers and then immediately jab craft tools into their eyeballs. Given that people are far more likely to drink themselves to death than be fatally shot, it might seem alcohol is the more relevant social problem.

The set up Dratch implies, is that guns will turn bars into homicide scenes over minor disagreements. Subtract the guns, no more problem. However, as she admits, most states allow properly licensed persons to legally carry concealed firearm in such establishments already. Therefore, her fear isn’t some hypothetical worry. It’s something we can examine the facts on.

Bureau of Justice statistics conveniently arrange criminal acts, so that a breakdown can be viewed covering violent incidents within restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Interestingly, the yearly average for 2004-08 was 4.4% of total. About the same as visiting a neighbors residence or the sidewalk in front of your own. However, far less than inside your home (17.6%) and in school or on school property (13%). These numbers include all violence, not just involving guns. In other words, despite bars potentially containing alcohol and firearms, they are still much safer than individual residences or schools. The school point is significant, because while homes often pair both alcohol and guns, schools should be relatively spared from drinking and are often considered gun-free zones. In other words, social violence  remains foremost a social issue– not a gun, knife or tools-of-violence issue. This needs to be stressed, because gun control arguments easily play into simplified causation scenarios, obscuring complex societal problems.

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The video heavily reinforces gun-owner stereotypes. Dratch cheerfully hams it up, portraying a harried suburban mother who takes her family out to a restaurant. There, her children are horrified, seeing rifles propped against the bar and casually resting near white men wearing baseball-caps and clean flanels. Climax arrives when a shotgun is accidentally knocked over, though it fails to discharge. Curiously, the video doesn’t even address Dratch’s stated concern: that concealed weapons make bars violent, instead humorously suggesting unconcealed long guns will cause accidents. There are no statistics available regarding accidental firearm deaths in bars, but I suspect it is greatly infrequent.

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It’s understandable some people fear guns in places that serve alcohol. Of course, people do get drunk and make poor life choices. Indeed, the father of a dear friend of mine was shot and paralyzed years ago, following a bar altercation. As for myself, I’ve carried a gun hundreds of times in divebars, nightclubs or upscale lounges. In those circumstances, I elect against drinking excessively. Everyone that I know who carries, exercises similar judgment. The low rate of bar violence, compared to other locations, implies this is common restraint.

But why carry in a bar if they’re so safe? Well, fatality statistics don’t tell the whole story. I remember one of the Portland Pink Pistols telling me years ago, about encountering several men savagely beating another outside a gay club. Simply the sight of his gun was enough to halt the assault. Another good friend of mine was nearly stabbed to death by racial skinheads while walking home from a Portland bar. Also, people employed in the service industry tend to work odd hours and carry cash. Circumstances like that attract predators who might be further encouraged if people leaving bars were known as vulnerable targets.

Everytown for Gun Safety is an organization representing interests of the notorious wealthiest 1%. People who don’t work long hours earning tips or catch the last bus home at dark transit stops. Social elites dwelling in gated communities with private security, who know 911 would always respond in emergencies. Most Americans don’t possess that assurance and for some, a concealed pistol might be the worst case ticket home to their families. A percentage are even baseball-cap-wearing white men, but that is hardly universal. Indeed, people from every background rely on guns for protection. I know, because many share it with me, often laughing that because of stereotypes, they would never tell friends, family or co-workers. American’s don’t need rich men like Bloomberg proclaiming simplified solutions for very real problems. Reducing the number of places marginalized populations can exercise self defense is simply regressive class warfare.

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A Name for an AK

IMG_2738Several 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.IMG_2648

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.IMG_2646

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.

Cascadia and the NRA

IMG_2865One of the side benefits to joining the NRA (see my embarrassed confession in a previous weblog post) was the offer of a free duffle bag. Who doesn’t need a way to carry more stuff around? At any rate, it showed up the other day, a cute mini-duffel that looks like it might make a decent range bag or handle enough gear for an overnight. The only glaring problem was its logo. This leftist certainly wasn’t going to be caught with N-R-A in giant white letters on his luggage! The only question was, which patch to sew over it?

I’d recently gotten some Cascadia liberation patches from cascadianow.org and selected one for cover up duty. It wasn’t hard to choose. I used the rainbow gay pride version of the classic tri-color, superimposed with a Douglas fir tree. One could hardly imagine a better counter against socially regressive messages from the NRA. However, it’s not as oppositional as some suppose.

IMG_2866A major intellectual thinker behind the modern Cascadian successionist movement was the writer Ernest Callenbach (1929-2012). In 1975, this Berkely professor published a book called Ecotopia, concerning his vision for the Pacific Northwest breaking away from the US and forming an independent nation. As the title suggests, this new country focused on bringing ecological balance back to the bio-region, with a great deal of economic equality and various other progressive values as well.

However, Callenbach didn’t buy into, what at the time, was a relatively new crusade among liberals, that of gun control. In his imagined society, the military was largely replaced by militia units and citizens were expected to form the bulk of self defense forces. Firearms abounded, but as with the examples of Switzerland, Israel and Canada, greater social equality translated into low interpersonal violence, despite their availability.

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Several years ago, I corresponded with Callenbach in the course of a book review for my old ‘zine AGCR, and questioned him on that front. He explained that he came from rural Pennsylvania and grew up in countryside where everyone had firearms and there was little crime, so for him, it never made sense to blame guns, and carried that idea into his writing.

In the end, I thank the NRA for their bag, but am proud it now represents a much more noble ideal. That the citizens of Cascadia should be free to choose their own destiny, whether it remains part of the greater US or not, with equality and respect for all. Armed or unarmed. Gay or straight. Douglas fir or Pacific red cedar.

Country,Hip-Hop and the NRA Lifestyle

One feature of the NRA’s regular magazine, America’s First Freedom, is a column called “NRA Country.” It highlights contemporary country music artists who adhere to the so-called, “NRA lifestyle.” No, I didn’t know what that means either. Fortunately, they provide a definition on their internet page. It more or less boils down to being patriotic, respecting the military and, naturally, supporting the 2nd Amendment, while showing background photos of exclusively White people waving flags or engaging in sporting activities. In other words, it portrayed a carefully cherrypicked version of America.

This is no accident. A curious aspects of the NRA is how doggedly it reinforces its own stereotypes. That causes problem for everyone who takes the right to be armed seriously. A hazard often encountered defending gun rights is how enmeshed the 2nd Amendment has become with regressive social politics. Of course, the NRA bears major guilt for this because of their strict party line Republican support and non-firearm related conservative causes.

You might think, when linking themselves to a subject like modern musical acts, the NRA might relax a little bit, but no. Only country music. Well, why not tweak perceptions and include other styles? There are Americans musicians from rockabilly to electronic noise who enjoy shooting. Why not, say, hip-hop?

An obvious reason is that firearms are lyrical staples among gangsta rappers, which in some people’s minds IS hip-hop, and the NRA would dislike association with a sub-group known for celebrating gun use while drug dealing or amidst gang warfare. However, is country music really much better? The artists they feature may be clean cut, but as a genre, country isn’t all ballads about hound dogs and pickup trucks.

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(above) Move along, just karaoke murder music, folks

Take two prominent examples. Even a mainstream singer like Dwight Yoakum wrote a song called “Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room” which approvingly describes stalking an unfaithful lover and shooting her in the head. Then there’s Garth Brooks, whose upbeat song “Papa Loved Mama” tells the story of a truck driver who murders his wife for cheating on him. In NRA country, is it morally worse to kill a person you love or just someone who owes you drug money?

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As far as I can tell, the NRA doesn’t necessarily pick artists who write songs about guns, only those whose image appears consistent with the “NRA lifestyle.” That shouldn’t disqualify rappers. (1) Take, for instance, the Mississippi artist David Banner, who previously put on shows for US troops, (Respecting the Military, CHECK), testified before Congress about controversial subjects in hip-hop music, (Patriotism, CHECK) and is also a gun owner. (2A CHECK!!!)

Banner has been quoted, saying “…I love guns . . . because I don’t plan on doing anything but protecting myself with my gun. My thing is that I don’t want anybody to be able to tell me that I can’t protect myself.” (2) Now, Banner isn’t seeking out endorsements from the US firearms establishment, but there have been other rappers who did.

Back in 1995, a crew called Smif-N-Wessun released their first fill length record to warm reviews and, soon enough, a cease-and-desist letter from the lawyers of firearms manufacturer, Smith and Wesson. Interviewed ten years later, Tekomin Williams, from the group, still sounded bitter.

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“That just let you know, even in this day and time, or that day and time, hip-hop’s still not appreciated in some places. . . If anything, they should have supported us, as many guns as they got floatin’ in the hood or they sellin’ to us. If anything, they should have been our number one sponsor. You know what that could have done for their sales?”

Perhaps a spotlight from the NRA’s magazine might have been just the thing to smooth over their legal dispute. However, we’ll never know, as long as the NRA continues to portray itself as an institution supporting only right wing politics and White music.

 

  1. Colt Ford, a country singer/rapper who the NRA has, in fact, featured, doesn’t count.
  2. Rodrigo Boscunan and Christian Pearce. Enter the Babylon System: Unpacking Gun Culture from Samuel Colt to 50 Cent. Random House Canada, 2007. p. 141.
  3. Ibid. 33.