Tag Archives: guns

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.

 

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A Leftist Critique of March for Our Lives

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Ross Eliot at a gun show in Portland last October

The March for Our Lives movement has been getting a lot of attention lately. It’s always inspiring to see young people getting active towards causes that bring about positive change. However, this particular one exhibits fundamental problems that demand examination. A helpful way to illustrate what’s wrong in a substantive manner is by making political comparisons with the modern Tea Party. Let’s rewind for a moment and see how that’s important.

Back in 2009, American conservatives hit especially hard times. During a two term Republican administration under George W. Bush, the country became mired in Eastern wars with no end in sight, plus entering the worst economic depression since 1929. The middle class, long in decline, contracted even more sharply. People who leaned right politically suddenly found long held assumptions shattered, with establishment Republicans unable to offer satisfying answers. On top of that, Democrats had elected Barack Obama as president, a Black man (with an Eastern sounding name no less), overturning centuries of cultural and racial precedent.

For Americans with a liberal bent, that provided an outlet: Reject the Bush era wars and policies by voting for Obama and give him a chance to fix things. Even among us leftists who expected little from corporate Democrats anyway, there was a hopeful sense afoot, at least enough to keep off the streets for a while and see what would happen next.

That’s why, when rage erupted against government bailouts for the financial industry, whose unregulated greed had caused the economic crash, it came from the right, even though leftists had been leading critics of corporate welfare for decades. However, that anger became channeled aside almost immediately. When news pundit Rick Santelli made his famous rant against the banks, he explicitly did so in the name of Capitalism, calling for a “New Tea Party.” Many American conservatives resonated with his message, something Republican party apparatchiks tied strongly to Wall Street, couldn’t effectively voice.

What emerged from all this was a movement of people with very legitimate grievances against the status quo, yet guided and amplified by wealthy interests such as the Koch brothers. Foregoing any critique that could effectively address economic inequality, the Tea Party ultimately recycled familiar failed ideas. Instead of corporate accountability, their 10 point plan advocated striking down environmental regulations and subsidized health care, besides supporting lower taxes and more respect for the Constitution…etc, etc.

Shift forward to 2018 and it’s the Democrats in trouble. They self-sabotaged a popular candidate out of their own presidential primary in favor of one with a more business friendly platform, only to see her lose against Donald Trump, whose constant bungles would have made any other politician’s campaign self implode. Despite everything but a Mt. Rushmore sized neon sign advertising that Americans are hungry for serious political and economic reform, Democrats have still largely been content offering half-hearted resistance in the face of Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric, support for White nationalism and whatever the scandals du jour may be.

In other words, March for Our Lives materialized at a similar point in time but reversed. It’s also inspired by perfectly legitimate concerns: violence in American society is widespread, unavoidable and everyone knows someone affected. Women abused by partners, soldiers with PTSD from unnecessary wars and even whole communities of color terrorized by police departments. Of course, violence isn’t unique to the US, but a particular form of mass murder has become notorious within American society, what emergency drills call an active shooter. It’s specifically such an individual who caused the deaths of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida last February, spurring the movement’s formation.

There are naturally significant differences besides similarities. The Tea Party arrived after economic catastrophe on a national scale as part of longtime worsening trends. Members of society most affected by it came from lower class and marginalized populations whose mass displacement into homelessness, addiction and suicide can never be fully quantified. March for Our Lives, on the other hand, mobilized in response to school shootings, a phenomenon on the decline for decades, despite sensational incidents played up in the media. Victims of class warfare are nameless, frequently unsympathetic figures. Solutions to economic problems, guaranteed incomes for example, often seem vague or too radical. Murdered tenagers, on the other hand, are universally relatable. People want tangible solutions and the issues appear more clear cut: simply curtail guns to stop guns killing people. Fundamental critiques of the social inequities that cause violence are more difficult to digest or be summed up in a meme.

Here’s how it broke down in practice. The Tea Party took widespread outrage against economic injustice and directed it safely away from taking up measures that might threaten the status quo. Right wing business interests funneled money toward the movement and conservative media outlets gushed enthusiastic coverage. By the same token, almost a decade later, March for Our Lives quickly allied with powerful economic forces. Democratic billionaire Michael Bloomberg provided assistance and high end fashion brand Gucci became its first large doner, besides other corporate backers. Citibank got in on the action, making moves to pressure clients toward more gun restrictions as did Walmart and other major retailers. Even prominent universities pledged they would not look askance at applicants disciplined by their high schools after walking out of classes for anti-gun protests. Then on March 24th, mainstream media outlets suspended ordinary schedules to provide live streaming coverage from Washington DC and other local marches.

Contrast that with the treatment of movements bringing other serious social problems to the fore. Would Gucci fund an event against police terror? Lyft drive anti-war demonstrators around for free? Citibank support protests highlighting Wall Street corruption? Look at news coverage for some perspective. The January 20th Women’s March culminated one year after the first, a year during which sexual violence, workplace discrimination and cultural misogyny rose to a level of awareness never seen before. Powerful men fell from grace, even well known offenders who had previously lived immune from conduct criticism. Significant subjects were raised that affected absolutely everyone in society. Despite this, the massive event took place with scarcely any attention from major networks.

Women’s issues, though directing affecting more than 50% of the population, are just one of many fallen by the wayside in comparison with the current media obsession around gun control. It’s a shame, because social violence is a serious problem and should be addressed as such. Like anything else, it’s the big picture that counts, yet March for Our Lives becomes fixated on minutia, often with little concern for facts. As observed before, school shootings are rare and declining, yet the movement claims them as an epidemic, just as it demonizes semi-auto rifles, which are only used in a tiny fraction of crimes. It doesn’t make for sensational headlines, but the vast majority of murders involve handguns, close proximity to the victim and only a few shots fired. Still, fear becomes drummed up around “assault rifles,” “high-capacity magazines,” and “high-powered” firearms.

Just as the Tea Party channeled conservative angst in a safe direction, March for Our Lives, strongly supported by 1% elites (that many liberals opposed during the Occupy Wall Street movement), appropriates frustration with the emerging Trump era and dilutes it. Suddenly, people who previously opposed regressive economic forces have found themselves on the same side as Walmart, the notorious destroyer of small businesses. Taking just two cases of many, Citibank cynically profited supporting the murderous South African apartheid regime and just last year was forced into settling 97.4 million dollars after a money laundering scandal. Picking up the gun control bandwagon provided much needed good press for both companies.

Still, despite the community destruction and very real bloodshed caused by corporations, it’s rare to find mainstream criticism. CEOs in suits, after all, don’t cast an alarming shadow for most people.  Every cause needs a villain and the NRA, with its uncritical backing of Trump and incompetent public relations might as well come from Hollywood central casting. Tone deaf 2nd Amendment supporters openly march with rifles, playing up to embarrassing stereotypes and tying their gun ownership with any number of regressive issues. No wonder armed people on the left have been keeping quiet for fear of social ostracization. Many times lately I’ve seen individuals who own guns for protection, perhaps because of violent former partners or whose grandparents generation fought off the KKK, sit silently while friends (oblivious to that) ask: “Why would anyone need an AR-15?”  

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Of course, there’s an answer and it’s especially alarming to see liberals clamoring for greater firearm restrictions at the same time as the far right is becoming more radicalized. Emboldened by scarcely veiled support from the Oval Office, domestic fascism has become just another legitimate point of view and White Nationalists gone on the offensive. Tragically, many who formerly claimed solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters pointing out systemic racism in law enforcement, now expect Black populations to disarm and become dependent on those same police for community defense. That scenario is even featured in a major work from the White Power canon, The Turner Diaries, where racist insurgents rejoice after state gun control measures leave neighborhoods of color completely vulnerable to extermination.*

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Of course liberals aren’t thinking about that when they opine against semi-auto rifles, despite their historic use in America** by marginalized populations to defend against lynch mobs and other collective attacks. It’s more comforting for them to imagine cartoonish redneck hillbillies being persecuted or camo wearing militia members rounded up. But just as the War on Drugs served as cover for the large scale incarceration of Black and Brown people, who would really be targeted during a War on Guns?

March for Our Lives deserves congratulations for enthusiasm and making effort to spotlight media bias in reporting about shootings in urban versus suburban schools. It may still find its own footing and offer up productive solutions toward reducing violence, however, that’s unlikely so long as the organization marches alongside regressive social forces. The measures it proposes do nothing to challenge institutional racism, skewed economic systems and toxic forms of masculinity, all of which are much larger factors behind violence of all kinds, not simply school shootings or particular tools used for violence. Americans should demand real solutions, not distractions that ignore root causes.

*Andrew Macdonald aka William Pierce. The Turner Diaries. Barricade Books, New Jersey, 1978 (1996 edition). 145.

**For further reading see:
Charles E. Cobb. This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible. Duke University Press, Durham. 2016.
Nicholas Johnson. Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. Prometheus Books, New York. 2014.
Akinyele Omowale Umoja. We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement. New York University Press, New York. 2013.

A Brief Pause Before Punching Nazis

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In the rush of emotions surrounding Donald Trump’s first several days in office, hardly a moment has been more cathartic for those opposing him than the ubiquitous image of alt.right leader Richard Spencer blindsided by a fist to the head from a black clad assailant. It’s an easy act to swallow and the memes practically write themselves.

Spencer calls for his vision of racial cleansing. Groans.
Spencer makes misogynistic remarks about women. Boos.
Spencer raises a right hand in the iconic Heil Hitler salute. Hisses.
Spencer hits the ground after his face collides with the Black Bloc. Applause.

Now, I’ve never actually punched a Nazi, but I did shove a rather large racist man into a concrete wall once while delivering a Give-No-Fucks tongue lashing at point blank range and felt the euphoria only extreme self righteousness can deliver while watching him literally sprint away.

It was worth it, even though I got fired the next day.

As satisfying as such an action can be, whether delivered at the cost of employment, or safely viewed on Youtube, it’s important to keep in mind who the serious enemies are. Most damaging human depravity comes through the policies of respectable people in suits instead of shrill, small time agitators. Richard Spencer is a noisy blip of racism enjoying peripheral glow from Donald Trump’s victory. He can only fantasize about equaling the damage done to communities of color by skewed drug sentencing laws, for-profit prison systems and years of warfare in the East.

Now, I will never support legal restrictions on even the most regressive speech or opinions, but during a period of low-level insurgency against vulnerable populations, people must make their own ethical choices of how to best respond. Self defense can take many forms. Just remember that while Spencer’s kind are more visible currently, deeper and more serious problems have persisted under every administration, regardless of party.

I also want to encourage a healthy hesitance over resorting to violence. Clearly this is not a pacifist weblog, yet the current enthusiasm over “punching Nazis” plays into very unappealing macho worldviews regarding problem solving. I salute the individual who struck Spencer, but acknowledge this is all much bigger than knocking down one man or even removing one president.

Trump, the NRA and Inauguration Day

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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.

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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.

(1) America’s 1st Freedom, January 2017, p. 33.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid. p.32.

The Tet Offensive and Trump

tet-offensive-colt-1911-full-rightIf a perfect metaphor to symbolize the current state of American politics is sought, look no further than the world of commemorative firearms. You can find ads for these in many leisure periodicals, usually featuring triumphant patriotic themes or personalities like John Wayne and General George S. Patton, emblazoned with gold filagree.

This is a time when the president-elect of the United States not only coddles White Nationalists and openly admires Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, but has already broken longstanding protocols keeping peace with China and implied willingness to break international treaties controlling nuclear weapons. A candidate who ran as an outsider to “drain the swamp” of status quo politics, now stacking cabinet positions and government departments with insider apparatchiks.

Therefore, how appropriate under such circumstances that the first issue of the NRA’s political magazine, America’s 1st Freedom since Donald Trump’s election, contains a full-page ad for a Colt .45 pistol commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.

The Tet Offensive. A series of intense battles in 1968 that is widely considered to signal when the United States began loosing the Vietnam War.

 

The Armed Face of Privilege

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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.

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(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.

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(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.

The NRA Quadruples Down on Trump

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Actually, quadruple is an understatement, as the most recent issue of America’s 1st Freedom contains six individual articles promoting Donald Trump, one cover mention, another showcasing his VP, plus a bonus endorsement insert and special letter by Wayne LaPierre. It looks like a shotgun marriage, but with the blushing NRA handcuffed to it’s bombastic groom with shackles of lurid prose.

Reading each piece felt like a recitation of the grim vows to this unbalanced, manichean ceremony. Despite painting candidates in tropes of Good vs. Evil, in all reality, the articles contain very little about Trump, other than his supposed role as an antidote to their real foil, Hillary Clinton. While Clinton has left an anti-gun trail decades long that any Google equipped researcher can easily follow, none of their pro-2nd Amendment sentiments attributed to Trump predate his presidential campaign.

It’s easy to see single-issue logic operating. One candidate who eagerly embraces armed voters, even though a relatively recent convert. Opposed, stands a politician proud to call the NRA her enemy. An endorsement choice looks obvious. Check the ammo box for Trump. Cycle the action closed.

This simpleminded endorsement is a complete insult. Everyone turning the pages of America’s 1st Freedom knows by now what singular destruction Trump has wrecked throughout the Republican Party. I looked in vain for any mention of his controversies at all. Even to assure NRA members that, despite what they have heard about Trump, he can still be counted on support 2nd Amendment rights, and why that should outweigh everything else, even bragging about sexual assault. At least acknowledge what a fraught decision voting for Trump will be among many members. It’s as though the article deadlines were ten months ago.

By ignoring the true spectrum of reality in this presidential campaign, the NRA is locking American gun politics into potential disaster. Through sheer incompetence and a vile personality cult, the Trump campaign has tainted everything associated with it. Countless Republican defectors, desperately trying to save the reputation of their brand, recognized that long ago. Riding it down Dr. Strangelove style into oblivion, 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. It’s still not too late for a divorce.