America under the gun
“The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.”
— The Weapon Shops of Isher, by A.E. van Vogt
Well, it happened.
Or, rather, “it” didn’t happen.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, despite her hopes, has failed to get her assault weapons ban of 157 different models of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines– including the Bushmaster XM-15 that Adam Lanza used to slaughter adults and children in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut– to be part of a Democratic gun bill to be offered soon on the Senate floor.
Though these provisions can be added together as an amendment, it’s now fairly certain that the bill she sponsored will not be part of the legislation that was expected to reach the Senate floor next month. Its excision from the package will bring what was already a daunting prospect to an almost inevitable defeat.
Majority leader Harry Reid wouldn’t go the distance, perhaps with his eye on various red-state Democrats, up for re-election in 2014, who probably are indisposed to weaken gun rights.
In documenting the ongoing social crisis over the issue of the personal use of firearms, so far no one has been able to propose anything to de-fuse the volatile issue. It seems not to be a solvable problem.
Each “incident,” each mass shooting, seems to dare us to resolve to oppose gun manufacturers and take on their army of tireless lobbyist-spokesmen.
Feinstein’s bill as written also made ammunition magazines with a capacity above 10 rounds illegal.
And though simply limiting the size of magazines may seem a reasonable, if not fully adequate response to the horrendous Newtown shooting, to the paranoid firearms fetishists who decry any attempt to control weaponry by the state, such an attempt seems, of course, the very camel’s nose under the tent.
It would appear to be nothing less than the expected beginning of the long-dreaded Federal Gun Grab, the one which will conclude with guns being pried from the “cold, dead fingers” of martyred patriots, doubtless by body armor-wearing Jack-Booted Thugs from the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Too deeply wired into the flesh and bone of the national character is the deathless association of the expression of individual liberty and the “right to bear arms.”
For us not to be a heavily armed society, this underlying system of belief is what must give way to progressive change. But can it?
Recently, as I thought of how other peoples and nations might view our attempts in this direction, something made me think of a minor newspaper article that caught my attention eight years ago.
A “squib,” essentially a piece of filler several pages into the paper, a mere one column wide and about four inches tall, and below the fold, at that.
The headline was,
U.S. to “Flood Iraq with Guns”
We’re doing that? I remember thinking.
How? Why? Who thinks the Iraqi people could be helped in such a fashion? Why increase exponentially the opportunity for murder in that disabled, tormented country?
Well, so they could, as G.W. Bush said, “beat a brutal dictator,” perhaps?
But wait a moment; this was in 2005. Saddam was already gone from power. He would be hanged the next year.
And that was all. I never saw any editorials on the subject– the entire matter seemed to be presented as just barely worth the reader’s attention.
The Iraq War was, to many (but hardly enough) observers here at home, nothing less than an unprovoked act of national aggression.
The U.S., hit hard by Saudi ideologues in the World Trade Center attacks, had, like a bully, reeled, after being unexpectedly smacked, to beat up on a smaller adversary, a convenient whipping-boy.
Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction, nor, present-day golfer Condi Rice to the contrary, the nuclear capability to menace us with, in the excruciating, endlessly quoted cliché mash-up, a Smoking Gun becoming a Mushroom Cloud. Saddam and al-Qaeda were never allies.
Oh well, maybe we overstepped a bit. Now, what could we do for all those poor folks over there who were without our traditions of personal freedom?
Why, make high-powered guns as common in their land as in ours. More so, indeed.
A curious thing about this original article is that I haven’t been able to track it down.
Where did it come from? Was it planted disinformation? And to what purpose?
You would think that there would have been a follow-up story, or an investigation. But the record seems to be blank.
At the time, opposition to the war juggernaut seemed disorganized and not very comprehensive. Many in the U.S. felt as if they were moving along in a dazed post-September 11th, 2001 paralysis while the war machine rolled on.
If there was such a plan, the authorities in our government may have acted, increasing there the aggregate of human misery, for cynical reasons, to please arms manufacturers at home.
But whatever may have been decided for Iraq, the same thing is, unarguably, now forcefully suggested as a working plan for our own country. A flood of guns.
The NRA’s point man and spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, insists that more and more guns are needed: in elementary schools, at playgrounds, supermarkets and tanning parlors– heavily armed must be the guardians of order, in every arena of civil society. Years ago, science fiction writer Robert Heinlein predicted just such a world of brittle, enforced politeness– courtesy at gunpoint.
But I never thought universal armament would ever be seriously proposed.
Ludicrous? But there is a way in which such a scheme seems to resonate with unquestioned, widely-held beliefs.
You see, in this country quite a few people really believe that the gun is an icon of personal liberty.
It is a deeply ingrained American tradition, starting with the Kentucky Long Rifle or musket hanging, with powder horn, over the stone fireplace.
The Deerslayer. The Pathfinder. The Plainsman. The Rifleman. Dead-eye Dick.
A gun for the free farmer to take up on behalf of the (ideally) well-regulated local Militia, or to protect his home and croft, to make sure his family weren’t dragged off by marauding Indians to be tortured to death. A gun for game, for survival, to put food for wife and children on the table.
And from there to the personal AK-47, shoulder-launched missile or what have you…
Let’s not pretend that there is no principle of liberty involved.
In medieval times, for example, ordinary peasants, on pain of death, were not allowed to have swords, a privilege exclusively of the Nobility. Until the development of Yeomanry took place, they were expected to go to war (for in the Feudal system, everybody went) carrying reaping hooks and crude clubs.
Those tyrannous ages have passed away, and today, in the Land of the Free, the birthright of each citizen includes being armed.
Although we may be losing practically all real freedom of action in an over-regulated era of corporate domination– still, if you’ve got a gun, by God, that makes you a free man.
It’s an article of faith.
But the thing of it is, in our overpopulated 21st Century, a massively gun-toting populace really has become a problem of governance.
So many people have guns that of these the relatively small percentage of potential killers now represents quite a significant actual number of them.
We read the results in our daily headlines.
Dianne Feinstein herself, it may be helpful to remember, occupies her Senatorial office today as a result of a series of events starting when an assassin, Dan White (at that time a personal friend of hers) killed San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk. As then-head of the S.F. Board of Supervisors, she became Mayor by default. From that time, from that incident, her path led to larger arenas of power.
Guns are our history. Guns continue to make our history.
Even though the majority, as polls reveal, actually wants common safety precautions in place, even most N.R.A. members! –there remains an irreducible kernel of belief.
A belief in the sheer righteousness of being armed.
Gun opponents, I wish you the best of luck.
You have your work cut out for you.
Hal Robins is a renowned underground comic artist and his work has appeared in Last Gasp’s Weirdo, Salon Magazine’s Dark Hotel and many other publications. For decades he has been the co-host of KPFA-Pacifica Radio’s “Puzzling Evidence” program. Reverend Hal is the Master of Church Secrets for The Church of the SubGenius. As Dr. Howland Owll, he has served as MC for many unique San Francisco events, and is the principle of The Ask Dr. Hal Show, still currently running both as a live staged event and in-studio on Radio Valencia (radiovalencia.fm) Friday evenings. Hal contributed his unique vocal talents to the award-winning interactive game Half-Life.