Truly, these are halcyon days for the American gun lobby, an essential part of the country’s massive military-industrial-agribusiness death complex. As we predicted in the wake of the Newtown massacre, the organs of society that supposedly represent the will of the people have done nothing to restrain the distribution or use of lethal weapons. The response of the right wing has been astonishingly brazen and hysterical, easily crushing what passes for opposition in our corporate republic. But aside from the federal failure – hardly wanting for company, one might add – it is the reaction at the state level that best exposes the nation’s new-found gun fever. After a few words on the complicity of the left, we shall look at two examples, one from Arizona and one from right here at home in Lake County, Florida, that underscore the level of irrationality to which we are descending. And we must bear in mind at all times that irrational fears are apt to be channeled in directions inimical to peace and decency, both at home and abroad.
Taking Lunch Money from Liberals: The Absence of a Meaningful Response
On Tuesday, April 23rd – token liberal day in the Leesburg Daily Commercial – the incessant pontificating of Cal Thomas was interrupted by a pathetic article from John Crisp, syndicated under the Scripps Howard byline. If this is what passes for progressivism in contemporary America, then the right has got it made. For not only does Crisp concede defeat to the gun nuts; he reveals himself to be utterly clueless about the nature of America’s “culture of violence,” which extends far beyond the personal demons of deranged adolescents to embrace the state itself and all its powers.
The first indication of Crisp’s cluelessness – and yet further evidence of his suitability for participation in the corporate media – was his fulsome praise for the security forces’ response to the Boston marathon bombing. Rather cheekily, he used it as evidence that government was capable of belying Ronald Reagan’s expectations of public incompetence, though he hastily backtracked by praising civilians as well, lest anyone think he might be exploiting a tragedy for political purposes. (Why apologize? The propagandists of the right surely do not. But we will return to them another day.) Why is this a problem? Because any civil libertarian worth his salt should be more than a little disturbed that a major city in the so-called Land of the Free could be placed on lock-down so swiftly and comprehensively. The ability of the security forces to identify the bombers carries with it the ability to track down anyone else they may choose to target. All those NRA members who think they can mount genuine resistance to an authoritarian state ought to be just as concerned as the ordinary Americans who will one day follow in the footsteps of the Occupy Movement. There is always a trade-off between security and liberty, yet our putative liberal has already handed the keys to the state without even a murmur of protest. Could we make it any easier for them?
Crisp is similarly spineless in resisting the NRA:
[T]he episode in Boston is likely to put an end to efforts for sensible gun-control reform anytime soon. The pendulum has already swung so far away from the massacre in Newtown… that even modest efforts to enact extended background checks to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous and unstable people have foundered in the Senate. The National Rifle Association has already won this round, and efforts to limit high-capacity magazines or ban assault rifles don’t look promising, either. [No, John, they’re DOA.]
And, frankly, even though I’d prefer a society where citizens didn’t take such great pleasure and comfort in possessing and carrying weapons, the events in Boston last week make it hard to gainsay the desire to keep a powerful weapon in the home for personal protection….
At present guns appear to be here to stay. Perhaps our efforts should turn toward stemming the high rates of suicide, domestic gun violence and accidental shootings associated with high levels of gun ownership.
It is hard to imagine a more abject, complete capitulation. Crisp could not even bother to use one of the NRA’s favorite arguments against them. When enhanced background checks were mooted, the gun lobby’s response was that more checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre. (The fact that they might have prevented some other massacre did not appear to matter.) Of course, the rebuttal to that position was that an armed guard at Columbine High School failed to secure that school as promised by the NRA. But in the post-Boston context, the obvious point to be made is that no amount of personal firepower would prevent an IED from killing and maiming innocent bystanders. Unless we’re all going to start carrying six-shooters and using them on anyone who looks vaguely threatening – like dark-skinned people who might be Muslim – then Crisp’s sympathy for gun owners is a non sequitur. Gun owners have no rational basis for feeling any sense of comfort; they are just as vulnerable as anyone else.
But Crisp’s ultimate failure is his reinforcement of America’s unjustifiable belief in itself as an innocent victim:
What happened in Boston last week is inexplicable: No one knows why it happened or how to prevent similar events from happening in the future. We may never find out what was going on in the minds of the Tsarnaev brothers.
This, more than anything else, is the one myth that desperately needs to be shattered. The only mystery here is why the United States has not experienced more of these attacks. Credit the Department of Homeland Security if you want, but the undeniable fact is that the U.S. has sown countless seeds of hatred and revenge all over the Middle East (and elsewhere). Contrary to Crisp’s claim, the surviving Boston bomber cited American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as his motivation. But the possibility that we are dealing with blowback is simply too uncomfortable for most Americans, who see themselves and their country as purer than the driven snow. They mourn a few victims in Boston but ignore hundreds of thousands of victims in Iraq. All of these deaths are tragedies, but we can no longer cover our eyes and pretend that we bear no responsibility for the bloodshed.
And into this heady mix of fear, victimhood, and double standards enter the great statesmen of our time.
When Guns Have a Right to Life
The Arizona legislature has just passed a bill – likely to be signed by Governor Brewer – that would force all municipalities to sell firearms that have been voluntarily surrendered by their owners. Even though the people surrendering the guns want them to be taken out of circulation, the power of the state will now be used to ensure that the guns continue to be available. Inevitably, those guns will go on to kill either humans, animals, or both. While some Republicans attempted to couch the measure in fiscal terms, contending that the guns, once surrendered, become public assets and represent lost revenue if not sold – a creative use of the familiar plutocratic refrain that “we’re broke” – the bill amounts to the ultimate expression of the gun nuts’ creed that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Indeed, State Senator Rick Murphy actually argued that motor vehicles impounded after a fatal accident are not required to be destroyed. The fact that cars are designed to transport people while guns are designed to kill people did not seem to register within his field of conscious awareness.
Thus, the political grouping that insists that a human embryo has a right to life that supercedes the adult mother’s right to control her own reproductive future has now applied a similar concept to an inanimate object. And what an odd choice of object for a faction that allegedly values life. The logic behind this, if such it may be called, does at least flow from a conception of human nature that is classically conservative. State Senator Judy Burges put it like this:
“Unfortunately, murder, violence and insanity are built in to the human condition and likely always will be,” she said.
Limiting weapons ignores another fact, she said: “There are two types of animals: predators and prey. When we take away individuals’ right to defend themselves, we create more predators.”
Another non sequitur. Arizona already has remarkably liberal gun laws and, not the least bit coincidentally, the fourth-highest rate of gun deaths. (Oh, wait. Let’s rephrase that to “people-on-people” deaths.) Arizonans who want to “defend themselves” have ample access to firearms; there is no shortage of supply. The surrender of guns by owners who no longer want them is not depriving anyone of a chance to own a gun. But the legislature, inventing a new compelling interest, is now depriving gun owners of the right to determine the fate of their own property. Just like pregnant women, their rights have been subordinated to the legislature’s preference. The guns must live to kill another day.
Appealing to the Base: The Lake County Commission v. Comcast
The elevation of gun rights above all other considerations took another step forward this week in Florida’s Lake County. In response to the Newtown massacre, Comcast Cable decided to ban all advertising by gun retailers. For the Lake County Commission, which voted 4-11 to formally complain to the state that approves broadcast franchise agreements, this was an example of liberal discrimination. The Leesburg Daily Commercial reported the views of Commissioner Jimmy Conner, who introduced the resolution:
They have a discriminatory and hypocritical policy. Isn’t it interesting they don’t mind all the gun violence on television. Comcast and NBC are making money off violence, and they want to pick on local gun shops. That is ridiculous.
Quite right, Jimmy! Local gun shops should also be able to profit from violence; there’s nothing more American than that! Putting aside the non-trivial distinction that exists between fictional portrayals of violence and the real thing – a distinction that one would hope even today’s device-addicted youth comprehends on some level – and ignoring the fact that gun shops can always advertise in other ways, if they need to advertise at all these days, this argument is strikingly reminiscent of the battle over tobacco advertising. Actors on television are still portrayed smoking cigarettes, but cigarette adverts have been off-limits for many years. The benefit to public health was and remains unassailable. And so it is with guns: if you must have your fix, you can still get it. But society does not have to condone the promotion of your peculiar little vice. Especially when it has deadly consequences.
Such considerations, however, fall on deaf ears in rabidly Republican Lake County. Of greatest note is the self-serving reaction of Carey Baker, a former long-time State Senator who chose a new avenue of “public service” by successfully running for Lake County Property Appraiser. As a former denizen of Tallahassee, it is perhaps not surprising that Baker – the co-owner of A.W. Peterson Gun Shop in Mt. Dora – sees no conflict of interest in using his public office to advance his own business interests. (Just ask Governor Rick Scott how that works.) Although not on the County Commission, he has been vocal in expressing his approval for Jimmy Connor’s exercise in gesture politics, and took the gun debate to a whole new level of insanity:
If Comcast doesn’t like Carey Baker, and they feel I’m not a good corporate citizen, that’s okay. But if you just discriminate against an entire industry, particularly a constitutionally protected industry, I just think that’s discriminatory.
A constitutionally protected industry? Which Constitution are you reading, Carey? Because the Constitution I read only features one industry that could conceivably be described as constitutionally protected: the press. Yes, I know there is a precious – oh, so precious! – right to bear arms, but there is absolutely no language in the Second Amendment suggesting that the industry that produces those arms can not be regulated.2 So what you are suggesting, Carey, is that the State of Florida use its coercive power to regulate the one industry that is explicitly protected by the Constitution in favor of a profit-making industry which enjoys no such protection. And I thought that, as a card-carrying Republican, you did not approve of government regulation of business. Doesn’t the private sector always know best? If an upstanding corporate citizen like Comcast decides not to show certain adverts as a matter of commercial policy – not at the behest of any government edict – then who are you to question the workings of the blessed market? Or has the state’s interest in preventing monopoly suddenly acquired a new dimension beyond the conventional concern (though apparently not one of yours) with excessive profits?
Even if we were to grant, arguendo, a constitutional privilege to the gun industry, why should it be favored above the media outlets protected by the First Amendment? If we have become a nation that values bullets over ideas, then we have chosen the power that flows from the barrel of a gun instead of the power that flows from the consent of the governed. That is not the republic to which I have sworn allegiance.
This appeal to the gun-worshiping base is not just bad constitutional law and doctrinal inconsistency. It is bullshit. If Carey Baker ran an abortion clinic or owned an adult book store, he would have a more interesting case to make, but, obviously, no political prospects in a community that values the instruments of death more than a woman’s autonomy and frowns upon naughty pictures. And that’s too bad. For if Peterson’s Gun Shop were Peterson’s Book Store, neon lights and all, it would provide the men (and it is mostly men) of Lake County with a less harmful way to get their jollies.
- Welton Cadwell was the only negative vote. Rather cannily, so as not to offend his base of Umatilla rednecks, he argued that this was not the County’s business since the state had stripped counties of their ability to regulate guns. It will be many years before Jimmy Connor has the experience to pull off such a neat balancing act. ↩
- There is, in fact, that awkward little clause about a well-regulated militia, but our marvelous corporate Court has written its possible implications out of the Constitution. ↩