THE GUN LOBBY AND FIREARM FASCISM IN AMERICA
American political life has….served again and again
as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.
Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style of American Politics
In 2001, Richard Reid attempted to light his “shoe-bomb” aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. He was unsuccessful, and no one was injured.1 From 2010 to 2014 alone, US airlines carried roughly three billion, seven hundred million (3,700,000,000) passengers.2 In that five year period, obviously hundreds of millions of travelers removed their shoes during a security screen prior to enplaning. A clumsy, unsuccessful act of violence by one man on an airplane 15 years ago literally changed the behavior of billions of air travelers for the next decade and one-half.3
In the same year as Reid’s attempted his amateurish act of terrorism, almost 17,000 Americans committed suicide with a firearm; over 11,000 were murdered with a firearm; just over 800 were killed by the unintentional discharge of a firearm. In 2013, almost 11,700 Americans were murdered with firearms; over 21,000 committed suicide with a firearm; just over 500 were killed by an unintentional discharge of a firearm. The intervening years provide similar data. 4
One would hope that the recent tragedies in Charleston, Chattanooga, and Lafayette would build a tsunami of support for greater gun safety. Unfortunately, these events are just new additions to a frighteningly growing list of mass shootings that raise the visibility of gun safety issues to the fore and then disappear into the maw of a unendingly voracious news machine that must be fed new tragedies or succulent sound bites on an almost hourly schedule.
One would think that the Newtown tragedy would have been the proverbial straw that broke the back of the gun machine. It didn’t happen. New York, always a leader in firearms safety, passed The Safe Act.5 It is true that in other states, some progress was made in the expansion of laws concerning firearm safety, usually these involved background checks for firearm purchases, expanding the most widely accepted and innocuous of approaches aimed at increased firearm safety. 6
Yet, legislators in a number of States and members of Congress continued submitting and often passing bills that will allow more individuals to more easily carry, own, and use firearms, especially concealed handguns. Recently, the Kansas legislature passed, and the governor signed, legislation allowing any adult in Kansas to carry a concealed handgun without acquiring a license or receiving any training on gun safety or the laws related to the use of deadly force by citizens in Kansas.7
In a particularly egregious example of the extremist nature of this movement, a Texas state legislator recently introduced legislation that would authorize armed school employees to use lethal force to protect school property, at the same time exempting them from any court action related to injuries resulting from such an incident.8 So, if this bizarre legislation passes, it would seem that a child of any age in Texas who is defacing a school wall with graffiti can be shot and killed by a school employee, with the Texas legislature assuring no criminal or civil repercussions for that employee. This legislation will not, one desperately hopes, pass, but its very introduction serves as a beacon warning for those concerned with gun safety about what may lie ahead.
As one step back and views the political landscape surrounding issues of firearm safety in this nation. One fact is strikingly clear. There is something deeply wrong and wildly perverse going on here. One man’s abortive attempt at violence, which injured no one, resulted in p;oicy change affecting the behavior of billions, while the tens of thousands of firearm deaths every year do little to dampen the fervor, or the political success, of those bent on reduced firearm safety. This situation is neither an accident nor a simple matter of fate; it is inherent in the politics of gun safety in America and in the nature of those who lead the opposition to greater firearm safety.
THE BATTLE FOR FIREARMS SAFETY AND ITS OPPONENTS
Gun advocacy groups like The National Rifle Association and its ilk are the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. These extremists characterize themselves as “mass membership” organizations advocating to protect the prerogatives of the average hunter or gun owner from unreasonable infringement. In reality, they are radical, extremist organizations whose motto is not, as they claim, protection of the constitutional mandate that “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Instead, their true, unacknowledged motto, and the policy goal toward which they work, is—In America, any gun for anyone, anywhere, and any time.
Recent days have shown us again, with chilling and tragic clarity, the cost of firearm extremism. The terrorist acts in Charleston, SC, Chattanooga, TN, and Lafayette, LA show us what horror sprouts from the seeds sown by firearm extremists.
The NRA holds itself out as a classic mass membership organization. It touts its millions of members and “tens of millions of supporters” as evidence of the validity of its claim to speak for all American gun owners.9 Those touted tens of millions of Americans, it turns out, don’t necessarily share the NRA and other gun lobby groups attitudes about regulating firearms.10 It is also the case that available evidence indicates that less than half of the NRA’s revenues come from members. The majority of NRA funds come from major donors tied to the firearms industry11 (eg., Springfield Armory, Cabela, Beretta) and from selling advertising in its magazines to elements of the firearms industry.12
Gun advocates in America have lost the urge to compromise; they have become more and more absolutists. Today, the NRA, which once supported background checks and now does not, fights tooth and nail to stop restrictions on magazine size and firearm accessories designed for military weapons13 Whether the issue is the availability of 60 round magazines for an AR-15 or 100 round magazines for a Glock pistol is not important for groups like the NRA, The Gun Owners of America (GOA),14 or The National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF).15 Any restriction on the configuration, ownership, or availability of firearms is seen as a dangerous step on a steep and slippery slope. These groups latest crusade involved a potential regulation restricting the continued sale of rifle rounds that can be used in handguns and that can pierce law enforcement officials’ protective vests. They were victorious and the potential regulation was withdrawn for “further consideration.”16,17
Half of college students engage in binge drinking; 690,000 students are assaulted by someone who has been drinking; over 1,800 die as a result of alcohol-related unintentional injuries.18 In addition, young male suicides with a firearm have been increasing for the last decade.19 Fatal firearm accident rates are also highest for males aged 20-24.20 Nonetheless, the gun lobby and its slavishly devoted and well-compensated political mouthpieces continue to push vigorously for greater access to firearms for college students on college campuses.6
Gun extremists have also developed a traditional litany as their response to mass shootings that horrify the nation. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA knew who was to blame for this tragedy, “Politicians pass laws for Gun-Free School Zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”21 Singing the same sour note, the leadership of Gun Owners of America (GOA) laid the blame for Sandy Hook squarely at the feet of those concerned with gun safety. In a USA Today editorial, Larry Pratt, of the GOA boldly pointed a blaming finer, “…. blood is on the hands of members of Congress and the Connecticut legislators who voted to ban guns from all schools in Connecticut. They are the ones who made it illegal to defend oneself with a gun in a school.”22
In the fun-house mirror world of pro-gun extremists, guilt always resides outside the specific action that created the horror. The weapon, its manufacturers, its purveyors, and the gun lobby are absolved of any responsibility. Responsibility for the tragedy lies at the feet of traitorous politicians, a failed mental health system, or some other entity far from the world of guns. The firearm that spewed death at those innocents is just a detail, best overlooked while gun extremists point their own blood-stained fingers at anyone but themselves.
For those of us in America who have grave concerns about firearm safety and firearm violence, it is time that we be very clear about whom and what we face in this political and social struggle for greater firearm safety. The NRA and GOA are not your run of the mill lobby groups. Their most ardent supporters aren’t the guy next door who goes deer hunting. It is time we recognized and labelled the movement led by the vocal, powerful opponents of greater gun safety in America as what it truly is—Firearm Fascism.
Hundreds of millions of Americans own hundreds of millions of firearms.23 The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to the current Supreme Court, gives individuals some personal rights related to firearms. 24 To those hundreds of millions, I say simply—go forth and enjoy. Happily, and carefully, own and use your firearms for hunting, sport, or personal defense.
I am concerned, not with these millions, but with the beliefs and behaviors of that special class of individuals who claim that they can speak in the name of those hundreds of millions of Americans and that they hold alone hold revealed constitutional truth in their hands. Being clear about the way in which these individuals make their arguments and their style of argumentation are key elements in understanding the Firearm Fascism movement in this nation.
Those who claim they speak for, and reflect the views of, American gun owners do so for a variety of reasons. Some are obsessive protectors of what they incorrectly see as an inalienable right for citizens to possess firearms of all types in any setting (e.g., Ted “Cat Scratch Fever” Nugent). These gun owners are especially likely to believe they need their firearms to protect us all from the rise of a progressive dictatorship.
Some may see this group as classic “right wingnuts” with little power or appeal. That image is dispelled when one observes the actions of the powerful who pander to this vocal minority’s beliefs and legitimize their paranoia. For example, the new governor of Texas recently heeded the call of some of these zealots and sent orders to the Texas National Guard to monitor U.S. Army maneuvers in the state to protect any citizens’ rights and liberties (this group’s code for guns in civilian hands) that might be threatened by these “invaders,” whom some saw as scouts for the impending UN invasion.25
Other pro-gun extremists are just pursuing what their rational economic self-interest. Many are enthusiastic firearm capitalists reaping enormous profits from the sale of firearms and ammunition to those hundreds of millions of gun owners (e.g., Springfield Armory, Glock, and Midway, Inc.). While these firms don’t usually directly involve themselves in the inflammatory acts of gun extremists, they willingly pay much of the tab for that work.11
Finally, we have zealous political and bureaucratic entrepreneurs whose political and organizational power rests on their leadership in the gun policy arena (e.g., National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America) As Richard Feldman, a former lobbyist and political strategist for the NRA so clearly demonstrates in his book, Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, that details his rise and fall within the NRA hierarchy. The life’s blood of leaders of the NRA hierarchy is increased membership and demonstrated political power. Those leaders that lose either are quickly ousted by an internal coup.26
This peculiarly American hotpot of gun extremists and firearm zealots (the paranoid, the greedy, and the power-hungry) and their unconscionable behavior are the focus here, not the actions of those hundreds of millions of average Americans who own and use firearms.
What all three types of these passionate “friends of firearms” share is that they all qualify as Firearm Fascists pursuing a fascist agenda. When Americans think of fascism, we immediately recall images of the Second World War. We see brown shirts, black shirts, death’s head insignia, and Nazi’s goose-stepping their way into some of the darkest pages of 20th century world history. That is a serious mistake.
Fascism is both more and less than the political movements we saw evolve in the lead-in to World War II. Fascism is not just what one saw in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. It is not just American Nazis holding joint meetings with the Ku Klux Klan, or tattooed skinheads rioting in Western Europe, though these pools of distilled hatred are still among us.27 It is not only political movements with the goal of establishing a totalitarian state. It is, in its current incarnation in the United States, in the world of firearm policy, is an extremist political movement advocating a vision of American life that is wildly and dangerously at odds with the current world.
The Open Carry Texas (OCT) demonstrations in 2014 give one a quick glimpse into that idealized world. We saw young men carrying loaded assault-style firearms into family restaurants or grocery stores.28 As the blaring song on the OCT website says, “I’m on my way to a better time and a better place.”29 That better time and place, for these extreme firearm advocates, whom I dub Firearm Fascists, is a brave new world where anyone can openly carry any firearm they wish into any venue at any time.
The NRA, showing more political sophistication than the leaders of OCT, chastised the group. Telling them, “To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates. [Emphasis added]”30 The NRA’s concern with these bizarre and frightening exhibitions reflects the NRA’s true values. see OCT’s activities were neither dangerous nor irresponsible; the NRA simply saw these demonstrations as bad politics that might turn people away from the pro-gun movement and its goals.
HOW AMERICAN FIREARM FASCISTS EARNED THEIR NAME
Rush Limbaugh gave us “Feminazis”,31 and others even talk about “Food Fascists,”32 Texas Senator Ted Cruz, at the Faith and Freedom Caucus in Iowa, recently opined that “liberal fascists” have somehow hung targets on the backs of Christians.33 Given all this, one is forced to recall George Orwell’s commentary on fascism. He argues “fascist” and “fascism” are labels that have been horribly, and inappropriately, over-used. He also argues that most of us would accept the word “bully” as a fair definition of a fascist, as the term is now used.
Orwell’s observations ring true for the modern use of the sobriquet. It is, therefore, incumbent on those of us who wish to use such emotionally-laden terms in sensible discourse to accept his sage advice “to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.”34
The commitment to use the term, fascism, in a meaningful way leads one almost immediately to Umberto Eco’s essay on Ur Fascism. Eco grew up in fascist Italy, so he benefits from both an intellectual and a personal understanding of fascism. Even for Eco, fascism is a difficult concept to grasp and define. He saw eternal fascism as … “a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions.”35 Despite this confusion, Eco is firm in his belief that:
“I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.36
Eco identifies 14 characteristics of socio-political movements that deserve to be labelled fascist. The presence of these elements justifies labeling the policy stances and methods of political mobilization used by extreme gun advocates as Firearm Fascism. For simplicity, I paraphrase Eco’s applicable characteristics. Six, not just one, of these characteristics are directly applicable to firearm rights extremists in America.35
Fascism flourishes by emphasizing the threat of “the other.”
Historically, white supremacy has been a core value of American fascists [citation].37 Firearm Fascism plants its feet in the same filthy trough, but its message is somewhat more subtlety framed. Though there are participants in the movement who are persons of color or Jewish, they are fringe elements welcomed by the major players in the movement as proof of its lack of racial or ethnic bias.(citation).38
The politics of fear and threat from the “other” are the bread and butter of NRA and firearm extremist rhetoric. Even in the week immediately after the Sandy Hook tragedy in which a young, deranged gunman killed 26 people. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA couldn’t resist ringing the bell to warn of the anarchy just around the corner. He, in those sad days, could not resist waving the flag of national distress so loved by Firearm Fascists. He warned that “Violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.” 39
And, the beat went on. In the run-up to the November, 2014 elections, the NRA was even more strident in its predictions of doom and in pointing the finger of guilt at all those “others” in and out of our society. In their published pre-election rant, entitled Is Chaos At Our Door, the NRA’s political arm makes it clear why an armed citizenry is essential to the continued existence of our society.40
“Make no mistake: The world that surrounds us is growing more dangerous all the time. Whether it’s enemy state actors, foreign terrorists, Mexican drug cartels or domestic criminals, the threats Americans face are massive—and growing.
America’s police community knows that every U.S. city of any appreciable size already has a serious, established, drug-funded Mexican drug-cartel presence.
Even the Justice Department admits:
– Mexican drug gangs are operating in more than 1,000 U.S. cities;
– 20,000 gangs with at least a million members are embedded coast to coast;
– More than 100,000 street gang members have been documented in Obama’s hometown of Chicago alone.
Add to that volatile mix the thousands of hardened, dangerous criminals that are being released from prisons all over America.
And who among us can say with certainty that we’d never face that same kind of out-of-control mayhem and brutality in our own city or hometown?
When you consider all the threats encroaching on our country, one fact is clear: We live in an age when preparing to survive whatever comes our way is a simple fact of life or death. It’s simply the most prudent way to survive. Prudent leaders prepare their nation. Prudent people prepare themselves.
And millions of NRA members and gun owners know the truth: The police can’t always be there to protect you. The government can’t—or won’t—protect you, either. Only you can protect you.
And nothing provides individual citizens more immediate, undeniable and irreplaceable protection than the Second Amendment-protected right to keep and bear arms. It’s the one freedom that guarantees our lives and our freedoms with force. It’s the one thing we can count on to protect ourselves when nothing else will or even can.40
The list of threatening others, for the NRA, is obviously quite long. It now includes enemy states, terrorists, Mexican drug cartels, Latino street gangs, and hardened street criminals (i.e., men of color). These groups threaten every citizen; the state with all its might is impotent in the face of these threats or these threatening foes.
All that remains for any sensible person is do in the face of so many “others” who plan to do them harm is to heed the cry of our Firearm Fascists and arm oneself for the coming horrors. One of the subtexts of this rant is that one can easily arm oneself by shopping among the many firearms dealers and manufacturers who provide financial support to the NRA and advertise in its magazines.
Fascism places enormous weight on tradition. Eco calls it a “cult of tradition.”
Worship of a cult of tradition is not a trait peculiar to Firearm Fascism, but it is truly a core value. When Charlton Heston, then president of the NRA, made his famous, or infamous, “From My Cold, Dead Hands!” speech.41 The firearm he raised to his applauding audience was not a hunting rifle, a target pistol, or a civilian version of a military assault rifle. He was holding a flintlock musket, the weapon that symbolizes America’s first struggle for freedom, the Revolutionary War.
The NRA is the largest and most powerful organization supporting and fostering the growth of Firearm Fascism, and it takes great pains to claim association with important American traditions. That Heston hefted a musket was not simply happenstance; it was an important sub-text of his intended message.
Before he uttered those five precious words that so mobilize gun extremists, he rhapsodized about the sacred meaning of gun ownership and its roots in American freedom. He indicated that only, “…When ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument that symbolizes the full meaning of liberty and dignity, will the ideals of the American Revolution be realized and maintained.”42
The Second Amendment is, for NRA and other proponents of Firearm Fascism, “the first freedom.”43 This implies that The Second Amendment ranks above all the other elements of the Bill of Rights and is a bastion without which those other freedoms would be meaningless. The Second Amendment becomes the centerpiece of our Constitutional protections and our American heritage. Its manipulation and misinterpretation become a major element of Firearm Fascists’ propaganda.44
For fascists, disagreement with their political positions approaches, or is treasonous.
Treason is a very strong word with a precise definition; few policy discussions today involve its use. However, some of the more rabid supporters of Firearm Fascism across America freely and loudly called the 46 Senators who supported the UN Treaty on Small Arms exactly that—traitors.45 The NRA is far too sophisticated to call anyone a traitor. Instead, they only use language about their political opponents in which the “T” word is just a whispered implication.
One can discern that nasty whisper in statements like those of Chis Cox, of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. The UN treaty is one of the many “…blatant attacks on the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American. The NRA will continue to fight this assault on our fundamental freedom.”46 Who, one must wonder, other than traitorous characters, attacks constitutional rights, liberties, and fundamental freedoms?
A core concept of fascism is the presence of an enemy conspiracy.
Umberto Eco notes that fascists live in a state of constant war. In part, they do so because perceived conspiracies threaten their rise to power or retention of that power. For American Firearm Fascists, the dominant conspiracy is the “great gun grab.” Any governmental action that does not expand access to, or the availability of, firearms is clarion call that the NRA and other gun extremist groups use to raise the specter of the gun confiscation.
The registration of firearms for Firearm Fascists is just the first step on a slippery slope that leads inexorably to confiscation. As one NRA publications put it, “…gun registration is very good for one thing—confiscation. …Gun registration—what Obama, Biden and Bloomberg euphemistically call “a national database”—is also a perfect tool for the later confiscation of guns.47
One right-wing pundit wrote an article that appeared on a number of websites and warned all gun owners of Connecticut’s recent “gun confiscation” legislation. Of course, she was discussing a law requiring registration of “assault rifles” like those used in recent mass killings. Registration is no longer, for some, a step toward confiscation; it is tantamount to confiscation itself.48
Firearm extremists even see every discussion of firearm policy as a sign that confiscation is on the federal policy agenda and but a heartbeat away. A Department of Justice memo discussing various policy options that might affect firearm violence never mentions confiscation. That does not stop articles in the right wing and gun advocate blogosphere from pumping up the paranoia with articles warning “Leaked DOJ Memo: Outlaw And Confiscate All Guns”39or “DOJ Internal Memo Confirms Obama Plan for Gun Confiscation.”49
Most cultures have fairy tales about monsters lurking in the dark awaiting their chance to prey on the innocent or inattentive. The folklore of American Firearm Fascism, trumpeted by the NRA and other gun advocates, has federal agencies salivating in the dark, preparing to grab the guns of honest gun-owners. All the monsters need is a list, and then their secret agenda will be put in place and activated.
In the recent exhibition of the power of Firearm Fascism in America, oOne conspiracy seeking website indicated “Feds preparing to invade Texas, list state as ‘Hostile.'” The Site’s founder indicated that the exercise is either preparation for military action following the impending financial collapse or some nefarious plot for Obama’s end-days in the White House.
The site also carried a statement by a man identified as a veteran of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq who saw it as preparing troops to “throw citizens in FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) camps,” citing as evidence the military’s desire to train in an environment similar to where they will fight. Another site warned of “FEMA ‘death domes’ popping up across Texas,” ostensibly to house those Americans’ incarcerated during the course of the government’s nefarious plot.50
Fascist’s focus on heroism and manhood results in an obsession with firearms.
Captain America is the iconic American hero. He fights for liberty and freedom, vanquishing forces bent on tyranny. This is exactly the role which American Firearm Fascists believe they play, or are preparing themselves and others to play, in modern America
For Firearm Fascists, President Obama is not concerned with gun violence. According to Larry Pratt, of Gun Owners of America, instead Obama is attacking gun rights because “he clearly doesn’t like the fact that the American people can own guns because we might just want to use them to keep people like him from becoming tyrants.”51
Todd Courser, a newly-elected member of the Michigan state legislator posts pictures of his children brandishing assault rifles, which he is teaching them to use. He does so because “…the gun is just one vital tool to train up my four children as the weapons for liberty that will impact the future … for freedom, … Trained children equipped in every aspect of the cause of freedom are the bulwark against tyranny.52
Fascist in earlier eras sought the emergence of a totalitarian state under fascist control. Today, American Firearm Fascists, in a seemingly strange reversal, see themselves as the last bastion of defense against the emergence of such a state. These people have forsaken the despotic element of fascism, but they have embraced its brand of fanaticism.
Finally, Fascists engage in NEWSPEAK.
George Orwell’s novel, 1984, gave us the term “newspeak.”53 As we currently understand it, newspeak is “propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings.”54
Pro-gun extremists are masters at newspeak. The inscription at the NRA building in Washington, DC truncates the Second Amendment so that it seems to read “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged.” This rendition simply whisks away the initial clause of the amendment stating its original meaning— A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State,…”. That latter, incomplete portion of the amendment, .…the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” is the pro-gun extremists’ or Firearm Fascists’ public mantra and self-serving reconfiguration of the Second Amendment.55
In the same way, as noted earlier, the Second Amendment, which included no individual right to own firearms until the Heller decision in 2008.56, is the first freedom. Liberty and freedom are not free speech; they are not habeas corpus; they are not a right to safety from unreasonable seizure, the right to a trial, or the right to counsel. They are simply, for Firearm Fascists, the legal right to own and carry firearms. Their stance, of course, ignores the fact that the First Amendment, which many consider the first freedom, is what protects their right to push their Fascist political agenda to the public and to law-makers. That would seem to, at least arguably, make the First Amendment our First Freedom.
The core of Firearm Fascists’ newspeak is the NRA’s mantra, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” While this is obviously true, but it is true only in the most trivial sense. In 2012, the United States had a homicide rate of approximately 5.0 persons per 100,000 persons in the population. That rate is 312 percent higher than that reported for Scotland; 454 percent higher than the rate for England and Wales; 500 percent high that the reported rate in Sweden.
The NRA’s mantra would suggest that people in the United States are obviously more prone to violence against another person than are the citizens in these other countries.57 However, when one looks at the rates for assault for these four countries, another measure of how prone to interpersonal violence a population is, the results are reversed. In comparison to those in other countries, Americans are a pacific bunch. Scotland has a reported rate of assault that is 567 percent higher than that in the United States. Sweden has a rate 351 percent higher than that in America. The assault rate in England and Wales is 278 percent higher than that in the United States.57
People kill people, but it would seem that Americans are, as a population, much less prone to interpersonal violence than other countries. However, our homicide rate is many times higher than these countries with what seem to be more violence-prone populations. The basic difference between the U.S. and these other countries Sweden, Scotland, and England and Wales), of course, is that the people in America are much more likely to have ready access to a relatively easy way to commit homicide, a firearm.
For example, road rage is extremely common in the UK, and at its worst it means a confrontation and possibly a tussle with an extraordinarily low likelihood of homicide. Road rage in the US all too often means gunshots and deaths.58,59
James Carville posted a sign in campaign headquarters during Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for the presidency, the sign was meant to focus the staff on the crucial issue in the campaign, it said—it’s the economy, stupid! It’s time that Americans look at the deadly violence in our society and finally recognize—it’s really the access to guns, people!
The NRA basically admitted as much when in their 2015 convention and gun show in Kansas the NRA banned operational firearms from vendors booths. They also arranged for all gun sales at the show to be finalized with a transfer of the weapon at a later date through a Federal Firearms Licensee.60
In a more global sense, when Firearm Fascists discuss firearms they are deeply engage in the “inversion of customary meanings.” A firearm is a piece of machinery with a specific purpose. It is, for all intents and purposes, a tool, albeit a dangerous one. In the world of Firearm Fascists a firearm is fare more than a simple tool. It is somehow a talisman, like a token in of some online game that protects the prince or princess from the trolls and ogres who would harm them. In this sense, Firearm Fascists are prone to what can only be called “magical” thinking. Somehow, wielding a firearm creates an impenetrable shield against all dangers.
Or, so the NRA’s political arm claimed as the 2014 elections neared: “So let this be a declaration to America’s leaders: You have no right, no reason and no authority to deny us the protection that the Second Amendment alone guarantees. We will not be left defenseless. We will not give up our freedoms. We will not surrender our safety to the lies of leaders who promise everything and deliver nothing.”40
In the topsy-turvy world of Firearm Fascists, the government does not man the bastions and stand between the populace and the barbarians at the gate. The government is the barbarian. This is the dangerous bill of goods Firearm Fascists, dressed up in the sheep’s clothing of liberty and constitutional rights, that gun extremists, offer the American public.
THE APPEAL OF THE NRA, DESPITE ITS FIREARM FASCISM
Ironically, one would hope that labeling pro-gun extremists as Firearm Fascists would have the greatest impact on those who will object most strongly to the use of the term—members of such organizations as the NRA, GOA, and other pro-gun groups. These groups posture themselves as strong protectors of the rights of the average American gun-owner masquerade as and behave in many ways just like a “normal” mass membership organization.
A summary of their line to potential members is relatively simple, “Hey, you want to hunt? You want to own a bunch of guns? You like target shooting? You think you need a firearm in the home for self-protection? We are your best buddy. We are on the frontlines protecting your ability to do just that, and we don’t just protect your rights. We are a great club.”
As the NRA website indicates, members get a wealth of benefits, all for $35 per year.61
- 24/7 defense of your Second Amendment freedoms
- Official NRA members-only shooter’s cap (restricted to special memberships)
- Your choice of monthly NRA magazine (First Freedom, American Rifleman, or American Hunter)
- Membership card and decal
- Insurance for you and your guns ($2,5000 for guns; $5,000 firearm-related or NRA-related accidental death or dismemberment for any member, $10,000 for Life Members, or $25,000 for law enforcement officers killed in line of duty)
- Invitations to “Friends of the NRA” dinners, special events, and more…
- Limited Time Offer! Support the NRA and receive a $35 statement credit when you apply online and are approved for the NRA Visa® card! Use this credit any way you want, including reimbursement for your NRA membership dues. (details after submitting your NRA application)
Plus, one can join the NRA Wine Club, cigar club, prescription drug plan, and receive significant discounts from a wide range of businesses that are NRA affiliates. These businesses include: 62
- Rental Car Companies: Hertz, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, National, and Alamo
- Hotels: Wyndham, Knights Inn, Best Western, Howard Johnson, Days Inn, Ramada, Super 8, and Travelodge.
- Moving Companies: North American and Allied
- Insurance: Metlife
All of this makes the NRA seem, to its members, like just another club, say maybe The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) or the Kiwanis. But, it is not. NRA members need to recognize that the NRA is a fascist organization that, yes, has a wine club and a cigar club.
The wine and cigar clubs are nice, but they are not really important. What is important is that the NRA intends to re-draw the boundaries of our civil society, while lulling its members into considering it just another club of like-minded folks that you join the organization and get opportunities to engage in America’s truly favorite sport—shopping
At the same time that pro-gun organizations imitate AARP, they spread their message to all their members. Pro-gun extremist long ago mastered the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle with slogans like:
- Guns Don’t Kill People. People Kill People,
- If Guns Are Banned, Only Criminals Will Have Guns,
- Fight Crime. Shoot Back,
- Armed Citizens Don’t Become Victims, or
- …the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
While these seem like simple examples of bumper sticker logic and a simplistic interpretation of the Second Amendment, they are potent elements of Firearm Fascists’ propaganda. Speak to any NRA member, and he or she will invariably fall back on these slogans as a defense against regulations related to gun safety. “Gun-free zones” have become “victim zones. In essence, pro-gun extremist have been incredibly successful in “framing the issue” for all gun owners. The issue is “gun control” or “gun confiscation,” not firearm safety or violence.
FIREARM FASCISM, BUT SO WHAT?
A holder of a valid concealed carry permit in North Carolina killed three young Muslims in what some claims is a dispute over a parking place.63 A recent murder suicide, with a firearm, in Georgia left five people dead and two injured.64 For the decade ending in 2012, firearm homicides averaged over 30 per day in this nation.65 Times like these demand that we be precise, as with terrorism, in the way we speak about the extreme firearm advocates involved in the often heated debate concerning firearms policy in this country.
“What’s in a name?’ The simple answer to this question in politics and public policy is—a great deal. The right-wing wind machine lambasted President Obama for calling groups like ISIL terrorists, rather than “Muslim extremists.”66 For his part, the President made clear that he had no interest in laying ISIL’s acts of depraved terrorism at the feet of any religion. Such precision in this time of “angry minds,” as Hofstadter put it, is commendable. It is important in our discussion of gun safety policy as well.
In discussing the work of the Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler on the relationship between words and symbolic meaning, Adam Alter makes an important observation about naming and its implications.67 He notes that “If you’re like the vast majority of Köhler’s respondents, you’re compelled by the idea that [one feels that objects called] malumas are soft and rounded …, whereas [one feels that objects named] taketes are sharp and jagged….
The argument here is that words carry hidden baggage that plays an important role in shaping how we think about what we have named. For Adler, “What’s surprising, perhaps, is how profoundly a single word can shape material outcomes over time.” In addition, after reviewing some of the more current literature on the psychology of naming, Adler concludes that “as soon as you label a concept, you change how people perceive it.”
The task in this essay has been to clarify the nature of pro-gun extremism in America. This movement is not designed to protect the average gun owner. It is a movement that uses the tactics of modern fascism in its attempt to radically restructure our social world. Extremism always hopes to gain legitimacy by attempting to plant its dirty paws in some revered soil, such as Christianity, Islam, freedom, or democracy.
Gun extremist and Firearm Fascists are clearly out of step with step with public attitudes about firearm safety.10 Nonetheless, Firearm Fascists in the United States have been so successful in America because they have sunk their long, sharp teeth into core American traditions and used them as a shield as they further their clear, but unadvertised, agenda. .Or, as Joe the Plumber so clearly put it in his message to victims’ families after the mass murders in Santa Barbara, “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”68
People like this must no longer be allowed to hide their horrible sins behind the shield of core American values. They must be “called out” for what they are—Firearm Fascists. What they seek is not the vaunted freedom guaranteed by the Second Amendment. They seek a world radically at odds with the desires of the majority of American citizens and the majority of American gun owners. They want to transform this nation into a place that recognizes the highly questionable virtue of “In America, any gun for anyone, anywhere, and any time.
- “Richard Reid,” last modified March 6, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Reid.
- “Revenue Passengers Enplaned by Unique Carrier…”” accessed March 21, 2015, http://www.transtats.bts.gov/Oneway.asp?Display_Flag=0&Percent_Flag=0
- Thanks to John Oliver for bringing such a comparison to this viewer’s attention on his program Last Week Tonight.
- “Fatal Injury Reports, National and Regional, 1999-2013,” last updated February 19, 2013, http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html.
- The NY Safe Act, http://programs.governor.ny.gov/nysafeact/gun-reform
- Effect of Newtown Massacre. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/state-gun-laws-after-newtown, and “Tracking State Gun Laws: 2014 Developments,” accessed March 5, 2015, http://smartgunlaws.org/tracking-state-gun-laws-2014-developments/
- New Kansas gun law, http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/04/03/3642643/new-kansas-law-allows-concealed-guns-without-training-permits/
- “Teacher’s Protection Act, HB No. 868” accessed March 23, 2015, http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/84R/billtext/html/HB00868I.htm. Thanks to Hunter on Daily Kos for bringing this pending legislation to my attention.
- “Wayne LaPierre Testimony at U.S. Senate” accessed March 21, 2015, https://www.nraila.org/articles/20130130/testimony-of-wayne-lapierre-before-the-us-senate-committee-on-the-judiciary-hearing-on-what-should-america-do-about-gun-violence
- Public Attitudes About Firearm Safety, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/civil-liberties/report/2013/03/27/58092/what-the-public-really-thinks-about-guns/ and http://www.people-press.org/2013/01/14/in-gun-control-debate-several-options-draw-majority-support/10
- Jennifer Daniel and Allison McCann, “The NRA’s Corporate Donors,” http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-03-14/the-nras-corporate-donors.
- Julie Bykowicz, “ NRA Raised $256 Million Last Year, “ http://go.bloomberg.com/political-capital/2013-12-19/nra-raised-256-million-last-year/
- National Rifle Association, Institute for Legislative Action, accessed March 23, 2015, https://www.nraila.org/issues/assault-weapons-and-semi-automatic-firearms/
- Gun Owners of America, http://gunowners.org/
- National Shooting Sports Federation, http://www.nssf.org/
- AFT Proposed Rule on Ammunition, “Attempted Regulation of Ammunition by ATF,” acccessed March 10, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-weisser/atf-armor-piercing-ar15-ammunition_b_6831420.html
- “AFT Response to Criticism,” accessed March 10, 2015, http://townhall.com/tipsheet/katiepavlich/2015/03/10/breaking-atf-pulls-ban-on-ar15-green-tip-ammunition-n1968508
- “College Drinking,” accessed March 23, 2015, http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/college-drinking.
- Garen J. Wintemute, “The Epidemiology of Firearm Violence in the Twenty-First Century United States,” in Annual Review of Public Health, 36: 5-19.
- “Data on Unintentional Fatal Injuries Involving a Firearm,” last updated February 9, 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal.html
- NRA and Sandy Hook, http://nbclatino.com/2012/12/21/the-nra-speaks-14-quotes-from-wayne-la-pierre-a-week-after-sandy-hook-tragedy/
- GOA and Sandy Hook, http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2012/12/16/gun-free-zones-larry-pratt/1773473/
- “Gun Control Facts.” By James D. Agresti and Reid K. Smith. Just Facts, September 13, 2010. Revised 2/7/15, http://justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp
- Heller case, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_07_290
- Texas Response to US Military, http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2015/04/30/texas-guard-jade-helm/26603719/
- Richard Feldman, Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008)
- Open Carry Texas, http://www.opencarrytexas.org/
- Open Carry Texas Song, http://www.opencarrytexas.org/our-mission.html
- NRA response to OCT http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/06/02/nra-splits-with-open-carry-texas-amid-chipotle-beef/ed
- Limbaugh and Feminazis, last modified March 3, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminazi
- Food Fascists, Miller http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2013/05/08/exposing-the-tyranny-of-the-food-fascists/
- Ted Cruz and Liberal Fascists, http://freedomoutpost.com/2015/04/ted-cruz-there-is-a-liberal-fascism-dedicated-to-targeting-christians/.
- Orwell on Fascism, http://orwell.ru/library/articles/As_I_Please/english/efasc
- Umberto Eco, Five Moral Pieces, (San Diego: Harvest Book, Harcourt, 2002), 65-88.
- Eco, 77-78.
- Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership, http://jpfo.org/ and https://www.firearmsandliberty.com/cramer.racism.html
- Wayne LaPierre and Sandy Hook, http://nbclatino.com/2012/12/21/the-nra-speaks-14-quotes-from-wayne-la-pierre-a-week-after-sandy-hook-tragedy/
- NRA Election Rant, Nov, 2014 http://www.nrapublications.org/index.php/18671/is-chaos-at-our-door/
- Heston Speech Excerpt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ju4Gla2odw
- Heston Speech Excerpt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ju4Gla2odw
- First Freedom Magazine, http://www.nrapublications.org/index.php/first-freedom/
- For a meaningful discussion of the Second Amendment and its history see Michael Waldman, The Second Amendment: A Biography, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).
- Small Arms Treaty Traitors, http://www.dcclothesline.com/2013/06/06/the-46-senate-traitors-who-voted-in-favor-of-the-un-gun-control-treaty/ and http://www.petition2congress.com/8905/stop-traitorous-politicians-from-voting-in-nuclear-option/
- NRA ILA leader statement, Cox quote https://www.nraila.org/articles/20130925/obama-administration-signs-united-nations-arms-trade-treaty
- Gun Registration and NRA, http://www.nrapublications.org/index.php/15162/the-catastrophic-consequences-of-gun-registration/
- False Gun Confiscation Story, http://www.christianpost.com/news/molon-labe-connecticuts-terrifying-start-of-gun-confiscation-115882/
- Department of Justice Gun Grab, http://www.redflagnews.com/headlines/doj-memo-outlaw-and-confiscate-all-guns or http://www.examiner.com/article/doj-internal-memo-confirms-obama-plan-for-gun-confiscation
- Rightwing Hysteria over Us Military Maneuvers, http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2015/03/23/usasoc-conspiracy-invade-texas/70345764/?from=global&sessionKey=&autologin=
- Larry Pratt, GOA, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/anti-obama-gun-activist-gets-shut-down-six-years-hes-yet-come-and-get-your-guns
- Courser MI state leg http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/19/1352903/-Mich-GOPer-posts-pix-of-his-kids-with-AR-15s-calls-them-modern-muskets-weapons-for-liberty#
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Secker and Warburg, 1949).
- Newspeak Definition, Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/newspeak
- Version of Second Amendment displayed in NRA building in Washington, DC
- District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)
- Violence in OECD countries. http://www.civitas.org.uk/crime/crime_stats_oecdjan2012.pdf
- Road Rage in UK, (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-192223/UK-retains-road-rage-title.html)
- Road Rage in US, (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/17/us/las-vegas-road-rage-killing/ and http://abcnews.go.com/US/houston-road-rage-victim-recounts-terrifying-experience/story?id=29917741)
- NRA Bans Working Firearms, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/nra-bans-working-guns-annual-onvention-article-1.2177038
- NRA Membership benefits from Website https://membership.nrahq.org/forms/signup.asp
- NRA affiliate discounts https://membership.nrahq.org/affiliates.asp
- Chapel Hill Tragedy, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/04/us/chapel-hill-muslim-student-shootings-north-carolina.html?_r=0
- Atlanta Murder-Suicide, http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/02/georgia_shooting_murder-suicid.html
- Firearm Homicides, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/homicide.htm
- Obama and Labeling ISIS, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/feb/22/punditfact-why-obama-wont-label-isis-islamic-extre/
- Adam Alter, New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-power-of-names 13 Mar 15
- Joe The Plumber Quote, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/27/joe-plumber-your-dead-kids-dont-trump-my-constitut/
Photo Credit: Huffington Post