October 07, 2015

The magical power of guns

Following the Oregon shooting, some people are discussing the quasi-religious beliefs of today's gun fanatics. Ket's start with some info on how society's views have shifted:

Understanding the Country's Choice on Guns

By Josh MarshallThe real story is that guns have become a key part of Republican partisan self-identification since the dawn of the Obama era. Republicans and Democrats have seen the gun control issue differently for decades. But not that differently. Democrats strongly supported gun control. And Republicans were basically divided on the issue. As Pew's Carroll Doherty noted in this Pew write-up, "as recently as 2007, 48% of Republicans and GOP leaners said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 47% said it was more important to protect gun rights."

The dawn of the Obama era brought a transformation that you can see powerfully in this chart of Pew data over the last quarter century.

The politics transformed because of a dramatic shift in opinion on the part of Republicans that began at the outset of the Obama presidency. Democrats have remained more or less unchanged in their position, at least within a band that has been broadly stable since the early '90s. This probably overlaps with the dramatic increase in gun and ammunition purchases after President Obama's election.

Going slightly beyond what the data tells us, it seems clear that being pro-gun has become a key element of Republican self-identification. That is to say, it's not just that many Republicans' views have changed since Obama took office, but that being pro-gun has become an elemental part of what it means to be a Republican.
The Cult Of The Second Amendment

By Ed Kilgore[T]o a remarkable extent, the default position of conservatives has less and less to do with arguments about the efficacy of gun regulation or the need for guns to deter or respond to crime. Instead, it’s based on the idea that the main purpose of the Second Amendment is to keep open the possibility of revolutionary violence against the U.S. government.

This was once an exotic, minority view even among gun enthusiasts who tended to view the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to gun ownership not to overthrow the government but to supplement the government’s use of lethal force against criminals. Treating the Second Amendment as an integral legacy of the American Revolution appealed to gun rights advocates who sought firm ground against regulations with no possibility of compromise.

But more importantly, it gave a dangerous edge to the claims of conservative extremists—who recently began calling themselves “constitutional conservatives”—that their ideology of absolute property rights, religious rights and even fetal rights had been permanently established by the Founders who added in the Second Amendment to ensure any trespassing on their “design” by “tyrants” or popular majorities could and should be resisted.

Nowadays this revolutionary rationale for gun rights is becoming the rule rather than the exception for conservative politicians and advocates.
Guns = totemic shield

Next, some discussion of how guns have become a magic talisman against social change.

This is why the gun nuts win: An Oregon sheriff’s nutty conspiracy theories explains the GOP’s impotence

The fantasy lives of gun lovers, such as Oregon sheriff John Hanlin, are why we can't address gun violence.

By Amanda Marcotte
Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands.

This comes across clearly in the letter that Hanlin wrote to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013 where he asked that the administration “NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment” and where he threatened ominously, “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the president offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.”

Despite all the attempts at formal, legalistic language, Hanlin is clearly writing more in a mythical vein than he is actually addressing any real world policy concerns. His absolutist language about the 2nd amendment ignores the fact that there are already federal and state regulations on guns and who can buy them. More disturbingly, his posturing about open rebellion against the federal government evokes the conspiracy theory-mindset of the hard right, the kind of paranoid hysteria about federal power that led to so much violence during the Clinton administration, from shootouts at Waco and Ruby Ridge to the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City. This is not a letter from someone soberly assessing the pros and cons of proposed regulations on firearms. This is the letter of someone wrapped up in childish fantasies of revolution.

In case there is any doubt about this, Hanlin also, at the same time, used his personal Facebook page to promote the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was a “false flag” operation meant to give cover to the federal government gun grab that right wingers have been warning us for decades is coming any day now.
Finally, a little history. Originally Americans weren't gun fanatics, caressing their weapons like women or babies. But today's fanatics have fetishized the past. To them, subjugating brown people is good and guns are what made it possible.

Shootings Are Enabled by a Gun Cult, but Fostered by a Society That Perpetuates Violence

By Mark KarlinYes, guns are far too prevalent and easily available in the United States. Yes, there is a gun industry that has a vested financial interest in perpetuating the fear in our society that leads to the purchase of ever more technologically-advanced and lethal weaponry. Yes, there is no question that fewer guns in fewer hands would make the United States safer. The gun lobby will vociferously dispute this, but the statistics of death by firearms speak for themselves.

Nevertheless, the problem is much more deeply rooted than a society floating in a sea of guns. The NRA and its "fellow travelers" represent the tip of the iceberg of a nation that was created by the use of violence to suppress and massacre an Indigenous population that already occupied the land that became the United States. Clamorous gun advocates represent the tip of the iceberg of a white patriarchal society that became an international economic power due to the establishment and perpetuation of slavery--and all the violence and killing involved in sustaining the ownership of other human beings as a source of free labor.

The nation grew--in land and wealth--through the utilization of violence as a nationally condoned policy.

Currently, the US empire is founded on the assertion of militarized violence to perpetuate its supremacy as the "sole superpower." The use of violence also ensures that the status quo of structural racism and economic inequality are maintained through the use of brutal policing and mass incarceration--which is itself a form of violence upon the freedom, integrity and soul of individuals, who might otherwise represent a potential political counterforce to the existing oligarchy founded on white privilege.
Comment:  For more on gun control, see Trump's Death Wish Fantasies and Hicks = "Angry, Armed, and White."

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