An excellent piece at The Stone on “open carry” and the exciting time it is when a bunch of gun-toting fanatics can force law enforcement to back down because law enforcement doesn’t want yet another Waco or Ruby Ridge. Patrick Blanchfield
Earlier this month, in Bunkerville, Nev., representatives of the Bureau of Land Management withdrew from a tense standoff with supporters of Cliven Bundy, a rancher who owes the federal government over $1 million in unpaid fees for allowing his cattle to graze on public land. The hundreds of self-appointed militia and “states’ rights” activists who flocked to support Bundy, many in full tactical gear and openly carrying assault rifles, blockaded a federal interstate and trained their weapons on B.L.M. employees who sought to negotiate with the rancher and his family. Fearful of a pitched gun battle, the B.L.M. departed, leaving Bundy and his supporters to celebrate, emboldened, with a barbecue.
Seriously, now – what does that sound like? It sounds like fucking Boko Haram, that’s what. It sounds like fascism. It sounds like what it is: hundreds of men with guns thwarting a branch of civilian government. This is not something we want.
…as a transaction between the state and citizens decided not by rule of law, nor by vote or debate, but rather by the simple presence of arms, Bunkerville is deeply troubling. Guns publicly brandished by private individuals decided the outcome. For all Bundy’s appeals to constitutional justification, what mattered at the end of the day was who was willing to take the threat of gunplay the furthest.
We don’t want that. It’s the opposite of civilization, and we prefer civilization.
Bunkerville is simply the next step in a trend that has been ramping up for some time. Since the election of Barack Obama, guns have appeared in the public square in a way unprecedented since the turbulent 1960s and ’70s — carried alongside signs and on their own since before the Tea Party elections, in a growing phenomenon of “open carry” rallies organized by groups like the Modern American Revolution and OpenCarry.org, and in the efforts by gun rights activists to carry assault weapons into the Capitol buildings in New Mexico and Texas (links to video). According to open carry advocates, their presence in public space represents more than just an expression of their Second Amendment rights, it’s a statement, an “educational,” communicative act — in short, an exercise of their First Amendment freedom of speech. (See this, from the group Ohio Carry, and this Michigan lawsuit.)
No. Guns are not educational and they’re not speech. Go away.
what does it mean, in a democracy that enshrines freedom of speech, to publicly carry a gun as an expression of political dissent? Toting a weapon in a demonstration changes the stakes, transforming a protest from just another heated transaction in the marketplace of ideas into something else entirely. It’s bringing a gun to an idea-fight, gesturing as close as possible to outright violence while still technically remaining within the domain of speech. Like a military “show of force,” this gesture stays on the near side of an actual declaration of war while remaining indisputably hostile. The commitment to civil disagreement is merely provisional: I feel so strongly about this issue, the gun says, that if I don’t get my way, I am willing to kill for it.
Quite. And I don’t want that.
We should also note that not all symbolic speech is created equal. On the contemporary stage, those bearing guns in protest are most likely to be white, right-leaning, and rural. As the historian Adam Winkler has documented, this represents a more or less direct reversal of the upheavals of the late ’60s and ’70s, when Republican politicians pursued new gun control legislation in response to armed protests by urban African-American leftists. Today, it is those most sheltered from actual state violence — from the day-to-day reality of police brutality — who also feel most threatened by the state, most free to threaten violence against hypothetical violations, and most entitled to opt out of civil discourse by reaching for their weapons. Our racial double standards for who can safely gesture at political violence are enormous. At least before his racism became public, Bundy and his supporters could point assault weapons at federal agents and be lionized as “patriots” by a United States senator and celebrated on Fox, whereas a single New Black Panther standing near a polling station while holding a billy club prompted calls on that same network for former Navy SEALs to show up in force and “fight back.”
In many ways this country is just not sane.