Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The recent history of the 2nd Amendment in a nutshell

1 in 5 Americans suffers from some form of mental illness, some 60 million-plus people.  Tens of millions of those people suffer from paranoid delusions, which often take the form of a specific fear that marauding gangs of dusky-hued drug dealers and rapists and disrespectful teenagers will break into their suburban houses or local Starbucks or simply park next to them, and then outright kill them or rob them of property and perhaps just self-respect. 

Their paranoid delusions drive these people to buy bits of cheap plastic junk in RealTree Xtra camo.  At one point it was just cheap guns with some upscale and paranoid marketing, but the industry that made the guns realized, like everyone else in business during the 80s, that they were selling the paranoid-about-dusky-hued-drug-gangs a lifestyle, so they went into the accessories business and began selling a wide variety of branded junk like holsters and bottle openers and blankets.  They realized that if they called something "tactical" and associated it with the militarization of American life, it'd be instantly more salable to the paranoid.  The paranoid rarely hunt, and most couldn't make it if they tried in the military because of their dispositions or mental illness, but they could believe they were protecting themselves from the subjects of their delusion if they participated in the lifestyle.  Hunting was boring, but tactical became synonymous with effective and serious, and so people who felt as though they were neither but entitled to be both jumped in headfirst.

None of those brands mean anything to people outside of that lifestyle, and in fact much of what is sold by those companies is useless for either hunting or self-defense - that is, for the ostensible purpose for which it exists.  If you're worried that someone is going to break into your house a simple pump-action shotgun has long been known as the most useful firearm for that situation; teaching yourself and your kids to escape the house, however, is both safer, more effective and less likely to cause unnecessary holes in the walls.  But the industry wasn't getting rich enough from sales of the simple Remington 870 pump-action, so the industry painted it a variety of designer colors and added various features useless to the home owner, some of which are similar to but not of the same quality as features that might be used by professional killers or police forces.  Some of those accessories are in the realm of the absurd.  No one ever defended their home better with a gunmetal grey Smith & Wesson tactical bottle-opener, or stopped a line of drug dealers with their pink-camo concealed-carry holster, but ownership of those things came to signify for their owners a willingness to protect oneself, a concern for self-respect.  For the rest of us they marked their owners as likely members of the paranoid pool.

The industry also took a page from other industries facing questions over their toxic products: They tied their products to both a nebulous concept of freedom of choice and they tried to find secondary benefits for their products.  For the first defense they argued they were the true defenders of American democracy, that just as newspapers are for-profit consequences of the 1st amendment, firearms companies are for-profit consequences of the 2nd, and therefore entitled to similar kinds of protections for their customer base.  For the second defense they bought themselves the NRA, an organization that had made 2nd amendment protections a small part of its activities, its primary role being supporting safe and clean shooting ranges and teaching safe and effective firearms use.  Purchasing the NRA meant the firearms industry could pretend it had the support of all the NRA's members, whether those people were liberal New England English professors who liked to hunt grouse on autumn long weekends, or disciplined former Marine snipers who wanted to pass on their understanding of how to make rifles do seemingly impossible things, or genuine right-wing fanatics who'd have voted for a fascist in a minute, and did as often as they could anyway.  All of them appeared to fall in line behind the defense of the firearms industry and its business model, whether they were actually deluded or just there so they had a place to shoot trap in August.

But unlike the (for example) Lead or Bromine industries, among others, the firearms industry was able to turn an amendment to the Constitution originally intended to ensure the various states could keep their escaped-slave police forces and death-squad militias after the formation of the US, into an argument about the dissolution of the Constitution itself.  Many people fell for the idea that the constitution built in its own escape clause, or what's known as the "Insurrectionist interpretation"; I myself once argued as such in a national newspaper when I was just a fool kid.  But ultimately that's not in the law, or even the spirit of the law: It may be that the People reserve the right to insurrection, but you're much more likely to find that right argued in the documents of Marx and Bakunin than the papers of dowdy spiritualist pot-smoking slave-owning tobacco planters from Virginia.  The founders were English, after all.

And so the industry promulgated the idea that people with paranoid delusions of dark-skinned people taking their stuff were actually patriots, and had reason to be worried about all sorts of things that weren't actually happening, that non-white people really were trying to take stuff that didn't rightfully belong to them.  This was made easier by the fact that a significant portion of the paranoid pool came from a culture that was racist anyway, and that had enjoyed being pandered to since before the Declaration of Independence.  Creating and nurturing paranoia is much easier when the seeds fall into a culture of grievance to begin with, and southern confederate culture, people who consider themselves Secessionists even if they live in Brooklyn or Wisconsin or Seattle or Phoenix, never mind Sugarland or Cobb County or Chico, even if they revere the socialist health care of the US military, have a culture of grievance so deeply ingrained they can with straight faces claim to be the victims of their own brutal violence against everyone else.

That brings us to the present day.  In the present day people suffering from paranoid delusions and from delusions of grandeur keep cocked and loaded handguns in every room of their house.  They carry weapons secretly on their person in every public place in case someone does something they perceive to be threatening, so that they might shoot that person.  All to protect a business model based on the sale of multi-colored bits of plastic junk.

I haven't linked to anything here because, frankly, if you understand this history you probably already know where to go to find the links.  If you disagree with this history you won't agree with the links anyway.  As Richard Venola, the former editor of Guns & Ammo was quoted as saying, "We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment [...] The time for ceding some rational points is gone."  Even if the other side is right and there is a case to be made - that would save lives and enhance public safety and security - the anti-regulation people must continue to refuse to engage on facts and logic.

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