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Guns: the Fantasies, the Fear

Two perceptive observers of modern America comment on the psychology and ideology of  the gun cult, which includes our heavily-armed police. 

First, Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

To imagine something different, we have to understand the ideology that created our current legal regime. It was constructed on a foundation of fantasy and terror, one that elevates imaginary threats and decrees that our response to those threats can only be confronted by each of us alone, never through the institutions we create or the government that represents us.

No, only the isolated, heavily armed, perpetually terrified individual can hope to keep his family safe — so don’t even think about changing the laws, unless it’s to put more guns in more people’s hands.

What kind of fantasies are we talking about? The most important is that the U.S. government — the one designed by those sainted Framers whose genius conservatives praise so often — is always moments away from devolving into totalitarian oppression, and all that keeps it from happening is its fear of an armed populace ready to start killing soldiers and cops.

So after the killings in Uvalde, Tex., a Florida state representative tweeted an explicit threat to kill the president of the United States: “I have news for the . . . President — try to take our guns and you’ll learn why the Second Amendment was written in the first place.”

This idea is not unusual at all; gun advocates are forever claiming that their gun rights are the only thing that keeps America from turning into Nazi Germany. Or as Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters puts it in an ad, “Without gun rights, before long, you have no rights.”

Oddly, they never explain why countries such as England, France, Denmark, and every other liberal democracy haven’t devolved into brutal dictatorship despite their relatively unarmed populations.

The next fantasy, the one that guides so many of those deeply immersed in gun culture, is that of an impending assault that can only be met with sufficient firepower. Why do I need all these semiautomatic rifles, weapons designed to kill human beings in war? Because of the home invaders, the terrorists, the gangbangers coming to kill me and my family.

This idea of a world of chaotic violence saturates conservative media (where antifa and Black Lives Matter are forever burning down cities and coming to destroy your community) and the rhetoric of gun groups and gun enthusiasts. It’s absolutely central to that message that no collective or governmental response will protect you and your family. The cops won’t get there fast enough, laws don’t stop “the bad guys,” and in the end you are atomized and alone, left to either kill or be killed.

The tragic irony is that when this fantasy is the guiding principle of law, it creates its own justification and a version of its own reality. Since it’s so easy for anyone to get an AR-15, you need one too. Since you never know when somebody might cut you off in traffic or be rude to you at the Starbucks, everyone should be allowed to carry a gun, no permit or training required.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If that turns out not to be true — as it wasn’t in Buffalo or Uvalde — then the answer must be more and more guns.

The political implication is obvious: It’s not worth even trying to craft any kind of policy solution to gun violence. As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — allegedly the state’s top law enforcement official — said after the Uvalde massacre, laws are pointless. . . . Though in fact, the Uvalde shooter did follow gun laws: He waited until his 18th birthday to legally purchase the rifle he used to kill those children. . . . 

It’s their fantasy world of horror and fear that gave us the laws we have now. And they’ll do everything they can to keep it that way.

Next, journalist David Roberts:

US police culture and training are perfectly tuned to attract and empower reactionaries. Reactionaries are cowards. They show “strength” and “manhood” by abusing the weak: black kids selling cigarettes on the street. Unarmed protesters. “Suspected drug dealers” asleep in bed.

This is not a matter of “people I think are bad for one reason are also bad for this other reason.” They are connected, part of the same mentality. The reactionary mind is driven by fear and that’s what you see in cops and cop training these days, the deep conviction that they’re always in danger, that every civilian is a threat, that they can’t go anywhere, into any situation, without *overwhelming* force, including a bunch of military gear. For fucks sake, they were scared to confront a lone school shooter.

The flip side is, when they’re in a situation where they DO have overwhelming force, when they do feel safe and in control, all that fear comes out as violence and abuse against the helpless. The violence is an attempt to purge the fear. Thus sitting on George Floyd’s neck for 8:46.

All of this is true in one way or another of all reactionaries, not just cops. T____ was happy to put the kids of asylum seekers in cages, but he was too chickenshit to fire people to their faces.

The ugly cruelty and the cowardice are flip sides of the same coin.

So yeah, we need to reform police funding and equipment and unions, but the deeper (and infinitely more difficult) reform is to change the training and culture to attract grown-ass men, not frightened bullies trapped in adolescence.

The sight of all those hopped-up, body-armored, automatic weapon-wielding cops standing around outside a school building while a teenager slaughtered children inside should be seared in our collective memory forever. . . .

The mentality that seeks to heap misery & suffering on defenseless trans kids and the mentality that waits outside an active school shooting because cops “might get hurt” are the same mentality.

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