wave the white flag

We’ve given up. Surrendered. Oh, we make a big fuss about the mass murder in Aurora. The news is full of ‘human interest’ stories about the victims — this one saved that one’s life, that one just got married, this other one worked with disabled kids, and that one had a promising career. So very sad, so very tragic — and yet we don’t really care enough about these poor people to even have a serious discussion about gun control. The simple fact is, we’ve capitulated. To this guy.

James Holmes

We say we need to have a discussion about gun control, but we openly concede we won’t. Why? Because at this point in the history of our culture we just acknowledge the fact that mass murder is acceptable. We’re basically okay with the fact that every so often somebody will buy a butt-load of firearms, then armor up and walk into a place of business, a shopping mall, a fast food restaurant, a school and shoot the living shit out of as many people as possible. We’re not only okay with it, we’ll pass laws that make it more possible. Hell, we’ll even pass laws that allow folks to buy extra capacity magazines so we can keep the body count up.

Here’s a true thing: according to data published by the FBI, single-victim gun killings have dropped more than 40 percent in the last 30 years. Here’s another true thing: mass murder — the killing of four or more victims in a single related incident — has increased in that same period. In the last three decades there have been around a thousand mass murders, with close to 5000 deaths. That’s another four or five people killed in another mass murder every what, nine days? Those are just the fatalities; who knows how many are wounded? Who know how many end up permanently disabled or emotionally fucked up.

Still, it’s no big deal. We have something over 300 million people in the U.S. We can lose a couple hundred a year to mass murder and not even blink.

Could we do something about it? Sure. If we wanted to. But we don’t. Instead, we’ll continue to make it possible for kids to dye their hair red and dress up in ballistic armor and do their part to provide the media with all those great human interest stories.

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how did we get here?

Two things fuel the current idiotic state of gun laws in the United States: the romantic tradition of the Old West and contemporary paranoia and fear. It began with the glorification of the gunfight, in which a pair of steely-eyed men — one good and one wicked, of course — faced each other on dusty streets at high noon and settled their differences. There’s a limited but semi-factual basis for that tradition. Those sorts of gunfights actually did, on rare occasion, take place. In fact today is the anniversary of the first recognized ‘high noon’ style gunfight. It didn’t take place at noon, though, and neither of the participants could be said to be entirely ‘good’ people, and there was nothing particularly romantic about it. But this is where the tradition was born.

On this day in 1865, in the market square of Springfield, Missouri, a cowboy named Davis Tutt, who a few months earlier had been serving in the Confederate Army, faced off against James Butler Hickock, a professional gambler who’d served in the Union Army, first as a Jayhawker and later as a scout (if you’ve seen the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, you’ve seen Jayhawkers — they were the ‘Red Legs’ who killed Clint Eastwood’s wife and child, and later massacred his companions as they were surrendering). Because of his prominent nose, Hickock’s fellow Jayhawkers called him Duckbill. By the end of the war, they’d begun calling him Wild Bill.

Wild Bill Hickock

The gunfight was primarily over a gambling debt; secondarily, it involved disputes over women (Tutt had been paying ‘undue attention’ to Hickock’s girlfriend; Hickock, on the other hand, was believed to have impregnated Tutt’s sister). They met in the town’s square, stood somewhere between 50 and 75 yards apart, took up a sideways duelist’s stance, and drew and fired at about the same time. Tutt, who was generally accounted the better shot, missed. Hickock didn’t. A year and a half later, an account of the gunfight was published in Harper’s Magazine. It propelled Hickock from his status as “a desperado, a drunken, swaggering fellow” to that of a dime-novel hero.

There is, let’s face it, something perversely attractive about the Old West mythos of the straight-talking and straight-shooting lawman. In reality, straight-talking was significantly less important than straight-shooting. It was the notion of straight-shooting that sparked the creation of the National Rifle Association.

At the end of every war there’s always a group of people who say “Well, that’s done — now, how do we fight the next one?” At the end of the American Civil War, one of those people was former Union Army General George Wingate. He was appalled by the inability of city-raised Union soldiers to hit a target; it was estimated that for every 1000 rounds fired by Union soldiers, only one Confederate soldier was hit. Confederate troops, having a more rural background, were far more accurate. In 1871 Wingate and a few others created the National Rifle Association to rectify that situation.

For a century or so, that’s what the NRA did — they taught firearm safety, they taught marksmanship, and they lobbied for sensible gun laws. That’s right, sensible gun laws in response to contemporary social circumstances. In the 1920s and 30s, for example, the NRA acted in response to the rise of gangsterism. This was the era of Bonnie and Clyde, of Machine Gun Kelly, of John Dillinger. The NRA helped craft legislation to restrict the buying and carrying of guns; laws requiring a person to obtain a permit from local law enforcement in order to carry a concealed weapon, laws limiting those permits to people who had a valid cause to be armed, laws requiring gun dealers to report every gun sale to law enforcement, and laws imposing a waiting period on the purchase of weapons. They supported laws restricting the sale and ownership of automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns, which were considered ‘gangster’ guns. Even as late as 1963, after the assassination of President Kennedy, the NRA supported a ban on mail-order gun sales.

John Dillinger

By the middle of the 1960s, the NRA had essentially become an organization devoted to supporting the interests of hunters and sportsmen. Then in May of 1967, something unexpected happened. The wrong people started buying, owning and carrying guns. A year earlier, in response to incidents of police violence, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party to protect their neighborhoods. They began to openly carry firearms — mostly shotguns and handguns — while patrolling the streets. They also began to stockpile weapons.

In response, a conservative Republican state assemblyman, Don Mulford, proposed a law that would prohibit the carrying of a loaded weapon in any California city. The governor of California, Ronald Reagan, supported the restriction, saying there was “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and telling reporters the legislation “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.” The new legislation was presented to the public as sensible gun control, but everybody knew it was directed at one segment of the population. As one Black Panther said at the time, the law wasn’t about controlling guns; it was about controlling black people.

The law passed. Of course it did. And on the day the legislation was debated, the Black Panthers marched, fully armed, to the state capitol.

The Black Panther Party on the steps of the California legislature – May, 1967

The following month began what has come to be called ‘the Long Hot Summer.” In June of 1967 there were race riots in Tampa,  Atlanta, Buffalo, Boston, and Cincinnati. In July the riots spread to Detroit, Newark, Birmingham, Chicago, New York City, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. The rioting continued through August. In the three months of summer, there were 159 race riots in the United States. Police and National Guardsmen who attempted to maintain order during the riots often became the targets of sniper fire.

A couple of noteworthy things happened as a result of the riots. The Kerner Commission, established by President Johnson to determine why the riots took place and how future riots could be avoided, noted one reason for the level of violence was the easy access to firearms. That led to more very specific gun control legislation. People who’d been convicted of a felony or of drug possession weren’t allowed to buy a gun. In addition, small inexpensive handguns — known as ‘Saturday Night specials’ — were banned. Those laws received bipartisan support. Those laws, it should also be noted, primarily affected poor, urban, African-American communities.

While this was taking place, the NRA began to splinter. One branch continued to remain primarily a sportsman’s support group; the other branch began to believe it was important for good people to arm themselves against the possible collapse of civilization. That branch actively worked to rescind some of the legislation the NRA originally supported, in order to make it easier to acquire firearms.

The existence of the Black Panther party helped fuel the paranoid wing of the NRA, which eventually seized control of the group, turning it into the extremist political organization it is now. It didn’t matter that the Black Panthers self-destructed in a welter of drug abuse and criminality. Another terrifying enemy has always presented itself to the NRA. Communists, Muslims, the US government itself — there’s always somebody out to get them.

Any attempt to place even the smallest restriction on firearms is now condemned by the NRA as part of some shadowy plot to seize all the firearms in the U.S. As a result, restrictions on gun sales, gun ownership and the ability to carry a firearm have been relaxed or eliminated altogether.

Because we’ve perpetuated this romantic myth of gun play, and because a relatively small, paranoid, powerful gun lobby devotes a tremendous amount of money and effort to keep folks frightened, those of us who live in the US find ourselves in a nation in which a 24 year old kid can buy a full suit of tactical ballistic body armor, load up on weapons with high capacity magazines, and stroll into a movie theater and shoot 90 people.

It’s worth noting, though, that even Wild Bill Hickock believed in gun control. When he was the marshal of Abilene, Kansas he required cowboys to surrender their weapons when they came into town. A man named Phil Coe, drunk and belligerent, encouraged by his buddies, refused to surrender his gun. When Hickock insisted, Coe drew his gun and fired. Hickock drew his own weapon and shot Coe twice in the abdomen, killing him.

There’s a lesson to be learned there. Two lessons, in fact. Immediately after he shot Coe, Hickcock, out of the corner of his eye, saw somebody approaching him in a hurry. He turned and fired again, thinking it was one of Coe’s friends. It was, in fact, his own friend and deputy, coming to his aid. The man died on the spot.

We need to remember that. There’s nothing romantic about a gunfight, and the gun doesn’t care who gets killed.

the stupidest fucking people on the planet

Let me begin by saying this: I’m a liberal who likes guns. Guns are incredibly efficient technology, and I like efficiency. They make a terrific noise, and there are times when I enjoy a loud noise. I like the fact that you can point them at an object and a hole will appear in that object, and I like that it takes some skill to make that hole appear where you want it to appear. If you shoot a handgun at night, flame comes out of the barrel — and that’s pretty. Even prettier is tracer fire at night. So yes, I like guns.

I just don’t trust anybody to own one.

The fetishization of firearms reveals the very worst of American culture. It makes already paranoid people even more paranoid and already stupid people even more stupid. Witness Representative Louis Gohmert, a Republican from Texas (and I don’t want to cast aspersions on Texas, but lawdy folks, what the fuck is wrong with you people?). Gohmert has proven himself capable of superhuman feats of stupidity in the past (he once argued that the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline was good for the environment because it gave caribou a place to have sex), but in an interview this morning he took stupid to a new level. Gohmert claimed last night’s mass murder at the premier of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado was a result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” That’s not just stupid, it’s delusional. He also wondered why nobody in the audience didn’t pull a firearm and return fire — I guess because one person shooting in a dark movie theater just isn’t enough. But hey, returning fire — that’s the Christian thing to do. (Gohmert, by the way, teaches Sunday School at the Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas; it’s unknown how many of the children who attend his lectures are packing heat.)

Louis Gohmert

Some people on far right websites like FreeRepublic are even asserting the mass murder is part of a plan by the Obama administration — either to seize all the weapons in the US before the election in November or as part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to seize control of the US. Or both. Others are claiming the shooting was part of an Occupy Wall Street plan to…well, nobody seems to know why OWS would shoot innocent strangers in a movie theater, but fucking hippie faggot communists dammit they’re capable of anything — I mean, what sort of people play drums in a circle? And then, of course, there were the people who assumed that since the shooting took place on the first night of Ramadan, it had to be a jihadist attack. Stupid, stupid fucking people.

There are three things we can be certain of. First, there will be calls from a few liberals for reasonable gun control legislation. Second, there will be claims from conservatives that existing gun control laws are already too strict. And finally, nothing will change.

Right now in the United States it’s almost as easy to buy a firearm as it is to buy a toaster. Sure, if you go to a licensed gun dealer, you’ll have to fill out a form and show some identification–but you’d have to be stupider than Louis Gohmert if you can’t figure out an easy way to get around that. Even if you are that stupid, you can still go to a gun show this weekend and buy any number of weapons without filling out any forms or showing any identification at all. Or you can go to an estate sale, or an auction, or a garage sale and buy weapons. Or if it’s too hot to go outside, you buy weapons through mail-order sportsman catalogs or on the internet and have them delivered right to your door.

This didn’t change after the Columbine School shootings, it didn’t change after the Virginia Tech school shootings, it didn’t change after the shooting at the Gabrielle Giffords event, it hasn’t changed despite all the mass murders that take place in the US every year — and sad to say, it’s not going to change now.

Here is a true thing: it’s too goddamn easy to buy firearms in the U.S. Don’t give me that shit about ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ If you actually think that’s true, then you’re just as fucking stupid as Louis Gohmert. Guns make it easier to kill people, and to kill people in larger numbers. You tell me that this guy in Colorado could have have killed as many people if he’d used a bomb? Fine, I’m all for making it more difficult to make bombs too. But it takes some skill and patience to build a bomb, whereas any nitwit can walk into a gun show and buy as many guns as his credit card will allow. You tell me that Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms? I’m with you there, but brother that was written in the last half of the 18th century when a good marksman might have been able to fire four rounds per minute in a fucking musket. I’d be willing to allow you to own all the muskets you want. I guarantee you if the Aurora gunman had been armed with a musket, Colorado families wouldn’t be burying a dozen kids this week.

Here’s one of the problems we face. Right now liberals are saying “This isn’t a time for politics; we should be thinking about the families” and conservatives are saying “This is a tragedy, but you can’t punish honest law-abiding gun owners because of the actions of one crazy person.” And I’ll say “This IS a time for politics, because that’s the only way we can reduce the incidence of these sorts of mass murders.” And I’ll say “Placing reasonable limits on the types of firearms a person can own and the size of the magazines for those firearms isn’t punishing anybody but people who intend to shoot a whole lot of people in a short amount of time.”

What happened in Aurora is a community tragedy. The national tragedy is that the firearm debate in the US is controlled by the stupidest fucking people on the planet.

NOTE: I have to confess to an error. I suggested nothing had changed as a result of the shooting at the Gabrielle Giffords political event. I was wrong. Four months after the shootings, the State of Arizona passed legislation making the Colt single-action army revolver the State’s official sidearm.

pointing fingers at dicks

Okay, let’s get this bit out of the way quickly. Yes, Daniel Tosh is a dick. Yes, he has the absolute right to express his dickishness. Yes, comedians are allowed to make fun of anything, including terrible things like rape. And even yes, it’s possible — and sometimes even healthy — to make fun of terrible things, including rape.

BUT…. And I’ll come back to this ‘but’ in a bit.

If you’re not aware of Tosh or this incident, here’s a brief synopsis. Tosh is a comedian of the Fart and Puke School. He’s a proponent of the notion that it’s okay to say any offensive thing you want so long as you say it with a boyish grin. During a recent stand-up routine, according to a woman who attended the set, he began “making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny.” The woman, understandably offended, shouted out “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Tosh then started telling the audience how hilarious it would be if that woman was gang-raped. The woman wrote about the experience in her blog, which received a lot of attention — and rightly so.

Tosh has since issued a standard non-apology apology on Twitter, saying: “All the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize” and “The point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them.”

And that brings me back to that BUT….

But an apology is meaningful only if you recognize you’ve done something wrong or that the person to whom you’re apologizing has a legitimate reason to be offended. Neither of those conditions apply here. Tosh seems to think the issue isn’t that he behaved like a complete asshole, but that the people who were (and still are) offended don’t understand his position on rape jokes. He doesn’t acknowledge that it’s just fundamentally, unconditionally, and totally fucking wrong to suggest anybody ought to be raped.

Any ‘joke’ that suggests rape is funny isn’t a joke. Any ‘joke’ that suggests somebody should be raped isn’t a joke. That’s just so blatantly obvious it shouldn’t need to be pointed out to anybody.

That said, the woman was wrong when she claimed ‘rape jokes are never funny.’  I understand her point, and I completely agreed with her until I heard comedian Elayne Boosler defend the claim that anything can be the subject of humor. Sometimes humor comes out of righteous anger. Boosler spoke about a news report of a man who was acquited of rape because his victim wasn’t wearing any panties. The defense was the woman ‘was asking for it.’ Boosler then said “Now when I go out, I wear two pairs of underwear so that they know, not only am I not asking for it, I’m not even thinking about it.”

That’s a sad and angry sort of humor, but it’s a perfect example of the proper way to use humor to address a horrible subject. Boosler wasn’t making light of rape, the way Tosh did. She was pointing out how fucked up it is to have a legal system and a culture that teaches women “don’t get raped” instead of teaching men “don’t rape.” Tosh, intentionally or not, perpetuates the idea that rape is acceptable and that women who don’t find that amusing are ‘overly sensitive.’

Sad to say, I doubt this controversy will hurt Tosh, any more than Rush Limbaugh’s tirade against Sandra Fluke hurt Limbaugh. These people know their audience; they know they’re addressing a demographic that enjoys demeaning people. We can either choose to ignore them (which they won’t notice) or we can keep pointing out their dickish behavior. That might be equally futile, but sometimes — like woman who interrupted Tosh’s routine — it’s important to just get up, make a righteous noise and point your finger at assholes like Daniel Tosh.