We the People? The Truth About America’s Deadly Gun Boom

gun

A wall of deadly toys you absolutely must buy, say the overlords.

How did we arrive at this point: an America full of citizens with private military-grade arsenals, where any attempt to curb the dangers presented by the proliferation of private weapon stockpiles results in a high-pitched shriek that the solution to gun violence is more guns?  Where a president who asks for us to look a little deeper into the people we allow to have access to death-tools amid a plague of civilian gun massacres is considered a violator of our most sacred document?

If you’re a rural or working class gun nut freaking out about increasing restrictions for gun sales, by far the vast majority disgusted by Obama’s recent executive action, likely you’ve been brainwashed by corporate executives who make more in a week than your family will make all year. Maybe you’d be able to see that you’re being played if their paid spokesmen in media and politics weren’t so damn slick and their killing tool wasn’t so damn fun. But nope; instead, you keep swallowing this fear-based marketing campaign hook, line and murderous sinker.

 

PART 1: REVOLUTION BEGETS THE NECESSITY FOR THE GUN

A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” – 2nd Amendment

Corporate interests always win. Even the American Revolution was driven by corporate interests.

Boston, 1773. A British tea company, tired of losing money to American businessmen, convinces the king to overtax American tea. This cuts into rich Americans’ profits and pride so they have a party to throw out their competitors’ products. The Brits know this honeypot colonial-overlord gig could go belly up if the Americans (armed originally by the British government in the interest of keeping a militia to be used in fighting the French, Spanish, Indians, runaway slaves) decide to overthrow a greatly-outnumbered British soldiery. There’s only one thing to do — cut off the colonists’ gunpowder.  So General Gage takes over the Charlestown powder house, a private citizen ammo and powder depot, in an incident known as the Powder Alarm. This Brit pushback results in colonial meetings, which pisses Gage off so he sends his soldiers around to confiscate firearms and ammo. Lord Dartmouth suggests the full disarmament of New England. Gage suggests armed conflict. King George bans import of firearms and ammo to America. But that rascal Benny Franklin imports firepower from the rest of Europe, who hate the Brits the way every non-New-Englander hates Tom Brady, pissing match elevates and bada bing, American Revolution.

Having seen how valuable it was to have a near-endless supply of peasant lead fodder with their own weapons, the landowning founding fathers decide that all men should be allowed to arm and join a militia. Of course the Brits had been considering its citizens soldiers for almost 1000 years. But close calls with the Powder Alarm and the UK embargo convince the rulers of this new experiment called Democracy that a key component to its success is a free source of armed soldiery. Especially when the anti-Federalists see how much power this “Democracy” will be giving to an assembly of slick-tongued wig-wearing elites claiming to represent constituents who live many days’ travel away in rural communities.

But note the 2nd and 3rd words of the 2nd amendment, the ones most 2nd Amendmenters rarely put on placards or Facebook pages: “well regulated.”

 

PART 2: THE INMATES TAKE OVER THE ASYLUM

The Second Amendment was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states,” then-Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his minority opinion after 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller enabled the majority SCOTUS hawks to interpret the second Amendment as meaning  “your right as an American is to build your own MATRIX-esque arsenal and arm yourselves to the teeth.”

So how did a rational call to civilian military service get reborn as the anthem of the neo-Travis Bickle?

Enter the corporate brainwashing machine known as the NRA.

The NRA is just the newest victim — or perpetrator, depending on the point of view — of this bastardization of truth at the hands of American oligarchs and madmen. Founded after Civil War officers were disgusted by their soldiers’ poor marksmanship, the NRA was never intended to be anything more than a way to train people to be better with what guns they have, not encourage them to buy more.

Gun restrictions are as American as Apple Pie. Most towns in the “gunslinging” Wild West banned guns. Certainly churches, schools, public places, anywhere a man with a gun could cause trouble were considered gun-free zones. And the courts upheld for most of American history that the Constitution backs up a man’s right to be a militia soldier but makes no promise that people can own guns for their own personal use. Then the NRA in the 70s tried to pull out of politics and wackos in the organization who had decided there was a threat of losing their weaponry overthrew the party heads, turning a resource for biathlon geeks, hunter ed students and Boy Scouts into a political monster.

There are plenty of things that would motivate this coup. But here are a couple factors:

  1. They were pissed off at the Gun Control Act of 1968 though it was written to stem the violence of social radicalism and the urban degradation afflicting every metropolis. On the other hand…
  2. In the ’60s, black protesters and androgynous non-bathing hippie protesters struck terror into the heart of every rural, racist, ignorant white man in the boonies of America, thus convincing them to arm themselves against Malcolm X, the Weather Underground, and marijuana-using sex fiends who no doubt want to rape respectable American families. Don’t even get me started on Manson and his ilk.
  3. The ATF was founded in 1972. Guvmint taking on alcohol, tobacco AND firearms? What else will they to take away from a man? Casual domestic abuse?
  4. And how about the fact that new weapons came onto the market in the 60s, most notably the AR-15, a high-caliber semi-automatic rifle with less kickback than a more common hunting long-barrel like the .30-06? The AR-15 also presented (and still presents) owners with seemingly endless options for magazines, accessories, firing speed, scopes, stocks; some have called it a Barbie doll for gun nuts. In the early 70s, it was discovered you could make a commercial AR fully-automatic with a quick fix. A beauty to behold and more than a little fun to open up.
  5. Vietnam Vets were coming home to an America that considered PTSD mental weakness, not mental illness. And those soldiers, if nothing else, had learned to appreciate what a powerful weapon can do; when your mind’s scrambled by a pointless war against a culture you’ll never be able to understand, that steel in your hand’s a mighty comfortable feeling, especially after you return to a place you once called home where long-haired draft dodgers call you a baby killer.

So the NRA evolved from an educational org to the voice of the gun nut extolling the ownership of heaps of unnecessarily-powerful weaponry as an American right; we own these guns because we’re supposed to, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Jesus all died so we could turn the guest room into an armory and we’ll be damned if some homo-loving, pot-smoking abortionist’s gonna tell us otherwise.  Since an education nonprofit is obviously a trustworthy source, nobody who’s a member of the NRA will question their objective honesty when it says that our rights are in danger.

But even with their gun frat promoting stockpiling, why do people, often on the middle-to-lower end of the economic scale and highly disdainful of faceless big corporations, want so badly to spend thousands of dollars on weapons that they will likely never need? Two reasons: 1, because massive corporations have figured out how to play on people’s fears to make record profits and 2, because shooting guns is fun and, as an extension, being the gun-wielding hero is every American’s wet dream.

 

PART 3: ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

The gun business was very much accelerated based on what happened after the election and then the tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook,” Ed Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, a place that sells guns amid team jerseys and soccer balls, addressing a room of Wall Street junkies.

Black Friday 2015 set a record for the most weapons ever sold in a day. The ATF recorded over 180,000 background checks for weapons purchases. To break that down, about the cheapest gun you can purchase costs $120 or so for a .22. You can get a budget shotgun for $200. A high-powered rifle would start around $400, pistols about the same. AR-15s are usually at least $700-$800. Nicer guns reach into the thousands. But just stick with a lowball $500 per gun. That’s $90,000,000 in one day, mostly purchased by people afraid that ISIS and Syrian refugees are waiting to pop into the local church hall in Cedar Rapids or Laramie or Colorado Springs and kill a bunch of God-fearing, freedom-loving Americans.

A few days ago, after Obama announced increasing restrictions, gun sales and, by association, gun stocks soared. In fact, ever since Obama took the White House, sales of weapons have skyrocketed, propped up by claims that he was going to disarm the nation, often shouted by men with the distinct ability to make “we won’t let that liberal in D.C. take our guns” sound like “that nigger try ta tell me what to do I’ll shoot his ass,” even though Obama’s early years in the White House received an F grade from the Brady Group. The truth is Obama never said anything about taking people’s guns. He claimed he would help the middle class, fix the environment, fix health care, close Gitmo, end wars but he never had a hard-on for gun confiscation. Sure he played lip service to gun restrictions during mass shootings but anybody as geeky and Ivy League as Obama knows the only way he’ll win over America, land of the Duke, Clint Eastwood and the Marlboro man, is by trying to prove he has the biggest balls in the room. It wasn’t until the last few years, when shootings became the status quo and paranoia campaigns turned home gun closets into Rick Grimes’ wet dream, that he decided it was time to try to do something.

So why did all these false claims come out from gun magazines, from the right-wing media, from politicans, hell from the NRA (a group with supposedly no political affiliation that should be little more than a sportsman’s NEA)? What’s the purpose of spreading propaganda that isn’t based at all in reality? A little bit of scorn. And a helluva lot of money.

All you people claiming your apotropaic collections of steel bullet-launchers are keeping your family safe, stocking up for the day when tribes on the other side of the ocean somehow manage to take down the most powerful defense force in the world? You’re being had by elites in suits, as has happened to the rural and laboring class ever since the richest Americans convinced those folks to fight a war to liberate said rich from taxes and regulations. Let’s break it down.

  1. The magazines pushing the propaganda, that makes sense. They sell ads to gun companies and retailers that sell guns and associated paraphernalia, a 33-billion-dollar-plus industry that will only keep growing, keep throwing parties for editors and buying advertising and now that you have the people’s minds on the run push ’em, paint pictures ripped out of RED DAWN, remind them of September 11th, hint at BIRTH OF A NATION, the heroic KKK arming themselves to take down the negro threat in blackface, hell, maybe one day you’ll be in a theater and an Arab will come in, hold everybody hostage, you’ll duck down, move slowly, yes, you’re Bruce Willis in DIE HARD, nothing more American than John McLean, and as that terrorist piece of shit starts his Muslim kill song, you squeeze two .45 magnum bullets into his head. And you’re the fucking man
  2. The right-wing, Fox-News-of-it-all? Yeah, maybe they’re not running tons of Ruger ads but they know their ratings come from two things: hating on Obama and spreading fear that the liberal/ethnic/secular/pacifist/coastal-urban left will bring destruction, thus affirming their viewers’ unfounded beliefs, which is all their viewers really want in the first place. Ratings spike.
  3. The politicians? Gun lobbies have spent over $53 million on gun rights since 2010. Such legal bribery is how the American political system works these days, you know that. And, again, the whole hating-on-Obama thing is about all the GOP can agree on anymore. Scorn and money.
  4. But the NRA still claims to be a nonprofit advocating responsible gun usage and knowledge, despite all the work they’ve put in to affect the legislation conversation. They’ve added the altruistic purpose of defending an American right to their mission statement, speaking for the founding fathers. We have no financial interest, no sir, we’re not trying to scare people into making the AR-15 the highest-selling firearm of all time, we’re just presenting wisdom and training and advocacy for the 2nd Amendment to the God-blessed Constitution. Never mind the tens of millions of dollars we’ve received from gun companies employing such tricks as, for example, buying NRA memberships for all people who buy their guns. Or the donations from gun rights activists that, combined with industry funds, took total revenues for the NRA above $1 billion dollars in 2013. And let’s ignore the fact that the more scared you are that we’re gonna get attacked by muslims or President Obama (one and the same, right?) or kids whose parents did a bad job because they didn’t adhere to the principles of Jesus, the more money our “nonprofit” makes.

But why do so many people buy into the lie? Why not buy into lies proffered by the auto industry, for example, about a car’s safety, or lies from cigarette companies that light cigarettes are better for you than regular ones, or lies from the NSA that we’re not being watched?

Why? Because, again, more than driving, smoking, hell more than about anything, shooting a gun is so damn fun. And it’s rooted in a frontier heritage as essential to America as apple pie, one that gets twisted by people who don’t understand it. And then there’s the dream that for $500 dollars and a couple hundo in rounds, tactical gear, range fees and accessories, you too can be John-fucking-Wayne.

 

PART 4: BOYS WITH TOYS

I have a dream most nights. It starts on a playground. There’s kids swinging, laughing, dogs barking, butterflies just flapping their little wings. And then you hear a rumbling, and over the horizon comes a black cloud and it’s made of cancer and pus. And it starts sweeping over the playground and everyone starts screaming and clawing their eyes and pulling at their hair, and saying ‘Help! What do we do?’ And you know what happens next? Out steps me wielding the biggest fucking shotgun you’ve ever seen in your whole life. And you know what I do? I blow every fucking thing away. And I am getting God’s work done. “ – Ronnie Barnhardt, OBSERVE AND REPORT

I grew up on the East Coast, son of two ex-hippies who dedicated a good portion of their lives to social causes, preaching tenets of “peach and love and shit.” They believed nothing could ever be solved by violence. I was almost 30 before I shot my first bullet, a rarity among gun owners. But from the first shot, I wanted a gun. And so, moving from California to Wyoming, my wife bought me an inexpensive 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. That was the beginning of my love affair with firearms.

I remember my first time shooting an AR-15. After an hour peppering skeet with my 12-gauge, the kick from the high-powered rifle hardly registered. A friend justified his purchase of an AR as a high-powered weapon his wife could use if she ever came hunting with him. But that’s not why he bought it; she NEVER used the damn thing. And let’s be honest, the culture of the hunting world would disqualify a person who couldn’t handle a standard rifle like a .30-06 or a .308. Nope, he bought it for himself.

But back to my first AR session. I squeezed off a few shots, bullets the size of small torpedoes; scarcely any recoil; then I hit the one-pound Tannerite target. And it went BOOM. And chunks of wood flew. What’s not to like about that?

I’ve shot a bunch of different weapons: rifles, shotguns, Glocks, a silenced Walther P22 (James Bond’s gun of choice), a Colt .45… A few months ago I shot a custom-built AK-47 with the banana clip. And every bullet I shoot is just as fun as the last. A lot of gun owners will never shoot a living thing with their gun. They’ll never shoot an attacker, never a military enemy, never kill their food. For plenty of people, the gun is just a really dangerous, really powerful, really fun toy. When you enjoy something without fully understanding the damage it can do, you also don’t understand why people would want to ban it. It’s like the respectable cokehead who doesn’t want to think about how many people had to die to get that eightball from Peru through Mexico to NYC. As much fun as I’ve had shooting all sorts of weapons, can my personal fun outweigh the threat inherent in such easy access to such powerful life-ending tools? No. Because that’s what guns are, in the end – killers.

Ask any hunter. They’re not as onboard with the anti-gun-control tick as the right would like you to think. Sure, some buy into the paranoia. Most are on the more conservative side of things. But I was with an old-timer at the range one day, a shooting lesson for me, when he asked his buddy a simple question: if there was a weapon that calculated the distance, angle, kill zone of a target and all you had to do was pull the trigger to take down your quarry, would you buy it? The man answered an immediate no. Because hunting is about much more than the weapon, or the kill. It’s about the mental discipline and skill it takes to track a wild animal through its home territory, especially since most American big game can run at breakneck speed (the Pronghorn Antelope is the fastest land animal in the world). A good hunter looks down on an idiot who wounds an animal and leaves it to suffer. Looks down on somebody who isn’t responsible about where they’ve pointed their weapon (try to pick up a loaded weapon when the ceasefire light is on at a range and see how quickly you get strung up); looks down on people who shoot without ensuring they know what’s behind their prey, who mishandle weaponry, poach animals, disrespect nature; people who don’t understand the whole process.

Hunters realize it’s a privilege; that previous generations of idiots and the encroachment of American developments have jeopardized the animals that are at the core of this noble tradition. Hunters are required to take a safety and education class, get a certificate, and if they want to be successful, usually find guides or instructors. Nobody complains about this.

Another hunter friend has a bunch of guns and countless kills. He’s seen how they can take life and has almost been tagged by people acting like assholes in a duck blind or a park hunt, and he is 100% FOR increasing background checks and restrictions. He doesn’t want some lunatic to be able to purchase something that could kill him as easily as he’s killed other living animals. In fact, every responsible gun owner and user I’ve met is of the mind that weapons should be kept out of the hands of crazies. Those crazies undoubtedly would include men without any training in marksmanship, target-identification and threat-recognition who buy weapons in self-defense.  So despite the hype, many of the people who use guns responsibly and in line with American tradition are pro-gun-control (whether they admit it or not).

 

PART 5: SO WHOS YELLING?

I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. I’m telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first.” – Ben Carson

I wonder if Ben Carson is a gun-owner? Hell, if he’s ever even used a gun? Probably not.

Who’s driving the yelling against increasing background checks? It’s mostly a mixture of folks bought by gun lobbyists and right-wing loudmouths who’ve made an art out of distracting people from their party’s lack of ideas for governance by screaming against President Obama and in general don’t give a damn whether or not you own a gun. And what’s the best way to get the followers of right-wing loudmouths fired up? Say that fancy Harvard boy in that east coast city is gonna steal their guns. Remind them how much fun they had getting’ drunk and shootin’ up Susie’s car after she cheated with that pencil-neck from the office. Or how those Muslims in San Bernardino shot all those God-fearing Christians for celebratin’ Christmas. Talk about how scary cities are, with their anonymity and transgenders. I know a cowboy who didn’t want to go to the giant metropolis of Salt Lake City (pop. ~ 192,000) because he didn’t feel safe walking around without a gun on his hip. God help him if he finds himself in L.A. or NYC.

Imagine if there was any other industry that could combine mortal fear with the fun of explosions, and a slice of the hero fantasy, into one great product — they’d do everything they could to prevent anybody from restricting their near-limitless profit capability, including creating a fear of that prevention to encourage more buying. There simply is no product like that, especially no product with a couple-hundred-dollar price of entry.

Every other civilized nation has done something to restrict guns. For example Britain has outlawed them except when stored at gun clubs (the Powder Alarm all over again, damn limeys). A great model for compromise? The Spanish require you to take a test for your license and every year do psych evals (who’s to say you’re crazy? Some college boy in a white trenchcoat?) That would be the common sense move, licensing like auto ownership that can be revoked when you’ve proven an irresponsible driver. Yet people are painting as un-American the much less drastic idea of simply extending safeguards already in place to restrict crazy people and criminals from having guns.

Plain and simple, they’ve been brainwashed by multi-billion-dollar companies to believe some half-Kenyan in a suit’s gonna steal their boom sticks, just like kids are brainwashed to believe their lives will be more fun owning some molded  piece of plastic flashed during a Nickelodeon commercial and parents are brainwashed to believe that a family Disney Cruise would be a fun way to spend 15 grand and  all men are brainwashed to believe that a shiny car and an anorexic girlfriend will fulfill us.

The whole American rights argument? The whole Constitution thing? Ironically, the 2nd Amendmenters don’t get worked up about how proposed laws curtailing Muslim rights violate the 1st Amendment. Why not? Because Muslims aren’t fun and they bring more fear into life because they’re different and people who are different from us are scary. So let’s be real: You don’t give a damn about the Constitution.

 

CONCLUSION: WHERE ARE WE HEADING?

Right now we’re at a very frightening moment in American history. Not because of Muslims or immigrants or because our children are unarmed in a school with all sorts of people from all sorts of different backgrounds. It’s frightening because we’ve let corporate interests and political spite spur an oft-marginalized population into arming themselves to the teeth on the basis of fear, hatred and self-indulgence. And instead of stepping back and realizing that this is creating a dangerous powderkeg surrounded by increasingly growing sparks of ignorance, the fearmongers’ quest for ratings and money has them doubling down. Where will that take us?

For starters, if things go unabated, the siege in Oregon (and Bundy’s former gun-fueled anti-government circus) is just the beginning of armed American uprisings. The school shootings and theater shootings and public shootings and accidental shootings of children and family and friends will happen more and more often. Maybe those will trigger uprisings too, armed parents standing guard outside public halls and education facilities and strip malls and Chick-Fil-As. And it doesn’t take much for a small uprising to grow into something larger, and deadlier.

I agree that we need to push for more funding for mental illness. That there are a lot of other tough issues out there from which our nation’s violence stems. But until we start curbing the slimy sales tricks employed by a propagandist posing as an educational nonprofit, by politicians in the pockets of private interests and by corporate machines reaping profits without concern to morality or safety, we’ll never be able to tackle the simple fact that America’s general citizenry has inexorably more weapons than we need. And in these uncertain times of terrorism and mental issues and a shrinking middle class and “possible” Social Security collapse, the only guarantee is that the unchecked growth of gun ownership in America based on historical lies and present-day propaganda is the biggest danger to our nation’s future well-being.

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Ryan Ariano

Born and raised in Baltimore, Ryan has been kicking around the west since the first Clinton White House. Having worked all over SoCal in the surf industry, Hollywood, marketing, journalism and finance, he now hangs his hat just outside Jackson Hole where he can fulfill an addiction to ascending and descending mountains.

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