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“A Drifting, Angry America”: America Has Gone Mad And There’s No Place To Hide

“What sort of people are we, we Americans? … Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet.” — Historian Arthur Schlesinger

As these words are written, I am on a cruise ship pulling into the harbor of the Greek island of Crete. All around me, the morning sparkles. The water is placid, the sky is clear and pale blue, our ship is embraced by gently sloping hills dotted with houses and shops.

And I just turned on the television.

And I just heard about Dallas.

I have made it a point to keep the news at something of a distance these last two weeks of travel, filling my days instead with shell craters on a beach in Normandy, a shopping square in Barcelona, the ghostly remains of Pompeii. So while I know that two African-American men were killed by police under dubious circumstances in Louisiana and Minnesota a couple days ago, I haven’t seen the videos, haven’t checked too deeply into the circumstances.

I’m off the clock now. I wanted to keep the horror at arm’s length.

But distance is an illusion, isn’t it? That’s what I just learned when I made the mistake of turning on the television.

Indeed, sitting here in this picturesque place on this peaceful morning far away, it feels as if I can see the madness of my country even more clearly than usual.

Two more black men shot down for no good reason in a country that still insists — with righteous indignation, yet — upon equating black men with danger.

That’s madness.

Last night, I called my sons and grandson to tell them I love them, explain to them yet again that they terrorize people simply by being and plead with them to be careful. I am required to fear what might happen to my children when they encounter those who are supposed to serve and protect them.

That’s madness.

Eleven police officers shot by sniper fire, five fatally, while guarding a peaceful demonstration against police brutality.

That’s madness.

The usual loud voices of acrimony and confusion are already using this act of despicable evil to delegitimize legitimate protest by conflating it with terrorism, asking us to believe that speaking out against bad cops is the same as shooting cops indiscriminately.

That is madness.

And then, there was this coda: A black man, a “person of interest” turns himself in to police after carrying an AR-15 rifle through the protest in downtown Dallas.

An AR-15.

Through downtown Dallas.

As police are dealing with an active shooter.

Apparently, the guy was not guilty of a crime, but he is certainly guilty of the worst judgment imaginable — and lucky to be alive. But then, in carrying that war weapon on a city street, he was only exercising his legal right under Texas law. The NRA calls that freedom.

But make no mistake: It, too, is madness.

America has gone mad before.

The quote at the top is from one such period, 1968. Hundreds of urban riots had wracked the country, the war in Vietnam was uselessly grinding up lives, recent years had seen the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Now, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had just been murdered within two months of one another.

And many people were wondering, as Arthur Schlesinger was, about America and its character, about what kind of country — and people — we were. Said New York Mayor John Lindsay, “This is a drifting, angry America that needs to find its way again.”

His words, like Schlesinger’s, feel freshly relevant to this era, almost 50 years down the line.

There is a sickness afoot in our country, my friends, a putrefaction of the soul, a rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another — and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops.

Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.

On the night Martin Luther King died, two months almost to the day before he himself would be shot down in a hotel kitchen, Bobby Kennedy faced a grief-stricken, largely African-American crowd in Indianapolis and with extemporaneous eloquence, prescribed a cure for the sickness he saw.

“My favorite poet,” he told them, “was Aeschylus. And he once wrote, ‘And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Those words feel hopelessly idealistic, impossibly innocent and yet, wise, grace-filled and … right for the raw pain of this moment I commend them to all our wounded spirits on this shining morning from a peaceful place that, as it turns out, is not nearly far enough away.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 10, 2016

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Americans, Black Men, Gun Violence, Police Shootings | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Shut Up Or We’ll Shoot You”: Gun Nuts Are A Threat To Democracy: How Open Carry Undermines Open Debate

“Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules.”

Those were the words of Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president for life at the National Rifle Association and a sputtering rageaholic. NRA leadership has perhaps never stated the aim of the group with more clarity and gusto than when LaPierre produced this gem at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He could have just as easily said might makes right or held up a fasces.

For all the talk about “the Constitution” those on the gun-fondling right like to toss out, that quote betrays the true authoritarian nature of the society he and his henchmen in NRA leadership wish to see us become. One in which the guys who choose to arm up on military weaponry dictate to the rest of us how we conduct ourselves. We can dispense with all the other stuff the founders actually spent most of their time talking about, the rule by majority vote, the right to petition, due process, the security in person and property.

This week was the ghost of Christmas future coming back to warn us, reminding us we need to continue turning back the NRA’s efforts to make guns as ubiquitous in our society as the grain in Ben Carson’s pyramids.

First, counter-protesters, who are alleged to be white supremacists showed up at a Black Lives Matter rally in Minnesota, got into an argument with the protesters, and started shooting. Then of course, on Saturday, a lunatic launched an assault on the women, patients and police guarding a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (disclosure: I serve on the boards of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio. I am speaking only for myself in this piece, however), killing three, including a police officer and Iraq veteran.

Finally, the University of Chicago has been shut down due to a gun threat. No debate on campus, no inquiry in the classroom. Held hostage, quite literally, to a potential deranged gunman and whatever his agenda might be.

The proliferation of concealed and open carry and lack of universal background checks means anyone can be a terrorist and carry in public, so how the hell is that not going to make others think twice about what they say? Not shockingly, this has a chilling effect on democratic debate, our republican form of government and the ability to gather peacefully. If you don’t think the gun—the extended phallus of the FoxNews watcher—is about demographic shrinkage and the wish to wield unearned power, so the guys with the guns can still make the rules, let me share a few more examples.

There was Irving, Texas, just after the Paris attack, where a bunch of gun-wielding white guys surrounded a mosque. There was November of 2013, also in Texas, when a group of 40 or so gun fetishists showed up at a restaurant where members of Moms Demand Action just happened to be meeting, displaying their weapons and waiting outside the door of the joint. Anna Sarkesian, the victim of harassment at the hands of a bunch of atavistic cavemen in the gamer world, had to cancel a lecture at Utah State University because of anonymous threats and the reality that guns are allowed on campus. And there was The Virginia Citizens Defense League, who decided to make sure they’d intimidate their way to victory over their opposition to a gun store being put next to an elementary school in McLean, Virginia, by showing up at a public debate of the McLean Citizens Association with “armed individuals and a customized RV depicting a threatening image of Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui-Cho.”

The message is clear: Shut up or we’ll shoot you.

My friend Joan Peterson, president of the board of Protect Minnesota, shared a personal story about the 2013 legislative session in Minnesota when “hundreds of open carriers” showed up in the Capitol to intimidate those testifying for gun safety inside, and one of them tweeted directly at her, to ask “how she liked being surrounded by guys with guns.” They also “stared at her” for long periods of time and “took photos,” all while openly carrying their weapons.

In Texas (once again, not a surprise), this reached the point of farce when a loony-tunes group of gun nuts mad at Democratic State Rep. Poncho Nevarez because he opposed an open-carry bill, showed up at his office, and filmed themselves calling him a “tyrant to the Constitution,” saying “You won’t be here for very long” and refusing to leave after being asked to numerous times. So the Texas Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, responded by passing the open-carry bill and installing “panic buttons” the legislators’ offices. Panic buttons! What’s next, an ejector seat?

This absurdity reminds me of nothing so much as what sage comedian George Carlin once said about the danger of kids being shot because they had toy guns that looked real: “And now they’re thinking about banning toy guns, and they’re gonna keep the fucking real ones!”

All of this is part of the NRA’s plan, remember: the guys with the guns making the rules.

We can have our democracy replete with free expression, free assembly, and open debate, which our Constitution clearly prescribes. Or we can allow the angry, the unhinged, domestic terrorists, to purchase weapons of war. We can’t have both.

 

By: Cliff Schecter, The Daily Beast, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Gun Nuts’ Vile Muslim Test”: Why Open Carry Activists Don’t Want To Extend The Right To Everyone

So what do you think the gun proliferation activists would say to a bunch of American Muslims exercising their constitutional right to bear arms on Main Street, USA? That’s the question writer and gun owner Jon Stokes asked in this piece at Alloutdoor.com. He wrote:

I’ve been thinking recently about the way that the Satanists are having a field day with so many laws that Christians are passing under the “freedom of religion” banner: stunts like putting a statue of Satan next to the Ten Commandments, or Satanist plans to hand out literature to school kids in Orange County. What if, I wonder, certain groups were to exercise their open carry rights in the same manner.

What if there were a group of Muslim open carry advocates who called themselves “Sword of the Prophet” and whose avowed mission was to bring Sharia law to the U.S., and they took to showing up armed and in large numbers outside of churches on Sunday, the way the OC guys do at the state house. Or what if there were a group of hispanic activist OCers, maybe an offshoot of La Raza who liked to organize armed protests at police stations and court houses, and who openly advocate the “reconquista” of the Southern U.S.?

The question was sincere and he’s got good reason to wonder. As he points out, gun rights were pretty well assumed in America until a certain clarifying event took place: the Black Panther Movement. (I wrote about this earlier here.) Then Gov. Ronald Reagan and the boys in Sacramento were none too pleased at the idea of African-American revolutionaries availing themselves of their Second Amendment remedies in the California State House:

[T]he story goes that in 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan agreed to sign a California gun control law that made it against the law to walk around in public with a loaded gun after he saw a Black Panther rally… Black Panther Bobby Seale was interviewed about it later and verified that Reagan was there that day…

It’s certainly possible that Reagan was motivated by that rally. But there was a lot of unrest in America in those days and gun control was not a right-left issue then — even the NRA was for it.

(If you’d like to see an impassioned defense of the right to bear arms, watch this video. Wayne LaPierre sounds like a 5-year-old by comparison.)

Anyway, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of armed Black Panthers roaming the streets with revolutionary zeal was enough to scare the heck out of people who otherwise would be pumping their fists in solidarity with the anti-government revolutionaries and cause them to withdraw their support for unfettered gun rights. But that was then and this is now. The world has changed and the gun rights activism has matured into a full-fledged movement. It’s more philosophically and ideologically based than it was before, largely as a result of some very conscious moves by gun enthusiasts to make it that way. But just how far does the principle of a right to bear arms go these days?

Well, here’s one fairly typical response to Stokes’ question:

First: Open Carry advocates are trying to get back to common sense and common law. They don’t want the government to have sole control of Force. And the reason for their open carry is purely for legitimate law abiding purposes. Namely self defense.

Now contrast that with: Muslims whose GOAL is to implement Sharia Law in the US. Okay…that right there is basically a declaration of war. Or how about: La Raza: Let’s reconquer the Southwest region of the US. Again, fightin’ words.

As far as the Black Panthers? Didn’t need to be a race issue about “black people carrying guns”. The issue was that they were carrying them in a threatening manner, not in a rational, law abiding, for self defense civil manner. And once again, the route chosen was to restrict or ban the open carrying of guns rather than just tool up and fight fire with fire. If I see threatening people carrying weapons in my neighborhood I’m not going to go cry to the government to take their guns away, I’m going to pack heat myself and encourage my neighbors to also do the same. Then we’ll see if the armed thugs are serious or not.

Evidently, individuals are allowed the unfettered right to bear arms as long as other individuals who believe in an unfettered right to bear arms agree with that individual’s motives for wanting to bear arms. It all depends, you see, on whether you are bearing your arms in a “rational, law abiding” manner. It is up to each individual to determine what that behavior looks like and if they aren’t happy about it, they will evidently start bearing arms in a threatening manner to “see if the armed thugs are serious or not.”

In fairness, there were a number of comments that said “it doesn’t matter, Muslims have the same right to bear arms as anyone else.” Under their principle, this should be the obvious answer.  But there were quite a few who made the point that what determines a person’s right to bear arms is intent and if your intention is to challenge the U.S. Government you shouldn’t be allowed to bear arms. Unless, of course, you are a fine upstanding gun rights activist who believes that the Second Amendment exists so that citizens can …. challenge the U.S. Government.

In other words, the Bill of Rights only applies to those whose intentions are “good.” And whether those intentions are good is to be determined by the people with guns. This is called “freedom.”

 

By: Heather Digby Parton, Contributing Writer, Salon, December 19, 2014

 

December 22, 2014 Posted by | Bill of Rights, Gun Control, Minorities | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dirtbag On Aisle 9”: Target, ‘Open Carry’ And The Clash Of Cultures Over Guns

Today, Target Corp. released a statement in which it asked its customers not to bring firearms into its stores. Here’s an excerpt:

As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit “open carry” should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law …

This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.

Gun advocates often speak of their cultural attachment to firearms, and what we have here is certainly a clash of cultures. Target would probably never have taken this step were it not for the efforts of Open Carry Texas, a group of gun owners who get a charge out of walking into a grocery store or a coffee shop with AR-15s slung over their shoulders so that they can see the terrified looks on people’s faces. Target’s request comes in the wake of similar moves from Chipotle and Starbucks, and in each case it followed the same pattern: Open-carry advocates brought their assault rifles into the stores, customers and staff freaked out, and the corporation decided to make a request of its customers to leave their guns at home.

It’s important to understand that there are lots of gun owners who think groups like Open Carry Texas are nuts, and even plenty of gun advocates who think they’re doing serious damage to the cause. But groups like theirs have performed a service by reminding us that just as there’s a culture of guns, and cultures where guns are plentiful, there are also tens of millions of Americans for whom an absence of guns is a cultural value. It’s part of how they define places, whether it’s their communities or the stores they shop in, as safe and pleasant. People who grew up around a lot of guns may not blink an eye when they go to the hardware store and see a pistol peeking out of some dude’s sweatpants, but many people find that a troubling sight. We’re not all going to share the same culture, but being an honorable member of society means being aware of how some parts of your particular culture may make other people uncomfortable or afraid, and trying to act respectfully in response.

Despite what some extreme gun advocates believe, no right is unlimited, whether it’s your right to own a gun or your right to practice your religion or your right to freedom of speech. But beyond the legal limits, there are also the limits we all respect in order to have a society where we can get along despite our differences. My neighbor has a First Amendment right to write pornographic “Hunger Games” fan fiction, but if he hands his manuscripts to my kids he’s just being a creepy dirtbag, First Amendment or not.

And depending on the laws of your state, you may have a legal right to take your rifle down to the Piggly Wiggly. But that doesn’t mean that doing so doesn’t make you a jerk.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 2, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, Target | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Day For Packing Heat”: A Cold War Style Balance Of Terror

I noted yesterday that July 1, the first day of the fiscal year in 46 states, is often a day when new laws take effect. So it’s not surprising that Georgia’s new expanded open carry law came in with what was nearly a bang, per this report from Dean Poling of the Valdosta Daily Times:

On the first day of the new Georgia Safe Carry Protection Act, a misunderstanding between two armed men in a convenience store Tuesday led to a drawn firearm and a man’s arrest.

“Essentially, it involved one customer with a gun on his hip when a second customer entered with a gun on his hip,” said Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress.

At approximately 3 p.m. Tuesday, police responded to a call regarding a customer dispute at the Enmark on the corner of Park Avenue and North Lee Street.

A man carrying a holstered firearm entered the store to make a purchase. Another customer, also with a holstered firearm, approached him and demanded to see his identification and firearms license, according to the Valdosta Police Department report.

The customer making demands for ID pulled his firearm from its holster but never pointed it at the other customer, who said he was not obligated to show any permits or identification.

He demanded the man’s ID again. Undeterred by the drawn gun, the man paid for his items, left the store and called for police.

Authorities arrested Ronald Williams, 62, on a charge of disorderly conduct, related to the pulling of a weapon inside of the store, according to the VPD. Police confiscated Williams’ weapon and took him to the Lowndes County Jail.

It’s a hell of a note when someone exercising his Second Amendment rights has to show a permit for that hand cannon on his hip. The whole idea of open carry law is to encourage a Cold War style balance of terror where everybody’s packing heat.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, July 2, 2014

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , | Leave a comment

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