The mainstream media has a big problem when it comes to gun owners. Well, and with gun owners too. This column by author and researcher Jennifer Carlson in the Washington Post is a fantastic example of the inability by the vast majority of the mainstream national media to approach gun ownership as a normal activity. It’s something that “they” do, not something that “we” do, and Carlson’s piece is full of us-versus-them speak. It reminds me of Jane Goodall describing the behavior of primates to an audience of rapt listeners.
Carlson says that gun owners have simply made everything about guns, arguing that the assault on the U.S. Capitol has been turned into an attack on the Second Amendment with the placing of magnetometers in front of the doors to the House chamber. This isn’t an isolated incident, though, according to her.
Take Hurricane Katrina: Falling disproportionately on the impoverished Black residents of New Orleans, the storm’s suffering was sprawling, devastating and protracted. Infrastructure proved faulty; protocols proved ineffective. Tens of thousands ended up trapped in the flood-filled city, with little in the way of food or necessities. All told, the disaster lead to the deaths of over 1,800 people and $125 billion in damage. There was much — too much — to criticize about the actions undertaken and not taken during and after Katrina. But for Second Amendment advocates, the primary lesson was not about public infrastructure, structural racism or government incompetence. Rather, it was a tale of “unthinkable” tyranny: Police in Louisiana were confiscating weapons during a natural disaster and a mass evacuation. As the headline of an NRA story summarized 10 years later, “A Decade Later, Remember New Orleans … Gun Confiscation Can (and Has) Happened in America.” Soon after the storm, the NRA successfully lobbied to pass the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006 at the federal level as well as similar laws at the state level. These laws promised to prevent a terrifying prospect to hardcore Second Amendment advocates: the opportunistic seizure and confiscation of lawful guns during a state of emergency.
The thing is that those gun confiscations really did take place, and to those who did have their firearms taken from them only to see the police disappear afterwards, it did leave an impression. No, the NRA didn’t talk about public infrastructure or structural racism in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Why, though, would anyone expect them to? Their focus is on the right to keep and bear arms, and that was a part of what happened.
The move to adopt emergency powers legislation has also paid off. In 2012 the state of Virginia approved limiting the governor’s power to regulate the Second Amendment during a state of emergency. It’s a big reason why gun stores stayed open during the first round of “non-essential” business closures last spring, and helped to ensure that Americans who did want to have a gun as things got really weird could do so.
And, as Carlson recognizes, a lot of Americans have embraced their Second Amendment rights for the first time in recent months.
As I have found in countless conversations with gun carriers, gun instructors and gun sellers over the past decade, Americans find guns appealing especially when other collective security apparatuses seem frail, flimsy and fragile. This explains not just why guns are particularly appealing to men experiencing socioeconomic precarity, as my research and other work have shown, but also why gun sales have skyrocketed over the past year as complex, multilayered crises — the coronavirus pandemic, the epidemic of police violence, political instability — have been uncannily reduced to problems only guns can address.
As a Florida gun seller told me, “When you have uncertainty, you have to have a guarantee, and the only guarantee in this country is the right to protect yourself.”
It also helps explain how gun rights can provide a discursive “big tent” for people embracing a cacophony of politics, from resistance to racist police violence to the very white supremacy that drives racist police violence: pro-gun Americans aren’t monolithic, and gun rights provide an accommodating political agenda as long as one concedes that expanded gun rights are a model way to solve social problems.
Carlson acknowledges something very important here; the big-tent nature of the Second Amendment movement, which is rare in modern politics. Unfortunately, just a few sentences after recognizing that gun rights’ advocates aren’t monolithic about anything unrelated to the Second Amendment, she unloads this on her readers.
The recent outrage by Republican lawmakers indicates just how much today’s gun politics has managed to swallow up many of our most intractable problems, crowding out alternative ways of understanding, engaging and ultimately addressing the stark issues facing us. Meanwhile, rather than grapple with the difficult realities of a broken society made evident by the attempted insurrection, gun rights advocates are already warning that the riot was a “false flag” event aimed at ultimately disarming Americans.
I’m a gun rights advocate and I’ve never said anything like this. In fact, the vast majority of gun rights activists I know aren’t saying anything like this. What is undeniably true, however is that there were bad actors across the political spectrum taking part in this, including left-wing activist John Earle Sullivan, who’s been arrested and charged with a variety of crimes related to the storming of the Capitol.
The charges state that Sullivan can be seen in a video posted on YouTube “telling a crowd, over a microphone, ‘We about to burn this (expletive) down,’ and ‘We ain’t waiting until the next election … we about to go get that (expletive).’ Sullivan then can be seen leading the crowd in a chant of, ‘It’s time for a revolution.’”
Sullivan was recording on his phone when Ashli E. Babbitt, 35, of San Diego, was shot and killed by Capitol Police. The shooting occurred in an area Sullivan was not allowed to be in, the charges state.
Federal investigators reviewed the videos Sullivan recorded. In one video, he is filming as the crowd breaks past the last police barricade.
“Sullivan can be heard in the video saying at various points: ‘There are so many people. Let’s go. This (expletive) is ours!’ … ’We accomplished this (expletive). We did this together. … We are all a part of this history,’” according to the charges.
If Sullivan’s name sounds familiar to regular readers, it’s because we wrote about him back in July, when he was profiled by The Guardian as part of a piece on BLM and Sullivan’s group Insurgence USA squaring off with armed conservatives in Provo, Utah. Sullivan had just been charged by Provo police with rioting and making violent threats the night that a motorist was shot in the city, a fact that the Guardian ignored. Here’s how police described Sullivan’s behavior that night.
“The protest traveled on the roadways blocking motorists who have the right of way. John Sullivan blocked vehicles from freely moving lawfully. During the course of the protest, two handguns were brandished and two shots fired toward a motorist traveling to Home Depot. Vehicles were damaged by protestors as well as by John Sullivan,” the affidavit states.
“As a protest organizer John Sullivan is heard and seen as he is promoting protesters to block roadways, keeping motorists from traveling lawfully and freely.”
Sullivan was also captured on video threatening to beat a woman in an SUV, according to the affidavit, and then kicking her door, leaving a dent.
Sullivan was seen with Jesse Taggart — the man charged with shooting the motorist — throughout the protest, the affidavit states.
“As a protest organizer, John Sullivan is heard talking about seeing the shooting, looking at the gun and seeing smoke coming from it. John did not condemn the attempted murder nor attempt to stop it nor aide in its investigation by police.”
John Earle Sullivan wasn’t the only one responsible for the storming of the Capitol, and it would be wrong to claim that’s the case. It’s also wrong to claim that there was no involvement whatsoever by those on the Left. I think the commonality that you’ll find among those who planned for and instigated violence is a desire for revolution, though they may be far apart on the political spectrum.