Armed flag carriers and other gun bullies

confederate flag-NRAThere is something about the gun extremists that just doesn’t fit with reality.  Take this small town in Virginia where residents have been forced to accept a gun shop they don’t want. From this article:

Cherrydale is the latest in a series of suburban areas that have tried to prevent firearms proprietors from coming to town. These efforts generally fail, mainly because of state laws. The mayor of Evanston, Illinois, recently tried to impose a ban on gun ranges in the Chicago suburb, but when it became clear that the measure wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge, the town adopted regulations this month that pushed ranges to the outskirts of town. Pleasant Hill, California, in San Francisco’s East Bay, tried to adopt a similar statute in 2013, and was sued by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group. The lawsuit is ongoing.

“Part of the strategy of gun-rights advocates is to normalize guns,” says Adam Winkler, a lawyer and the author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms. “Having gun stores in every community makes them less odd” to non-gun-owners, Winkler says.

“Less odd.” Hardly. It’s just not normal to have guns everywhere and gun stores in places where people don’t want them. This is the bullying of America by the corporate gun lobby and gun extremists. It’s not about the second amendment any more.

And speaking of gun bullies,  what is the message by a group of armed guys outside of an Arizona Walmart store on Sunday? From the article:

The Arizona Republic reports that Jon Ritzheimer organized the Sunday afternoon protest of Walmart’s decision. Ritzheimer is a former Marine who staged a contentious rally outside a Phoenix mosque in May.

His group of self-proclaimed “patriots,” some of them armed, waved the rebel flag alongside the American one while chanting “U-S-A.”

Are these true patriots? Do we want these folks to be carrying guns around in public? Are they good guys with guns? And didn’t we just go through a national tragedy when 9 black Americans were shot and killed by a Confederate flag waver in Charleston, South Carolina? And isn’t the South Carolina legislature about to vote to take the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina state house?

At least Walmart and other businesses are showing some common sense when it comes to the aftermath of the Charleston shooting. A community is still grieving and family members are mourning the loss of loved ones. A young man who proudly exhibited photos of himself with the Confederate flag shot and killed 9 innocent black people in a Charleston church.

The guys in the article I linked to above represent a group of Americans who are in the minority but who should concern us all. Their views of the country do not reflect the majority but they get a lot of attention. And the worst of it is, sometimes these are the guys who commit heinous acts of violence because of their extremist views. They are ready for battle  a confrontation. Why? Rights? Bullies? Ideology? Hatred? Insurrectionist ideas? The guys with the guns get to make the rules according to Mr. Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association:

So what are the rules according to these folks? Loaded guns in public places intimidate and frighten the average person, not make them more comfortable around guns. Is that part of the game? Who wins and who loses in this stupid and dangerous game?

But back to the flag issue. There are reasons why the Confederate flag should not be sold at Walmart stores or other stores or should not be flown anywhere. The history is not a patriotic one, by the way. There is a long complicated history of this particular Confederate battle flag highlighted in a Snopes.com article:

However, the fact remains that the Confederate battle flag has long since become the pre-eminent symbol of the Confederacy and what it stood for, and across the span of several decades it has been co-opted by segregationist and white supremacist groups such as the Dixiecrats, the KKK, and the Aryan Nation. Certainly one can be a racist or a white supremacist without associating himself with “Southern Pride” or a Confederate battle flag, but for better or worse, no one group is any more “authorized” to use the Confederate battle flag as their symbol than another: the Confederate government and its military forces ceased to exist 150 years ago and therefore have no say or control over the usage of the Southern Cross.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans may sincerely object to the Confederate battle flag’s use by Neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other extremist groups, and perhaps some of the men who fought and died for the Confederacy would as well if they were alive today. But just as with the swastika, it’s likely to be a very, very long time before that symbol can be reclaimed and regarded in anything approaching a neutral manner, and probably not until the social issues underlying the public perception of that symbol have been more thoroughly canvassed.

The problem with this flag is those who are flaunting it are trying to make a point. And it’s not a point for the winning team.

Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign has called for the flag to come down but Gross also calls for the conversation about what happened in Charleston a few weeks ago to include keeping guns away from people who should not have them in the first place. The gun lobby would like that part of the conversation to go away. It’s not a winner for them to talk about gun extremists killing people in crimes of hatred and racism. It’s not a winner when kids shoot themselves or others in “accidental” gun discharges. It’s not a winner when young white men shoot small children in schools, in shopping malls, in colleges, in churches or other places of worship, or in movie theaters. It’s not a winner when “good guys” with guns shoot their partners/spouses in crimes of passion. It’s not a winner when “good guys” with guns shoot themselves in large numbers. There are no winners.

Back to flags.There are other flags carried and flown by the gun extremists. The Gadsden flag– “don’t tread on me” is seen in photos with armed gun extremists. This often goes with Molon Labe or Greek for “come and take it.”

A Nevada couple draped one of their shooting victims (2014 spree shooting) with the Gadsden flag. The message is clear.

Anarcho-Gadsden_flag.svg

What does this actually mean? Some gun activists who read my blog use the term molon labe. The message is that if you try to do anything with reasonable gun laws, we will fight you and the government and we will challenge anyone who tries to “come and take” guns away. Or else. Or else what? These seem to be small groups of people who organize around the idea that the government is out to take their guns and they make their point by walking around with openly carried loaded guns and flags. It’s the Texas Open Carry or Open Carry Tarrant County groups and others like them in other states. They like to think of themselves as patriots but patriots don’t intend to arm themselves to fight against their own country. The Civil War ended in 1865.

The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of militia groups, home grown terrorists and insurrectionist activity which mostly involves armed Americans. The Coaltion to Stop Gun Violence keeps an Insurrectionist Timeline. Here is the latest entry on that site:

May 28, 2015—As the Texas legislature debates whether to allow residents to openly carry handguns in public without a permit, background check or training, Open Carry Tarrant County leader Kory Watkins posts a message to Facebook “calling for the arrest of every elected official in Texas that voted against open carry.” Watkins adds, “They should be arrested, charged with treason and should face a punishment that could result in being hung from the tree of liberty.”

Sigh.

Some members of the NRA Board of Directors have made uncivil, offensive and insurrectionist statements. Check them out here. Ted Nugent, of course, is the most famous of the NRA Board members whose comments continue to get attention. Threatening to gun down a U.S. Senator is his latest outrageous and threatening comment. But he keeps getting elected to the Board so the membership must accept what he is saying since they don’t disavow him.

It’s not just the NRA. It’s other gun rights groups who have become more and more extreme of late. There’s Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Here’s the latest from him:

Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt, who said earlier this year that “the Second Amendment was designed for people just like” President Obama and his fellow Democrats, repeated the sentiment yesterday, saying that the only thing currently saving America is that President Obama knows that “if he goes too far” he’ll face an armed revolt.

Pratt told Houston-based radio host Sam Malone that if Obama doesn’t implement any “gun grabs” before he leaves office, “it won’t be for want of trying.”

Sigh.

There are others but you get my point. 

Back to gun bullies. The guys with the guns and the flags are making a statement. They are saying that they can carry their guns anywhere they want and they can do it while also carrying a symbol of racism and intolerance and it’s all legal. That’s because our state legislators have gone along with the insane idea that carrying guns around in public is “normal”. It’s not normal. It’s crazy. In combination with symbols of racism and insurrectionism, it does not make for a good picture of America.

So in real life then, when a young man walks around in a neighborhood carrying a long gun, should people be alarmed? We don’t know enough yet about the young man who was walking in a Kansas neighborhood with a long gun. He shot a woman and her daughter and then walked away. We don’t know yet if he was a “good guy” with a gun or a “bad guy” with a gun. But then, if we normalize the open carrying of guns in public this may the result. How do we tell whether guys carrying guns in neighborhoods have evil intent or are just doing it to make a point?

So to summarize- there are guys carrying guns and Confederate flags protesting a business decision to stop selling confederate stuff after the Charleston shooting. There are guys ( and sometimes women) carrying guns and other flags with symbols meant to intimidate, to bully and to make a point in public places in our country. There are guys carrying guns in our neighborhoods who sometimes shoot innocent people. And there are people forcing communities to have gun shops when they don’t want them in places where they shop or hang out with their families. And this is normal?

Yes, there are gun rights. Yes, there are gun shops, most of whom follow the rules and sell guns to people who are required to undergo background checks. Yes, there are people who enjoy shooting sports, hunting, collecting guns and who own guns for self defense. Yes, most gun owners are safe and responsible with their guns.

But there are also extremists who have something else in mind with their guns. There are people who can’t be safe and responsible with guns who are able to easily access them all over our country. In America, we determine elections and make decisions by using a process of voting and democratic governments. We don’t change our government at the end of a gun barrel. The last time we tried this was 150 years ago when the Civil War was fought leaving hundreds of thousands of dead Americans. We are not at war. We don’t need guns everywhere. We don’t want insurrectionists with their guns and flags displayed in public. We do need safer communities and we need stronger gun laws.

The gun bullies ( extremists) go too far. The corporate gun lobby is promoting fear and paranoia. Hate groups are promoting intolerance and racism. Americans are dying from gunshot injuries at alarming rates every day. Victims are telling their stories and trying to make a difference. Politicians are afraid to speak up for fear of losing money and support from a group of people who represent the minority of us. And we are not doing anything to stop the carnage.

We are better than this. Something has to change in our country. It looks like, at the least, the idea that a state government can fly a flag that symbolizes racism and hate has been challenged and we are having an important discussion about the use of the Confederate battle flag in public places. The discussion can’t end there. There are too many symbols of violence and hate being exhibited in public places in America. We should have a right to peace and tranquility in our communities. Most gun owners are reasonable people who don’t participate in offensive, intimidating and provocative behavior with their guns in public places. Most Americans find that kind of behavior anti-American.

So let’s work together to stop this insanity and work together to prevent the gun violence that is devastating our communities.

UPDATE:

Since I first posted this, the South Carolina legislature voted to take down the Confederate flag that flies in their Capitol square. So let’s hope others will do the same and stop flying the flag.

UPDATE:

I am not the only one to think of the gun lobby and gun extremists as bullies. This article calls it like it is:

We cower before the bully. We feel helpless against the bully. The president of the United States, Congress and police forces around the country can do nothing. Even when the work of the bully produces tragedy after tragedy, the bully grows stronger, sucking strength from the lives of its victims. And the bully gloats.

In April 2007, a deranged young man with a gun went on a rampage at Virginia Tech, killing 32 people and injuring around two dozen more in what remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. The response of our national bully, the National Rifle Association (NRA), when a horrified nation thought tighter gun control laws might be in order? “We won’t be pushed around,” insisted Bully-in-Chief Wayne LaPierre.

In July 2012, when another young man slaughtered 12 people and injured 58 others in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, the bully proclaimed, preposterously, “There is absolutely no correlation between guns and shooting deaths. Zero. None.” Just six months later, after yet another young man massacred 27 people—including 20 little kids—at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the defiant bully said that schools needed more guns, for protection. The bully added that parents who lost their 6-year-olds were politicizing their victimhood and serving as “human shields” for the gun safety movement.  (…)

The bully also has money. Since 1990, the NRA has donated $21 million to politicians, 83 percent of it to Republicans. The gun control lobby doesn’t come close: $1.9 million to politicians, 94 percentto Democrats. Such largesse seems to blind our anti-tax conservatives to the cost of gun violence to our economy: at least $229 billion a year, according to an analysis byMother Jones, when you add up emergency and medical care, prison and criminal justice costs, lost wages, insurance, legal fees, police investigations and the like. That’s about $700 per American per year; in a state like Wyoming with a high rate of gun violence, it’s twice that.

The bully wants us to accept this as the new normal: that we adopt an armed, militarized lifestyle. It will repeatedly threaten and intimidate our government and us to advance this lethal political agenda. It’s time to name the NRA as a bully, treat it as a bully and stand up to it as a bully, to get beyond its deadly blockage of desperately needed gun safety laws in our country.