FERGUSON, CLIVE BUNDY AND THE SECOND AMENDMENT
As Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown, testifies before a St. Louis Grand Jury, I thought it useful to post this piece from the Daily Kos written a month ago as a reminder to us all how duplicative and cynical is the conservative stance towards guns and the arming of American citizens.
Ferguson, Clive Bundy and the Second Amendment
On August 9, teenager Michael Brown became just the latest in an all-too-long string of unarmed black men killed by the police.
What happened next was shocking and appalling: as demonstrators gathered nightly to honor Brown's life and decry how cheap some authorities consider the value of black lives, an interdepartmental police force with little leadership and even less self-control did everything they could to escalate tensions. Equipped with weapons, vehicles, and uniforms more suited to an urban war zone than to keeping a watchful eye on a peaceful demonstration, the police on site in Ferguson leveled machine guns at the unarmed crowd from the top of an armored personnel carrier. Some journalists were arrested for no reason. Others were victimized by carefully placed tear gas canisters, only to have officers move in to dismantle their equipment. Protesters themselves were shot with rubber bullets and assaulted. Some observers were hit with tear gas just for daring to observe the protests from their own backyards.
Nightly scenes of militarized police confronting unarmed protesters continued until this past Thursday, when Gov. Jay Nixon finally moved in and gave the Missouri Highway Patrol supervision over the scene. The policing force ditched war machines, camouflage and riot masks, and treated the crowds to hugs and conversation rather than tear gas and rubber bullets.
The killing of Brown, which was completely unjustified according to every eyewitness, as well as the provocation from a militarized police force, drew reaction from both the left and the right. On the left, the incidents served as yet another reminder that our country has a racist present and not just a racist past, and provided the strongest example yet of the dangerous consequences of militarizing our police force. With the notable exception of Rand Paul, the right instead sought to blame the victim and lecture the black community for assuming that the police were in the wrong. But one political faction that has been noticeably silent? Supporters of the Second Amendment.
More below the fold.
Supporters of the Second Amendment believe that public carrying of guns is the ultimate defense against oppression, whether personal or systemic. When schoolchildren are massacred, gun fetishists tend to argue that the problem was not that a violent person had access to weapons of mass murder, but that a "good guy with a gun" was not present to start a confrontation. This self-defense argument is not just limited to self-defense against other private citizens; rather, a common argument for the proliferation of firearms involves defense against oppression by government entities. A common line of argument for gun rights activists is that gun control is a prerequisite of genocide: that if, for instance, Armenians and Jews had been allowed to arm themselves, then the respective genocides that both peoples endured would not have been possible. They have even gone so far as to co-opt Martin Luther King Jr. and claim that he would have supported arming blacks to defend against centuries of oppression at the hands of slaveowners and subsequent generations of white supremacists.
These activists don't limit their advocacy to theoretical arguments about history, but even praise and advocate for armed intervention against government in the present day. Perhaps the best known recent example is that of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has taken advantage of public lands without paying for the privilege. When the Bureau of Land Management attempted to take possession of his herd as recompense for the seven figures in taxes he owed, members of armed militia trained their weapons on these federal officials and forced them to back down to prevent bloodshed. And despite what seemed like egregious violations of law, Bundy and his merry band of militiamen were hailed as anti-tax, pro-liberty, right-wing heroes—until, at least, Bundy decided he needed to "tell us something about the Negro."
This racism, of course, isn't a bug. It's a feature. Despite advocating post mortem for arming black people as a recourse for situations long past, there does not seem to be the same enthusiasm for ensuring the same access today. As Digby wrote in the aftermath of the murder (in everything but name, at least) of Trayvon Martin:
“Think about it. Every other situation in which an innocent person gets gunned down there is a cacophony of gun nuts screeching that if only this person had been armed he could have defended himself. It's been the basis of every concealed and open carry argument for the last couple of decades.
And yet, in this case, nothing. No impassioned appeals for
loosening the gun laws so that ordinary Americans could go to the store in the evening to buy some candy and an iced tea without getting stalked and shot by some unhinged vigilante. No solemn op-eds about the dangers for average Americans when venturing unarmed into the streets of their own neighborhoods. No fiery speeches from Wayne LaPierre insisting that if only everyone in the neighborhood had been armed with submachine guns they could have run outside and started firing immediately upon hearing the screams for help. Nada. Why do you suppose that is?”
There were no gun rights activists standing up for Trayvon Martin. There will be no gun rights activists standing up for Michael Brown, or for the numerous protesters who had their civil rights violated by the heavy-handed tactics of the militarized police. In the moment, these activists feel that Second Amendment rights and remedies only exist to defend white tax cheats against government officials. But unarmed black teenagers killed for doing nothing other than walking down the street in their own neighborhoods? The gun nuts may stand up for them eventually, but only when decades or centuries have ground these incidents into a more dispassionate historical lens.