The Gun-Control Melodrama Returns for Another Season
But what's the real purpose of the show?
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
A new Democrat administration and two recent mass shootings mean it’s time for another episode of the gun-control melodrama that’s been running for decades. We all know the scenario: an obviously deranged person murders several people, Dem pols and pundits start fulminating about our lax gun control laws and gun-obsessed white males, followed by a bunch of ineffective proposals and policies that will do nothing about crime, but will annoy law-abiding gun-owners, which is ultimately the real purpose of the show––demonizing a political enemy.
The Biden outfit has announced “six initial actions to address the gun violence public health epidemic,” the White House informed us last week. None of them will do anything to stop mass killings, and some are trying to fix problems that existing federal laws already address. Two federal statutes concern homemade “ghost guns,” for example, which don’t have serial numbers. And state “Red-flag” laws would allow the police or family members worried about a seemingly unstable spouse, neighbor, or student to ask a judge for a temporary restraining order that would allow confiscation of the weapon. The potential threats to Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the moral hazard of giving the vengeful or malicious an opportunity for weaponizing the law, should be obvious.
Then there’s the usual hysteria about “assault rifles.” The popular AR-15 (pop quiz: What does the AR stand for?), which anti-gun-nuts usually bring up when decrying “assault rifles,” is no such thing. It’s not an automatic weapon, which have been illegal since 1934, and is perfectly legal. It can be accessorized in ways that frighten those ignorant about guns and gun-laws, just as cars can be sold with optional spoilers or other racing accessories. But that doesn’t make them illegal.
Perhaps worst of all, Biden is making professional gun-control lobbyist David Chipman the head of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agency. You can get the measure of Chipman’s rabid partisan prejudices and impaired common sense by his comment that the surge of gun purchasers last year comprises conspiracy theorists prepping for the zombocalypse; and by his looney claim that members of the Branch Davidians––the group targeted in the 1993 Waco, Texas armed attack by FBI and ATF agents that killed 76 people including children––shot down two government helicopters.
The focus on “assault rifles,” however, which Biden wants the ATF to ban, is the epitome of irrational gun-control melodrama. Mass shootings with any sort of long gun are rare. In fact, more people are killed by hands and feet than they are by rifles. And “assault rifles” have already been banned before, starting in 1994. The ban was allowed to lapse in 2004 because its effects on crime were “negligible,” as even the deep-blue NPR had to admit. A new ban would be no more effective in reducing gun deaths, 60% of which are suicides.
But what exposes the anti-gun lobby (and Black Lives Matter) most clearly is the fact that about 7000 black men a year are murdered mostly by other black men. Why are these activists obsessing over the relatively rare incidents of mass shootings, while this carnage goes on year after year? And isn’t it shameless that the Biden crew are blustering now about the “crisis of gun violence” when they stood silent or encouraged the riots, looting, and vandalism last year that cost billions of dollars in damages and 30 deaths, with black Americans over-represented among the victims? The double-digit spike in gun-crimes over the last year––a real crisis–– is the consequence of cuts in police funding demanded by the BLM protestors, leaving the streets vulnerable to predators.
The answer is plain: those genuine crises do not serve the partisan “woke” narrative of evil white people oppressing blacks. The “gun crisis” is part of the larger caricature of conservative white males as neurotic flat-earthers fearful of “people of color,” assertive, emasculating women, and any change that fosters equality and “social justice.” In that narrative, owning and shooting guns, and watching westerns and action movies, provide psychic compensation for their insecurities while also providing feelings of empowerment in a world that frightens and confuses them. No doubt there are sexual insecurities as well, caused by confident, liberated women knowledgeable about female orgasms––phobias that the phallic gun can soothe.
This preposterous generalization goes back at least fifty years to the 1970 movie Joe, about a bigoted factory worker who rants about hippies, free love, assertive minorities, and various other frightening signs of changing times, and eventually goes on a hippie-killing spree. The greatest illustration of these bigoted cultural stereotypes, however, is Taxi Driver, from 1976. All the components of the “white man evil” cliché are there.
Protagonist Travis “Cowboy” Bickle is a Marine and Vietnam veteran traumatized by an unjust, neo-imperialist war, an uneducated denizen of flyover country sickened by the moral disorder and filth of pre-Giuliani NYC. Predictably, Bickle has an aversion to minorities and homosexuals, and develops an obsession with a 12-year-old prostitute, Iris, who stirs his fantasies of chivalric heroism in defense of purity. He is sexually dysfunctional, unable to connect with women, as dramatized in the subplot involving a political campaign worker whom he takes to a porn movie on their first date. And, of course, he is obsessed with guns. He owns several that he modifies to make more lethal, and poses with them in front of the mirror in fantasies of retributive aggression. It all climaxes in a bloody mass shooting of some mafiosi in order to rescue Iris. These murders turn an obvious psychotic into a public hero, illustrating the unsophisticated masses’ fondness for the iconic cowboy who uses his six-shooter to rescue damsels in distress.
This dull cliché has long been useful as a way for progressives and leftists to caricature and demonize conservatives, Republicans, libertarians, traditionalists, patriots, and the white working class. That’s why just about every Republican national politician since Barry Goldwater has been called a “neurotic,” “racist,” “warmongering,” “sexist,” “trigger-happy cowboy” who wants to “turn back the clock” on all the liberating improvements in our laws and public culture. Remember the “angry white man” from the Nineties, disgruntled over affirmative action? Obviously, there are no legitimate Constitutional grounds for opposing polices that violate the Civil Rights Act prohibition of race-based discrimination. So it must be the irrational bigotry innate in racist white males.
Ten years ago New York Times columnist Ross Douthat dubbed this stereotype “the White Male enemy at home.” Barack Obama famously called them “bitter clingers to guns and religion,” and Hillary dubbed them a “basket of deplorables.” And don’t forget FBI agent Peter Strzok’s “smelly Wal-Mart shoppers.” The Critical Race Theory infesting our school curricula from kindergarten to university, our popular culture, our media, our corporate boards, and our state, local, and federal governments––this noxious, racist ideology has become the supers-spreader of this old plague.
The “woke” obsession with guns, then, is not about a “crisis” or “epidemic” of gun violence. It’s about marketing the demonization of political enemies––those conservatives and others who reject progressive policies. The Leviathan state exploits these slanders in order to extend its regulatory reach further into our private lives and civil society. But that ambition requires weakening the Bill of Rights created to protect us from just such federal tyranny. The Second Amendment, like the First, is particularly odious to budding despots, as it gives citizens access to force that tyrants monopolize, defends the spaces beyond the reach of the state, and reinforces the sovereignty and independence of the people.
Like those before them, this current package of gun-control measures is unlikely to get very far given that most need legislation from Congress. And the Dems don’t have the numbers in the Senate to pass filibuster-proof bills that contain policies large numbers of Americans don’t like. As for executive orders, those can be enjoined by a federal judge, the Dems’ favorite tactic of political warfare during the Trump administration.
But all that doesn’t mean conservatives and Republicans shouldn’t still keep their powder dry.
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