The gun control debate in the United States is insoluble. Too many Americans on both sides have crazed, purely limbic reactions to guns, whether positive or negative, and are beyond the reach of calmer, more thoughtful minds. We have too many ammosexuals who would agree with my twerpy twelve-year-old colleague in the blueberry fields that “I’m all for guns,” and we have too many people who have psychosomatic reactions to the sound of distant recreational or hunting gunfire despite never having been in combat or gotten into any other sort of traumatic event involving firearms. I’m sympathetic to arguments from both sides, maybe even to a fault, but I generally wish that the hysterical elements at both extremes would shut up and give those of us in the broad, sensible middle enough peace and quiet to think. As things stand now, sober, sensible voices can hardly be heard over the din.
The horrific crux of the matter is that Americans are a wickedly violent people. As Michael Moore has put it, America believes in killing. There are a great many peaceable Americans who want nothing to do with this violence, but they have next to no sway either over their violently-minded neighbors or over the chronic glorification of violence in mainstream and pseudo-alternative media. Our police, military, and intelligence services are awash in violence, from the fatal strangulation of Eric Garner for selling black-market cigarettes (using a chokehold that is explicitly banned by NYPD policy) to the BDSM torture campaign of Abu Ghraib to the serial immolation of Arab and Pashtun wedding parties in summary drone strikes. In the midst of this violence, we’re subjected to an overbearing fascist consensus that we are duty-bound to “support our troops.” As another colleague at the berry farm bizarrely argued, our soldiers can’t be expected to behave honorably if we don’t honor them first. (Yes, they can. The UCMJ compels them to behave honorably for the duration of their service on pain of court-martial.) This twit had been brainwashed by K-Love and SRN News as thoroughly as anyone I’ve ever met. I was a bit surprised to hear him, instead of our collection of 4-F armed forces groupies, spout this servile, brownnosing horseshit, but it’s consistent enough with a heavy diet of nondenominational Christian radio propaganda.
There’s a common meme in libertarian circles that taxation is ultimately imposed at the point of a gun. Eric Garner is a poster boy for this meme, whose extreme versions hold that he was a victim not only of Michael Bloomberg’s paternalistic sin tax regime but of the entire American taxation apparatus. This meme doesn’t address the consistent nonviolence of modern police in European countries with some of the highest tax rates on earth. Sweden has an aggressively progressive tax regime and a huge underground economy that took shape mainly as a means to evade taxes, so Swedish cops, under this taxation-as-state-violence model, should be notorious for murdering unlicensed peddlers. They are not. The only country in Western or Central Europe where Daniel Pantaleo’s violence under color of authority would be plausible is the United Kingdom, and even there it would be extreme. In the rest of Northwestern Europe, it would be absolutely unimaginable.
In the Arab World, on the other hand, he’d fit in well enough as a cop. He’d have strangled Mohamed Bouazizi to death, too, and then expressed his regret far too late. Tunisia, of course, was a blatant kleptocracy, with a coarseness that Hizzoner Bloomberg would never have thought to equal. That said, for what it’s worth, the Tunisian police merely drove Bouazizi to suicide with their campaign of mafia-style extortion.
Tax-farming serves as a pretext for violence that bad cops are strongly inclined to mete out for any reason they can devise. So does the suppression of prostitution. So do drug interdiction, the public intoxication of people who are obviously harmless, and peaceful protests against finance-sector or police criminality, as Occupy and Ferguson have shown. Bad cops will find excuses to assault peaceable citizens under color of authority. The solution is to screen for them during recruitment and drum them out if they slip through the background investigation process.
Some US police agencies do their best to do exactly this. In truly well-governed countries, every police force does so.
We can’t properly discipline our police with any consistency. Instead, we routinely allow them to run roughshod over the public, over elected officials attempting to hold them accountable, and over internal whistleblowers. Just look at the Border Patrol’s blatant effort to intimidate Patrick Leahy, the NYPD’s false psychiatric commitment of Adrian Schoolcraft, the marginalization of Regina Tasca in New Jersey, and, most recently, a widespread campaign going nearly to the top of the Secret Service (and possibly all the way to the top) to embarrass and intimidate Jason Chaffetz by illegally sharing confidential material from his 2003 application for sworn employment. These are lawless agencies, but apparently not lawless enough for other, better run agencies to raid their offices and forcibly strip their bad agents of their weapons.
Christopher Harper-Mercer, Elliot Rodger, and George Zimmerman are examples of what happens when grandiose men with violent, paranoid ideation are forced to go it alone in their quest for violent domination. Zimmerman is a notorious police academy reject turned neighborhood watch vigilante. Harper-Mercer and Rodger had grossly dysfunctional family and social lives, which they haplessly attempted to remedy in virtual communities dominated by other loners and shut-ins. In different circumstances, perhaps their neighbors would have reached out to them, but let’s face it, that’s awfully much to expect of American social climbers at a school like UCSB. Our best and brightest expect everyone to cope with his own deracination quietly. They consider it shameful to seek support from others in a time of personal turmoil. Friendship–real friendship, not the fastidiously window-dressed simulacrum of friendship popularized by Facebook–is for suckers.
Of course these mass shootings happen from time to time in an atomized, alienated society dominated by cutthroats who consider it a horrible imposition to be asked to drop their own selfish projects for a bit and actually be there for people who don’t have their shit together. Harper-Mercer’s mother was in over her head with a severely autistic son, and Rodger’s father was utterly derelict in his paternal duties, absorbed in a crass world of Veblen goods and high-maintenance hooker groupies. Their sons were headed nowhere good.
Community might have been a moot point for them; they might have been too far gone for anyone to reach. It’s clear, though, that Rodger in particular was brought up in a family and socioeconomic milieu that was designed to enable those living in it to evade all communal responsibilities, from the level of the nuclear family on up. For these people, living in, say, a cohesive neighborhood in New England would be a huge buzzkill. Their neighbors wouldn’t congratulate them for being too self-absorbed to pay attention to their own troubled children. Peter Rodger wouldn’t have gotten high fives for boning camera models while his son went into a friendless incel death spiral.
Think about this: Vermont is heavily armed and exceptionally peaceable. So is Switzerland, which also has a sky-high prevalence of clinical depression. These aren’t societies in which it is socially acceptable to abandon one’s troubled kin in order to consort with prostitutes and snort coke all day long. In Hollywood, walking train wrecks like Charlie Sheen are the toast of the town, and guys like Peter Rodger are respected for resorting to any degree of financial and familial irresponsibility within their reach in a desperate effort to ape dissolute celebrities.
Rural New England folkways involve far too much self-control, responsibility, and basic decency to become mainstream nationwide in a society as aggressively propagandized as the United States. Most of the rest of us spend our free time in the Matrix. Many of us hang out in the same grotesquely pathological intellectual environment as Christopher Harper-Mercer and Elliot Rodger, and then we are shocked, shocked! that isolated young men who fell into the deep end, beyond the reach of those closest to them, snapped and went on killing sprees. Well, what else do we expect for raising socially failed autists in an environment saturated with agitprop glorifying righteous first-strike violence?
Just the other day we got to witness a scene in Roseburg that made violent loners like Harper-Mercer look manageable by comparison, when the local gun nuts met Marine One by the hundreds at the Roseburg Airport perimeter and along Barack Obama’s motorcade route, many of them openly armed to the teeth. Law enforcement agencies including the Secret Service allowed an armed mob to swarm the immediate perimeter of an airport and highways for the express purpose of intimidating a sitting president. How does this even happen? How the fuck does a functioning sovereign state allow heavily armed vigilantes to swarm an airport perimeter and a motorcade route during a visit by its own head of government and state? This is unbelievably crazy anywhere beyond the Horn of Africa. And how deranged is the citizenry that it considers it respectable to all but brandish firearms in front of an elected official who is visiting to meet privately with the bereaved survivors of innocents who were recently massacred by a school gunman?
These are things that can be done without consequence in the United States. The President’s protective detail won’t even request mutual aid from state and local law enforcement to bodily remove an overtly armed rabble from the President’s vicinity in order to allow him to pass beyond the range of private small arms fire.
Then again, this is also the country where Cliven Bundy’s private militia was allowed to point loaded weapons at federal agents without consequence. Armed sedition is cool shit in these parts. It’s also a country where a paranoid old geezer can show up at town council meetings and go on the record with a promise to shoot on sight any unwanted passerby he sees using a long-established easement through his property that doubles as the only road access to a YMCA summer camp. We actually had this dude show up at a Cornwall Borough Council meeting and say exactly that during a series of public debates about emergency exits from the subdivision where my parents and I lived at the time, and from what I was told, it seems that he was not ejected from the meeting or warned that he would be arrested for murder or attempted murder if he went through with this threat. Realize that Lebanon County’s politics are normally hardline authoritarian with respect to law and order. There are places in this country where you can show up at a town council meeting and make explicit threats, in front of the police chief, to shoot peaceable passersby on sight for trespass just because they used an easement that is also used hundreds of times a year to transport children to and from a summer camp (Breivik much?), and it’s totally cool to do this as long as you stay sort of on topic and holler your word during the public comment period.
I wonder if the RCMP wouldn’t have raided that geezer’s property, like it did Pickton’s place, and removed any guns from the premises if he’d gone to a council meeting in Canada and announced that I’ma gonna shoot me some punks if I see’m sneakin’ ’round the driveway I share with that summer camp. Maybe a country that doesn’t give Kevin Vickers a lockbox with a sidearm ends up instead giving guns to the kind of thugs who would convince Vickers to call in every detachment within a two-hour radius for mutual aid if their members even talked about doing an open-carry stunt across the street from Parliament Hill. All it took the Mounties to finally bring Pickton down, after all, was for a concerned citizen to walk into one of their detachments and tell a constable, you know, I think that creep is keeping guns in his junkyard. Meanwhile, on our side of the border, it’s okay to show up at the airport perimeter as part of an armed mob for the purpose of greeting the President’s helicopter.
God knows there’s more that’s wrong with this country than gun ownership.