Lindsey Graham says he opposes gun control because gangs.
The trauma of a mass shooting produces a peculiar feeling. Even though the shooting in a Boulder supermarket didn't involve people or a town I know, its very ordinariness inspires a unique kind of anxiety I have come to recognize. My practical mind knows that there are communities where gun violence is a facet of daily life, where any given individual knows multiple friends and family members who have been killed or maimed in shootings. And yet.
I grew up in Texas although guns were still quite foreign to me. When I was a child, there was a shooting murder next door. I remember hearing the gunshots – not a noise I recognized as such – and seeing the chalk and yellow tape the next day on the neighbor’s driveway. I was too young to know what happened, but when I asked I was told that it was a “personal disagreement,” not something I needed to worry about. In retrospect, I worry more about this personal motive, used as a way to ease my mind and encourage me to forget. Perhaps it was a domestic violence situation. Perhaps a debt was owed. I don’t really know, and the details are pretty fuzzy. Sometimes I wonder if I invented the whole thing. But, when I think back on that night, I am reminded how “personal” shootings are somehow erased from public memory, as if to say that guns and the harms they cause are an ordinary facet of daily life when they do not involve you.
The first time I felt the fear of a gun, I was grabbing fast food after school with friends. A truck pulled into the parking lot with a large gun rack in the back, filled with rifles. I couldn’t say for sure. What I do remember was that the truck flew a large Confederate flag. The men who got out were white and large in my teenage eyes; they had that lope that some men do, like they are used to taking up a lot of space and being heard. I was frozen with terror, worried that these men would see me, a skinny, pale girl wearing thick glasses with a nose I had been told was large and marked me as Jewish – a “carpetbagger” a neighborhood mom had called me, when she inquired politely about holiday traditions. What if, I thought, they saw me in all of my not-belonging? I now understand the carpetbagger comment was a signal that people could not only see I did not belong but that they also feared I would make their place different. I wasn’t politically aware enough to think about all of the white supremacy and racial terror implications of the Confederate flag, but it frightened me, and I quickly left.
Elected sheriffs have been a key conduit between gun populism – which I adopt from Jennifer Carlson’s excellent book Policing the Second Amendment to mean gun ownership as a lifestyle and identity – and gun legislation and policy. Since Printz v. United States, brought by sheriffs and funded by the NRA, sheriffs have readily adopted gun ownership as a key component of their identity, differentiating them from most urban police chiefs (if not rank and file) who tend to oppose civilian gun ownership. (Bear in mind that it wasn’t until the Printz ruling in 1997 that courts recognized a sweeping 2nd Amendment. Thanks, Scalia.)
In the wake of the Colorado shootings, many progressive-minded journalists have laid the blame at the foot of the NRA. The NRA certainly deserves censure, not just for financing legal actions and giving money to sheriffs to buy guns, but also for financing an entire campaign to make people believe that gun ownership represents something bigger than just owning a gun as a tool or weapon. Despite its bankruptcy and Wayne LaPierre’s suits, the NRA is a powerful lobbying force because its message is so consistent, as unrelenting in its capitalistic message (buy more!) as in its political work.
But, the new gun movement is bigger. Guns are a cultural symbol, something that gathers myths like moss the more liberals roll the word in their mouths. The more progressives talk about gun control, the more gun populists see their guns and, by extension, their entire way of life threatened. Guns are not just objects to be admired and fetishized, they are also a symbol of self-sufficiency, like old fashioned labor or home-schooling your kids. We see this in states where Republican-dominated legislature have passed or tried to pass laws that would make it impossible for localities (e.g. cities) to enact local gun legislation, like city ordinances to prevent open carry.
There’s, of course, nothing sheriffs like better than a good fight over county v. city, all the better if guns are involved. In Idaho, Sheriff Daryl Wheeler of Bonner County sued the city of Sandpoint which is in his own county, to invalidate potential open carry restrictions the city had passed only for a specific waterfront music festival at the request of some of the performers. He lost big time (because the judge held the sheriff lacked standing) and has to pay some $70,000 in attorney fees to the city. Why, you may ask, was it so important to have open-carry of firearms as a music festival? It was evidently so important that a 2nd Amendment-rights group sued AS WELL. For background, Idaho state law prohibits cities from enacting gun restrictions, a fine piece of legislation sheriffs are pushing in other states as well. But, the city had generally prohibited guns at this concert series for security concerns.
This is an exaggerated fight that has been happened for some time. In 2019, when the Democratic majority in the Virginia legislature passed some gun regulations, the sheriffs embraced local rule in protest. One sheriff said that he would deputize everyone in their county in lieu of submitting to gun regulations. Sheriffs in Washington, New Mexico and other states have done the same. Sheriffs I talk to argue vehemently that they would never approve of any legislation that threatened gun ownership; in most far-right spaces, guns are a given. The CSPOA talked about interposition, an invalid legal interpretation scheme used after the Civil War by southern states and counties that wanted to ignore federal civil rights legislation, like laws that guaranteed voting rights to Black citizens. Constitutional sheriffs have even borrowed the language of immigration advocates, calling their counties “gun sanctuaries,” despite the dubious legal significance.
To be fair, sheriffs as a group have opposed some open-carry-type laws, including permitless carry in Iowa and permitless carry in Tennessee. It remains to be seen if there’s a political cost to these sheriffs. And on the legal front, it’s not all bleak. Just this week, the Ninth Circuit ruled, in an opinion by a Republican-appointed judge, that there was no right to openly carry firearms. (The opinion, which is very long, is an entertaining exercise in originalism in that it attempts to look at the entire history of firearms restriction, only to gloss over the 20th century as less relevant to original intent. It then rakes the dissent over the coals for being sloppy with its historical analysis. As the majority opinion states: “The dissent’s argument thus contains the seeds of its own destruction.” Well done, and I see you!)
Yet, thus far the approach by Democrats and those favoring gun control is piecemeal. For example, red-flag guns laws are a common measure used to allow law enforcement to remove guns from so-called dangerous people. But they aren’t a blanket ban. There are laws regulating bump stocks, background check laws, closing the “gun show” loophole, and laws that require parents to lock up their guns to keep them from children. And then, of course, there are the criminal laws that penalize people who use guns, which are largely okayed by Republicans and used against Black and Brown communities. (“Stand your ground” laws conveniently keep the good white men out of prison.)
And while all of these measures are, by nature, pretty moderate, intended to capture the Republican voters who want gun control, and intentionally framed as “race-neutral” (even though gun populiams is plainly NOT race neutral), these attempts to compromise simply inflame the pro-gun side even further. To them, it feels like mission creep, it feels ineffective, it feels like some sort of progressive revenge on the right. You just get Lindsey Graham saying he’s worried about “gangs.” I read that white supremacists don’t fear government intervention so much as they fear government intevention that might benefit non-white people. Taking away their guns (even if it’s just the feeling) smells like fairness, like self-preservation might not be the right answer and they might have to accept the interconnectedness of society.
So, I take a differenr tack. I don't think the right approach is to sever gun ownership from its cultural meaning for gun populists. Instead, I think a more unified approach is needed, one which looks at gun ownership as the cultural phenomena it is, the truck that frightened me as a teenager which carried guns but also more than that. There will always be “rational” debate about responsible gun ownership, etc. etc. But those who are pushing for a complete deregulation of firearms are not really interested in this debate and engaging with them on the issue simply allows them the opportunity to conceal their true demands, which is culture war. So, perhaps, it’s time to fight that war on their turf and define new rules of engagement.
*I wanted to credit this Mother Jones piece for more squarely addressing the argument I present, which is approaching the gun debate not by saying “most reasonable people agree,” but rather by arguing that one of the primary arguments used by gun owners is just wrong.
I live in South Carolina, I carry a gun (legally).. I have for years. I have been shot at by people who have ran pedestrians down (almost killed the guy) because I chased after the guy to get his Tag#.. I didn't have a gun that night. I have had to use my gun to STOP being robbed by a man with a gun who was sneaking up to rob me at an ATM. I pointed my gun at his face.. he froze then ran like hell. I didn't have to shoot the dude.. the mere presence of a deterrent to HIS GUN was enough. I called 911, met with the local city police and described the man, they went looking. One Sergeant said "Damn good thing you had your gun with you. Glad you didn't have to shoot him but if you had, you would have been fine"
But, typical liberals have one slogan "guns are bad, period" typical.. But one thing is for sure. We will NEVER allow idiot liberals to disarm us!