Our Guns, Our Rights

Against the Current, No. 181, March/April 2016

Hunter Gray

A NATIVE PERSON and a Northern Arizonian, I have always been a gun person and thus a strong defender of gun rights. In what seems in retrospect to have been a halcyon period in my life, I had my first “real gun” — a Winchester .22 pump rifle — when I was seven.

I hunted small game with my father; by eight and nine I was hunting by myself; and, a few years later, I had an old 44/40 Winchester lever action for big game. (Lever action rifles and revolvers are my much preferred genre.)

As I entered my teen years, I was a regular hang-out at Gene’s gun store at Flagstaff, shooting the breeze with Gene and the resident gunsmith, Casey. I bought and traded firearms smoothly, no bureaucratic paperwork — only inhibited by my fiscal limitations.

Once, at 15 and by now an NRA (National Rifle Association) member, I purchased an older revolver which Gene put in a sturdy bag. But I decided I wanted to spend some time downtown. I didn’t want to carry the bag on the streets, and I was thoughtful enough to avoid carrying it concealed on my person — so I took it to the Coconino County sheriff’s bailiwick and asked a deputy to keep it for me until I was ready to walk home. He was quick to oblige in friendly fashion.

That would not happen now.

For the past several decades, this country has been periodically caught up in anti-gun fear and hysteria, some generated deliberately by self-serving political forces and some by presumably well meaning liberals whose knowledge of firearms — and of hunting and sensible individual/family self- defense — usually adds up to Zero.

To a great many of these liberals, a goodly number of whom consistently say they support the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is archaic and should be repealed or bypassed or at least eroded incrementally in the slippery slope sense. Some, but not all, would like to see all firearms confiscated and destroyed — save for those in the hands of government.

A False Debate

Gun rights organizations are often vilified by liberals as the “Gun Lobby” or worse — even though most of their funding comes from individual members and appropriate advertisements in their journals. (The NRA, I should add, also maintains significant programs in environmental protection, wildlife conservation, marksmanship — and widely known and utilized gun safety training.)

If the non-partisan NRA, for example, now with at least five million members and likely even more from this current fight, supports more Republicans than Democrats, it’s simply because the Democratic Party has become, with increasing rapidity, the party of gun control. That hurt it badly in 1994, again in 2000, in 2012, again badly in 2014. It doesn’t seem to learn.

Witness the current shabby attacks by the Democratic establishment, and Hillary Clinton in particular, on Bernie Sanders, a reasonable man, whose position on gun control is deemed “too moderate.”

The two major U.S. Supreme Court gun rights decisions of this current epoch are Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010). The first formally clarified the 2nd Amendment as a full individual right to keep and bear arms, and the second decision applies this to state and local jurisdictions.

Gun control advocates often call these “bad law” and do their best to circumvent them. But over the long pull, these two decisions are powerful mountains of protection for the at least 80 million gun owners and their 350 million firearms in this country.

This judicial protection is exceeded only by the enduring commitment of the vast majority of grassroots gun owners and their families, nearly all of whom are honest and law-abiding folks. (Gun owners in the United States exemplify a wide range of people with respect to age, race, ethnicity, education, social class.)

The current scenery, however, is filled with bureaucratic gun control — control — efforts, ostensibly geared to prevent crime and violence but gimmicky at best and dangerous to good people. While much of these control efforts have been defeated, some of this has “stuck” — ineffectively for the most part — at least for now.

A very telling and dangerous proposal is the effort to ban anyone on the No Fly List and the much larger Anti-Terrorism Watch List from purchasing firearms. Like some of its predecessors — the so-called Attorney General’s subversive list and the FBI security lists, both products of the Red Scare — people have been summarily categorized as dangerous without a shred of due process, often unaware of being labeled by the govenment. This all violates the Constitutional provisions against bills of attainder and ex-post-facto laws.

A Radical Approach

At this point, then, an often typical American liberal position is to seek to ban things that disturb them and about which they know little or nothing. The radical approach should be, and often is, to get into the basic roots to seek and make fundamental changes — e.g. socio-economic — even if it’s presently tough to make deeply systemic ones.

Gun rights people in this country will never accept direct firearms registration, or other such dangerous measures, or even any really significant gun control. (Cars are not an explicit Constitutional right, but gun ownership is.)

Firearms registration for example, was a long-time traditional goal of J. Edgar Hoover — the antithesis of civil rights and civil liberty. Some of that registration is circuitously accomplished in some firearms purchases via the 1968 Gun Control Act and subsequent legislation.

But when pervasive gun registration was legally required in Canada a generation ago, the central and western provinces — and virtually all Native people — bluntly refused to comply. That gun registration effort broke down completely and died.

In my opinion, gun owners and their firearms and what is sometimes called the “gun culture” should be left alone.

One can reasonably ask at this point, what about crime and violence?

Short answer: A society where there’s a full measure of material, libertarian and — for those who want such — spiritual well-being. That isn’t going to come under corporate capitalism — but it’ll come.

The Causes of Violence

My longer response is this:

I’ve been speaking and writing of these socio-economic causal matters and necessary reforms since my first piece challenging gun control advocates in 1974 — and discussing the primary causes of crime as racism and cultural ethnocentrism; economic deprivation; oft-broken school systems; urban congestion and, in that context, interpersonal and value alienation.

A constructive partial answer to the growing problem of youth gang violence in today’s inner cities would be reinstatement of the old Neighborhood Youth Corps — with a very strong public works employment dimension.

Expansion of mental health outreach and treatment is obviously critical — with educational campaigns directed at parents and educators and designed to pick up danger signs early on.

I see personal privacy as a most important right and, in anything involving someone’s mental health and related dimensions, there absolutely has to be bona fide protection of individual civil liberty.
And I add this:

What we never hear is sensible and in-depth conjecture about the domestic psychiatric effects of this country’s involvement in many years of wars — proliferating and endless wars — which have gone on ever expansively since 9/11.

The cost in lives has obviously been astronomical and the horrors of technology — such as 120 people, or more, killed by a single explosion — have been televised consistently to the four directions. If developing psychotics, sometimes inflamed by personal economic vicissitudes, see human life as “cheap,” it shouldn’t be surprising to see some mass tragedies sprouting and gushing blood around the United States.

The obvious answer to this: End the Endless Wars.

And not everything violence- and crime-wise can be prevented, of course. Massive as are some of these recent United States tragedies, the one in Norway a few years ago — in a relatively “ordered” society — saw about 70 people killed (by the neonazi Anders Brevik — ed.).

The Dine’ (Navajo) have a saying: “The world is a dangerous place.” Indeed it is. The long-ago kid at Flagstaff, always with guns over these many decades, now has a very large family of his own — virtually every one of them a gun person.

March-April 2016, ATC 181

1 comment

  1. I would add that in many social movements, even those that are nonviolent like the Southern civil rights movement or some labor reform movements, many activists have needed to have guns for personal defense against night riders or other reactionary killers. Hunter wrote about this, for example, in his excellent book about the movement in Jacksos, MS.

    Though much good would come from disarming the police, as many Black Lives Matter activists would agree.

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