Sunday, January 31, 2016

Those Who Live by the Gun...


LaVoy Finicum addresses the press at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. 
Note the pistol on prominent display.

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." --Matthew 26:52

It's not over. Not nearly. There are still four insurgents occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, begging on YouTube for backup, demanding full pardons before they will lay down their weapons and surrender to the authorities. Meanwhile, a right-wing organization called the Pacific Patriots Network has issued a "call to action" for militants to "peacefully" travel to Burns to protest the shooting of LaVoy Finicum following his attempt to evade a traffic stop.

So even with the occupation's ringleaders in custody, this is not over. There's no way of knowing whether the militant right wing community retains any enthusiasm for Ammon Bundy's nutty cause, and if anyone at all will respond to the PPN's appeal. More significantly, considering the almost instantaneous flood of furious reactions to Finicum's death, Bundy's Quixotic protest could give new life to these libertarian insurrectionists. In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing, the worst act of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States was perpetrated by individuals with similar beliefs, moved to action by the deaths two years earlier of Branch Davidian members under siege by the FBI.

It's not over, and it's not ever going to be over, as long as America lives under the gun.

This is a nation birthed in black powder. The army of the American Revolution brought their own weapons with them. Recognizing the prominent role of the citizen militia in the nation's origins, the founders enshrined the militia in the Second Amendment. The American frontier grew at gunpoint, as less lethally-armed tribal people were ethnically cleansed to make way for white pioneers. American armament guaranteed that the Civil War would be a bloody conflict. That same armament won two world wars, and while it couldn't guarantee victory in guerilla wars in southeast Asia or the Middle East, it kept the body count ridiculously lopsided in favor of American troops. This country has more firepower than the rest of the world combined, and we use it freely to advance our interests beyond our borders.

We also use it on each other. Our police are better armed than the military of many other nations--but then, so are our criminals. Some American homes are so littered with guns that hundreds of children a year are either the perpetrators or the victims of unintentional play shootings. These same guns are favored tools for suicide, taking 20,000 lives a year for more irreversibly than other methods.

Ammon Bundy and his followers claimed to be peaceful protesters when they occupied the Malheur NWR, but they brought their guns with them, and displayed them prominently. LaVoy Finicum proudly wore a pistol on his hip, and was photographed during the protest sitting guard duty with a rifle in his lap. The official account of his death is that he was shot not for driving through a roadblock or endangering officers with his vehicle, but because he was reaching for that same gun he'd been photographed with so many times, after nearly a month of warning the authorities that he and his compatriots would escalate their protest to violence if those authorities attempted to arrest them.

This is the thing about weapons: they're meant to be used, and if they're used properly, they are lethal. The authorities practiced admirable restraint for weeks, but there was no way these militants could be contained without, at some point, a weapon being drawn, shots fired, and blood in the snow.

There's nothing new about the inevitability of bloodshed in any conflict involving weapons. The gospel of Matthew notes it in the story of Jesus' arrest on the Mount of Olives, a text more than two thousand years old. For most of my life (until today, actually), I had it in my mind that the quote was "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword," but I was wrong. "Those who live by the sword" could refer simply to soldiers and other individuals who work with armaments on a regular basis. "Those who take up the sword," on the other hand, could include the guy next door who just keeps a handgun in his nightstand in the unlikely event of a home invasion. Just having that weapon in his house greatly increases its owners likelihood of dying by murder, suicide, or a gun-related accident.

And if you wear that weapon prominently, declare publicly your intent to use it if confronted by law enforcement officers, then reach for your weapon as you attempt to escape the vehicle you just crashed after running a blockade, it would be amazing if you didn't die in a hail of gunfire.

The Pacific Patriots Network's appeal to its members to descend upon Burns states repeatedly that this is to be a "PEACEFUL" protest, and to please respect the town's restriction on publicly carrying long guns. It says nothing about handguns, though.

There's a lot to worry about in these events: the growing militance of the gun-toting right wing; their blatant disregard for the laws of this nation; their contempt for the public who either created those laws or elected the officials who did; their confidence that the authorities who enforce them can be bullied into submission; the emergence of an entire class of politicians whose presidential campaigns pander to this same constituency, and who have not said a word about the occupation of a federal facility by members of that constituency; and finally, there's this:


LaVoy Finicum wrote a novel about his belief in the tyranny of a democratically elected government that has tied itself in knots avoiding even the most sensible of gun regulations. On its cover there's a picture of him wearing the same gun he was carrying when he died on Tuesday. The title of that novel implies where he and his movement are headed. I fear that the occupation of the Malheur NWR is just the beginning. I fear there will be more armed occupations, more gunfire, more deaths. And if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President, and loses the general election, the reaction will be swifter, crazier, and far bloodier than the Tea Party movement that has turned Capitol Hill into a place legislation goes to die.

In a country with 310 million privately owned guns, this could get really ugly overnight. This nation that has been living by the gun since its founding may very well perish by the gun.

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