The shooting at the cartoon exhibition in Texas is a new lowpoint in the U.S. culture war over Islam.
The Day of Resistance was an hour-long pro-gun rally at locations across the country last Saturday, Feb. 16. It was held to oppose the twenty-three executive orders recently signed by President Obama as well as gun control in general.
I traveled to Milwaukee to witness the local rally there on the steps of the county courthouse. Here are eleven takeaways -- some surprising, some not -- from my trip down the rabbit hole:
1. Gun rights activists are next-level patriots. Can you remember the last time you've ever had to sing more than the one verse of the Star Spangled Banner? After last Saturday, I most certainly can.
2. Modern-day militias are a thing. A few protesters were there to represent the 3 Percenters -- an organization of survivalists primed to fight the imminent revolution. The symbolism is that only 3 percent of Americans joined the militia during the Revolutionary War. Now, this merry band of survivalists in bucket hats and cammo gear are ready to fill that role in the 21st century revolution. If 3 percent of the country's population today -- 9 million people -- were actual members of a militia, this would be a concern.
3. Gun seizure paranoia still looms large. Some things never change; even in the face of the Supreme Court rejecting gun bans in Chicago and Washington, almost everyone I talked to felt that a ban, and/or seizures were a legitimate fear. Everyone across the board also expressed support for the Oathkeepers, a group of law enforcement officials and members of the military who have vowed to disobey any order that would violate the constitution -- i.e., a gun-seizure order.
Photo by Erik Lorenzsonn.
4. Slopes were slippery. "Are we going to ban hammers?" one protester incredulously asked me -- his point being, of course, that hammers are weapons too. Were hammers able to perform the equivalent of spewing lots of tiny pieces of lead at high velocity in order to kill efficiently and effectively, I would be inclined to see his point.
5. Common ground was surprisingly easy to find. Once you brush past the patina of conspiracy and paranoia, many protesters expressed sentiments that jibe quite well with progressivism: wariness of the National Defense Authorization Act, even greater wariness of the Patriot Act, disgust with the Fast and the Furious gun-channeling operation, ire towards Wall Street, disillusionment with the corporatism of journalism, shock at Obama's drone policies, and disgust with Bush II.
6. Newtown was treated with tough-to-stomach scorn. The massacre was discussed in such a way, that I imagine these people saw the news last December, immediately bristled and said, "Oh great! Now those bastards have the opportunity they've been waiting or to take our guns." I hope that I'm wrong; I like to think that people aren't so soulless.
7. There might have been extreme libertarians there, maybe. "What's the interest rate on your money sittin' in the bank right now?" yelled one man into a megaphone. "Take it out of there! Quit being fools!" His next nugget of wisdom: Go make as much undocumented money as you can. "Convert it all into silver and gold!" someone chimed in.
8. The majority of the protesters are likely responsible gun owners. According to gun researcher Adam Winkler in an Atlantic article, people registered for concealed carry permits, as many of the protesters were, are less likely to commit crimes than police officers, and may even reduce violence through deterrence. (One man told me he had become an activist after he prevented a crime by brandishing a gun.) Of course, that does not take into account accidents, suicides, and the less-responsible people who might access the gun -- variables that make anyone living in a home with a gun three times more likely to be a victim of gun violence.
9. "Rights" rhetoric trumped everything else. By and large, the argument carrying the day was the sanctity of the right to bear arms -- not the merits of specific policy, or data on gun violence. One man told me that anyone discussing such things is "just dancing around the real issue" -- the absolutism of the Second Amendment. "All of the constitutional rights are under attack -- all of them," he said. I had no idea that Obama had begun forcing citizens to house soldiers in their quarters as of late.
10. Some people did use statistics to justify guns. First, a speaker noted that crime rates, and specifically homicide rates, have gone down since the 1980s. This is totally correct -- although it's still important to note that despite the progress, the country still has a rate of gun violence 15 times higher than any other developed country.
11. Everyone was actually quite congenial. I was steeling myself for an afternoon of snubs -- introducing myself to these protestors with "I'm with The Progressive" (read: I'm actually the liberal media, people!) seemed like a non-starter. But lo, almost everyone was a friendly, model interviewee. They did often urge me to "get it right." Given that most of them expressed an exclusive fondness for Alex Jones' Infowars I think they're going to be disappointed by my style of reportage. Oh, well.
Erik Lorenzsonn is an editorial intern at The Progressive.