Sunday, 3 January 2016

American gun law and the real Wild West

Imagine walking down your street or into your local bar and seeing shoppers, neighbours and random others carrying real live guns in side holsters. The stuff of fanciful Hollywood Westerns? Not if you live in Texas, where, for the first time since 1871, the open wearing of holstered pistols will now be permitted.

The ruling comes as Obama ponders unilateral measures to bring about "common sense gun laws". Reportedly frustrated by his inability to deal with routine mass shootings, Obama:
said he would seek to use his executive powers as president because the US Congress had failed to address the problem. Analysts say there will be a backlash from gun activists and Republicans. But Mr Obama told Americans that he had received too many letters from parents, and teachers, and children, to sit around and do nothing. "We know that we can't stop every act of violence," the president said. "But what if we tried to stop even one? What if Congress did something - anything - to protect our kids from gun violence?"
Images come to mind here of Obama as the impossibly-tasked black Sheriff Bart trying to bring law and order in the comedy Western Blazing Saddles. Incredibly, though, this is America 2016, and its latest 'serious' efforts at gun law, not 1874 and the rollicking fiction of Rock Ridge.

This is a country where the National Rifle Association  - "Freedom's safest place" - and Republican-backed gun lobby still effectively define the law at political gunpoint.

As the NRA load up for another 'right to bear arms' brawl with Obama, it all evokes romanticised notions of saloon bar duels, blazing guns and lawless frontier life.

Yet, as historical research shows, this is "a widely shared misunderstanding of the Wild West":
Frontier towns - places like Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge - actually had the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation. In fact, many of those same cities have far less burdensome gun control today then they did back in the 1800s. [...] A visitor arriving in Wichita, Kansas in 1873, the heart of the Wild West era, would have seen signs declaring, "Leave Your Revolvers At Police Headquarters, and Get a Check." [...] When Dodge City residents organized their municipal government, do you know what the very first law they passed was? A gun control law. They declared that "any person or persons found carrying concealed weapons in the city of Dodge or violating the laws of the State shall be dealt with according to law." Many frontier towns, including Tombstone, Arizona - the site of the infamous "Shootout at the OK Corral" - also barred the carrying of guns openly.

Today in Tombstone, you don't even need a permit to carry around a firearm. Gun rights advocates are pushing lawmakers in state after state to do away with nearly all limits on the ability of people to have guns in public.
In response, much of the liberal media are hyping Obama's 'executive intervention' as a 'High Noon' moment. Yet his 'last stance at the Congressional corral' looks more like a fairground shot at improving background checks on gun ownership:
A source familiar with the administration’s efforts said Obama is expected to take executive action next week that would set a “reasonable threshold” for when sellers have to seek a background check [...] Going into his final year in office, Obama said his New Year’s resolution is to move forward on unfinished business.
While a service media report all this as Obama's 'great showdown', and attempt at a 'last hero legacy', there's no discussion of what might constitute any “reasonable threshold” regarding America's own suitability to wield arms, both at home and around the world. There's few serious "background checks" here on what Obama and prior administrations have done in the name of protecting their own or any other townspeople.

As ever, like those matinee Westerns, the propaganda posters keep us straight on the good guys and the bad guys, who gets to do the shooting, who gets to be taken, dead or alive.

While US authorities and media were in a rush to display the recent killings in San Bernardino as another jihadist terror attack, the actions of right wing "sovereign citizens", like the organised militia attack in Oregon, are treated as some wayward resistance to federal government. Rather than terrorist subversion, this was reported as 'gun-bearing invocation of the constitution'. As Bonnie Greer tweeted:
Can we please get 1 Muslim to join the right-wing terrorist militia in Oregon so our media can cover it?
But the problems of citizen guns and enforcement links much deeper into America's culture of violence. The causal connection between guns on US streets and higher US homicide rates, as set against other countries, has been ably mapped. Yet this is rarely viewed in relation to the extensive list of global US militarism, invasion and violence.

While Obama gets to be cast as the exasperated marshal trying to clean up the town, domestic gun culture is a reflection of America's wider self-proclaimed right to wield arms. Founded on Wild West violence against its indigenous people, the US acts as Top Gun and leading sharpshooter in spreading the West's own wild violence around the globe. And, as we see in Syria, Britain and France stand dutifully alongside as deputy marshals, a righteous Western posse enforcing their own violent law and disorder on Muslim lands

Where do we find 'mainstream' reporting or political discussion of US domestic gun violence framed as an issue of American exceptionalism, the state's 'exclusive right' to violence at home and abroad?

Obama has spoken in the past of the need for restrained violence in foreign policy:
"our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead [...] our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
Yet, America's dark record of mass murder has continued with Obama's own unrestrained killing of foreign others. While he promises to curb gun violence on the streets of US cities, he presides over a drone policy which has seen around 2500 people (January 2015) cut down in streets and villages across the Middle East:
And the covert Obama strikes, the first of which hit Pakistan just three days after his inauguration, have killed almost six times more people and twice as many civilians than those ordered in the Bush years, the data shows.
Though there's nominal reporting of this 'controversial policy', the deep extent of Obama's assassination program has been poorly disseminated to the public. Now, a new whistleblowing source has provided vital insights to The Intercept as part of its Drone Papers series:
The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said.
While Obama weeps for the families of domestic gun victims, the families of those slaughtered by US ordnance in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and other places of American "restraint" have received no such empathy. To the American public, it's all presented as 'proactive security' in preventing 'terrorist Deadwood'. For foreign others, it's Tombstone exported.

As holstered and bolstered Texans walk the' tumbleweed' streets of 1871 again, imagine if the media were to talk about Obama's 'executive interventions' and his call for "common sense gun laws" in these more searching and damning terms.


CWobbles said...

Thanks John, thought provoking as usual.

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