I said yesterday that I would soon be writing again about the militarization of our culture. I didn't think it would be 24 hours later.
In Ferguson, Missouri, where a Grand Jury verdict on Michael Brown should be arriving soon, folks on all sides of the issue are tense. Chat-rooms have been loud and busy; protestors have been readying themselves; shop-front windows are sealed with plywood; and Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard.
Then this happened: a participant in an online police forum who claimed to be a "cop," said: "Our gutless commanders and politicians have neutered us." And this: "I’m serious," said Concerned Cop, "get a gun, get more than one, and keep one with you at all times."
When does a reasonable reminder that we all have the right to self-defense shade into race-baiting and fear-mongering? I'll let you judge for yourself, but know this: no one benefits from the tense situation in Ferguson except the gun dealers. Steven King, of Metro Shooting Supplies, commented on his robust sales of late:
We're selling everything that's not nailed down. Police aren't going to be able to protect every single individual. If you don't prepare yourself and get ready for the worst, you have no one to blame but yourself.
As a result, gun-sales to first-time gun-owners have spiked. I emphasize first-time. While I support the Second Amendment and the American right to basic self-defense, I also realize that this kind of racialized fear-mongering leads to a frantically armed and untrained citizenry.
And a frantic, untrained gun-carrying population does little for the common welfare of our citizenry. It is time, yet again, to denounce publicly these kinds of opportunistic sales strategies, playing on a community's fears and hatreds, and solidifying those fears and hatreds along the way.
As I have said, protecting ourselves against violent attack is our fundamental right, but treating the violence that afflicts any community demands action on multiple fronts. While training in nonviolent social action has come to Ferguson, and while many of the protestors are learning its fundamental techniques, why are we not making this a national concern?
If, as the NRA claims, the US government is on the verge of robbing us of our Constitutional rights, then why do they not sponsor courses in Constitutional history, American government, and legislative process, so that we can begin to cultivate a generation of real revolutionaries who, like our country's original architects, devote their energies to creating governmental mechanisms that allow for deep change through our legislative bodies?
Right. I know. It's the gun manufacturers, stupid. And the NRA. And the gun lobbies.
May I state the obvious, as we await the verdict in Ferguson?
Selling guns is an easy, unreliable, and short-term fix for a social disorder like violence, and one in which the cure is often the cause of further illness—witness the recent Stanford report detailed in Salon, that demonstrates that "right-to-carry laws are associated with higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder."
This hysterical arm-yourself-or-die rhetoric that we are hearing now in Ferguson leads us closer to the kind of military state that its advocates claim to oppose.
That is the central paradox of a militarized state, and it is a crippling one. We must do all that we can, whever we can, to expose it.
Live by the gun or die by the gun—accept this polarized assessment of life in America, and sooner or later, we will see that both sides of the equation are really two sides of the same coin. And they are both joined in the creation and glorification of violence.