'Open carry,' NRA-induced paralysis, the growing paranoia around U.S. gun laws

The "open carry" of automatic weapons, the constant shooting sprees, even the NRA was weirded out, briefly anyway, Neil Macdonald writes, by America's increasingly overt gun culture.

Even the NRA was weirded out, briefly, by America's increasingly overt gun culture

A Houston teen and her father test a shotgun in the exhibit hall during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston in May 2013. The NRA was emphasizing that increasingly it's not just men who own firearms and oppose gun-control efforts. (Reuters)

In Las Vegas the other day, the National Rifle Association's most humid fantasy came true, sort of.

A bad guy with a gun was terrifying shoppers at a Wal-Mart when a good guy with a gun stepped in — which, according to the NRA, is the only way you can really stop a bad guy with a gun.

Then the bad guy's equally bad wife shot the good guy dead.

The bad guys, Jerad Miller and his wife, Amanda, had just hunted down and murdered two police officers, then covered their bodies with the "Don't Tread on Me" flag that's so popular with the us-against-the-government crowd.

Soon after, the only thing that's really guaranteed to stop bad guys with guns — a squad of highly-trained police — showed up and surrounded the Millers, who then shot themselves rather than go up against agents of the government they hated so much.

The fellow who tried to stop them in the Wal-Mart, Joseph Wilcox, is now being venerated as a "good Samaritan" and a "hero" by pro-gun groups, who are equally anxious to write off the Millers as garden-variety criminal freaks.

What Wilcox really is, though, is dead.

Had he left his concealed weapon in its holster, or, even better, not been carrying a concealed weapon at all, he'd probably be alive.

As for Jerad Miller, he was a violent felon who nonetheless had a big gun collection, and had bought deeply into the relentless pro-gun message that the government is a malevolent entity whose priority is to disarm innocent Americans, the better to begin truly oppressing them.

You don't have to wade too far into the loopy world of online gun websites to see the extension of that logic: that the constitutional right to bear arms here exists precisely in order that citizens may defend themselves against their own government.

Go a little further, and you'll find an article by lawyer Jim Karger, who advises readers of a site called The Daily Reckoning that it's already too late, that the government is planning to unleash militarized police and the military itself in a reign of gun-confiscating terror.

Alex Phillips of Paradise, Texas, poses for a portrait holding his rifle, as he and members of the Open Carry Tarrant county group gathered for a demonstration, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. (Associated Press)

"You are not going to take on a platoon of Marines with state-of-the-art automatic weapons and the best body armour you cannot buy protected by armed personnel carriers and attack helicopters unless you choose to die that day," advises Karger.

An editor's note adds that whether you agree with Karger or not, "the reality of what will happen when the feds come for your guns is going to be difficult to stomach. We suggest you prepare."

Downright weird

So shrill is the paranoia that it frightens even the NRA, which helped create it (by, among other things, advising its members how to "protect yourself if the government comes for your guns.") 

Last week, the nation's largest gun lobby issued a statement chastising members of the so-called open carry movement, who pull stunts like showing up at fast-food restaurants or coffee shops in groups, everyone carrying an assault rifle. You know, exercising your rights.

"It is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms," warned the NRA.

"Let's not mince words, not only is it rare, it's downright weird … To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one's cause, it can be downright scary."

Sensible enough, you might think, but such was the anger and backlash to this posting that the NRA quickly took the statement off its website and began grovelling.

It was just the personal opinion of an NRA staffer, said a spokesman: "Our job is not to criticize the lawful behaviour of fellow gun owners."

'Everyday USA'

So, back to scaring people at Starbucks, everybody. Great job.

As I've noted before, U.S. gun manufacturers have enjoyed a sales boom since the election six years ago of Barack Obama, supposedly the chief plotter of nationwide gun seizures. (Though the reality is that gun rights have expanded on his watch.)

At the same time, shooting sprees here have become so commonplace that they tend to occupy more or less the same space inside newspapers as a bombing in Iraq.

Newtown residents were doubly angered last year when they began receiving robocalls from the NRA trying to enlist them in efforts to defeat new statewide gun control proposals, three months after a gunman killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary School. (Reuters)

There was a shooting at a school in Oregon this week; people barely noticed.

And no wonder. Since the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook School in December 2012, there have been 74 school shootings, according to Everytown, a widely-quoted group that collects such figures.

After a man killed his wife and three children in Florida last week, then committed suicide, a sheriff declared: "This is everyday USA behind me."

And with each outrage, the pro-gun warnings to government just get more aggressive.

In late May, after a shooting rampage left four dead in Isla Vista, Ca., Joe Wurzelbacher, the famous far-right boob known here as "Joe the Plumber," wrote an open letter to families of the victims, who'd tearfully demanded gun control, as bereaved parents so often do.

"Your dead kids don't trump my constitutional rights," proclaimed Wurzelbacher, actually putting that obscenity into words. "Any feelings you have about my rights being taken away from me — lose those."

The likes of Wurzelbacher almost certainly view the 10,000 or so gun homicides every year in this country — as opposed to the dozens in, say, Great Britain — as "the price of freedom." 

Angela, the widow of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, accepts her husband's hat and flag as step daughter Emma looks on during a regimental funeral for three officers who were killed last week in Moncton, New Brunswick, June 10, 2014. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Well, I've lived in the U.S. for more than 11 years now. I've come to admire greatly this country and its freedoms.

But, like a lot of Americans, I suspect, I'd be just fine with widespread gun confiscation, if I didn't think it would cause a violent insurrection.

The fact is, there are more than 300 million guns in the hands of private citizens here, and a lot of those people regard police and governments as potential enemies.

This country is becoming more violent and, to use the NRA's words, downright weird, and downright scary, by the month.


Neil Macdonald is a former foreign correspondent and columnist for CBC News who has also worked in newspapers. He speaks English and French fluently, as well as some Arabic.


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