Monthly Archives: October 2014

Dead Man Running

Reading the official St. Louis County Michael Brown autopsy, it’s hard not to feel the limits of what laypeople can glean from a forensic pathologist’s report – and to feel a corresponding temptation to rely instead on vague memories of CSI episodes and to tweet about gun shot residue and powder burns as though we knew, for sure, what we were talking about. It’s also hard not to feel that many of the talking heads on TV springing into action either to give credence to or discredit the report are speaking first and foremost to audiences who have already made up their minds about what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. I imagine, too, that for some, it’s likewise hard to avoid the temptation to let the whole mess of competing voices drown one another out, shrug, and write off the entire affair as somehow inscrutable, turning whatever actually happened on that Ferguson street this past August into a 21st Century St. Louis Rashomon. This last reaction would, I think, be a tragedy – and I hope that pressure from both media and protestors will lead to substantive, public inquiry and to an open, transparent treatment of Brown’s death in a court of law (beyond the ongoing Grand Jury proceedings).

But still, we have this new autopsy, newly and dubiously leaked, as have been so many other elements of this case. I’m not a forensic pathologist, and so will leave its more technical nuances for others to pick apart, although I will eventually give it a more thorough reading alongside the findings of the family-requested autopsy and with my copy of Brian Heard’s Handbook of Firearms and Ballistics in hand (and will do the same if and when the Department of Justice’s autopsy is released).

For now, though, since I am trained to read texts closely, to pay attention to how we use words to describe events, and to reflect on how descriptions of one event resemble those of others, I do have some thoughts on this document. Specifically, I hear echoes of two other texts in it: first, Radley Balko’s excellent Op-Ed, “The Curious Grammar of Police Shootings” and second, Rei Terada’s brilliant reflection on the “superhuman strength” (so-called “Excited Delirium syndrome”) that police and media reports regularly attribute to unarmed people whom cops shoot dead.

Balko’s piece makes clear how official documents regularly obscure the agency of individual police officers in favor of bloodless, passive constructions. One episode Balko relates is officially described as follows: “Sheriff Wooten said a deputy, who was not named, was approaching the property when a dog ran up to him. The deputy’s gun fired one shot, missing the dog and hitting the child. It was not clear if the gun was accidentally fired by the deputy.” The contorted passive construction here not only renders the killing of a living, breathing child into a hard-to-parse syntactical trainwreck, but also works to absolve the individual (unnamed) officer of even grammatical agency, not to mention moral culpability. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, we’re so often told – except, it seems, when it’s a police officer’s gun that does the killing. Then it’s just the gun.

It’s impossible not to think about such Orwellian ethico-linguistic obfuscations when, reading the Mike Brown autopsy report, you come across sentences like this: “During the struggle the Officer’s weapon was un-holstered. The weapon discharged during the struggle. The deceased then ran down the roadway.” The weapon discharged. The deputy’s gun fired one shot. Mistakes were made. A child is being beaten. The torturer’s horse scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

“The deceased then ran down the roadway.” What a strange sentence this is. A dead teenager runs. Although already shot at least once, he is still alive, and running. But he is also already deceased. Dead man walking; deceased teenager running. Michael Brown was dead even as he was stepping back from the car, already dead even as he was running. Of course, while witnesses claim that Brown ran away from the car, and then turned to surrender (an account which the previous autopsy arguably supports), the official narrative accompanying the new autopsy claims that “Officer Wilson then began to chase the deceased…. [and then] the deceased turned around and ran towards Officer Wilson.” This reading of events, of course, jibes with the argument of Right-Wing pundits who have argued that Brown was not actually unarmed, because in fact his very body was somehow a lethal weapon. It’s here that I think of Rei Terada’s essay, on so-called “Excited Delirium Syndrome” – the “superhuman strength” exhibited by unarmed people who can (supposedly) only be stopped by deadly force. These people, we are told, are mentally ill, perhaps high on drugs of some kind – PCP, “bath salts,” LSD, what have you. They are irrational, “impervious to pain.” As Terada writes:

“The phrase ‘superhuman strength’ reflects police discomfort with mental illness–or even just ‘irrationality’–on the one hand, and with the unaccountable phenomenon of resisting arrest on the other…Superhumanity is invoked to explain their choice not to give themselves up, making it sound less like an ability and more like an involuntary condition. (Police officers themselves never show superhuman strength, even when they’re agitated by adrenaline in struggle; they show fortitude and tenacity—at least when they don’t cut matters short by shooting.) From the perspective of the police, resisting arrest is necessarily irrational: they perceive irrational people as resisters, even if that isn’t their intention, and resisters as definitionally crazed… You don’t have to be Foucault to see that superhumanity functions as subhumanity; it allows the nonhuman to be eliminated while releasing the perceiver from having to answer for seeing someone as nonhuman.”

One could note here how much coverage of this latest autopsy emphasizes that Michael Brown had marijuana “in his system” when died. One could also note that Officer Wilson was not drug tested after killing him. One could further remark on the similarity between these circumstances and those surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin – whose body was tested for drugs post-mortem even as George Zimmerman (who appears to have been regularly taking a cocktail of amphetamines and benzodiazepines) was not. But instead, let’s focus on what I take to be the upshot of Terada’s piece. In many cases, the institutional logic runs as follows: if you were shot, you must have been resisting – and if you were resisting, you deserved to get shot. It’s a perfect, hermetically closed circle.

But what is “resistance”? What does it mean to “resist”? In many technical vocabularies (in physics, electrical engineering, etcetera), resistance means blocking the flow of power, impeding its free operation, obstructing it. Recall why Michael Brown was accosted by Darren Wilson in the first place – for (supposedly) walking in the street, obstructing traffic. In other words, by simply walking where Wilson didn’t want him to, he was resisting. Now, I’ve never been called over to a cop car for being in the street, and I’ve jay-walked right in front of dozens of them. But Michael Brown’s mere presence in the street – that was resistance. Not coming over promptly when Darren Wilson told him to? Resistance.

What does it mean when simply walking about, minding your own business, and not coming-hither immediately when ordered to do so, equals “resistance”? It means that just being in public space can be construed as an obstruction, a resistance. Resistance to what? To power. To white supremacy. In other words, for some people, simply existing equals “resisting.” And it’s very clear what happens when those folks “resist.” They wind up arrested, beaten, or worse. For them, the demand, “Stop resisting!” is more or less the same as the injunction, “Stop existing!” and that injunction produces, very frequently, the outcome of their no longer existing at all.

There are some things the autopsy can tell us, some things it can’t, and some things we will hopefully learn more about down the line and in a more public way. But for now, I can’t help but dwell on this scene: “Stop resisting!” yells the police officer, a man with a badge and a gun, at a teenager. And Michael Brown runs, very much alive, and yet already deceased – it’s just that the adjective hadn’t caught up with him yet, erasing his name, much like the remainder of Darren Wilson’s bullets hadn’t yet caught up with him, obliterating his body.

Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis, and Anita Sarkeesian

On Friday, Florida judge Russell Healey sentenced Michael Dunn, the murderer of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Healey also gave Dunn an additional ninety years for three thirty-year counts of attempted murder (against the other occupants of the vehicle into which Dunn emptied his handgun), and a further fifteen years for “for shooting or throwing deadly missiles.” This sentence is richly deserved, and I hope it brings Jordan’s family, including his mother, the remarkably brave and dedicated Lucia McBath, some measure of peace.

In the wake of this verdict, I want to say two brief things.

First, despite the pervasive coverage of the Davis killing as the “loud music murder,” it is imperative that we not let this use of language cloud our actual understanding of Davis’s tragic death. Jordan Davis did not die because his music was too loud. He died because Michael Dunn, a 46 year-old man who appears to have been drinking heavily, decided to empty his handgun into a car with Davis and three of his friends inside. Michael Dunn – an adult man – chose to murder a child because he was on a power trip, decided Davis’s life was worthless, and snuffed it out. Davis was no more killed by his music than Trayvon Martin was killed by his hoodie, and using language that suggests otherwise, as so often when it comes to how we describe violence, diminishes the responsibility of those to blame and perpetrates a very real kind of violence in and of itself. We can hear a similar shirking of responsibility in Dunn’s own words at his sentencing hearing, when he stated, “I am mortified I took a life, whether it was justified or not.” Setting aside the fact that his gesture toward justification, much like his initial attempt at a modified Stand Your Ground defense, is offensive on the face of it, it’s interesting that he chose the word “mortified.” Nowadays, people use the word “mortified” more or less to mean that they’re deeply embarrassed and ashamed (“My fly was open during my speech? OMG, I’m mortified!”). But the word originally derives from a Latin verb that means “to put to death.” And let’s be clear – only one person was put to death here, and that was Jordan Davis. In fact, Davis’s parents specifically asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty for Dunn.

Second, let’s recall that when Dunn killed Davis, he used a gun which he was legally licensed to carry concealed. Earlier this week, after receiving assassination threats, feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a planned lecture at Utah State University in light of Utah’s ultra-permissive Concealed Carry laws. In response to her decision, there was a backlash against her in some sectors of the gun rights community. Much of this response hit predictably sexist notes, and one major outlet even featured a piece based entirely around unsourced slander. The recurrent theme in this criticism, as in some of the feedback I’ve gotten about this blog, is that it is “irrational” for people like Sarkeesian to fear people carrying concealed weapons. Although my attitude towards concealed carry is not entirely negative, I want to stress how frequently  these accusations of Sarkeesian’s being “irrational” recycle predictable, sexist tropes of women as overly emotional and incapable of logic (as though being afraid of people bringing guns to an event at which you had been told you would be shot was somehow unreasonable!). Moreover, they are also frequently voiced by the same folks who oppose gun restraining orders for those accused of domestic violence, and who otherwise are inclined to pre-emptively dismiss the experiences of women who come forward about domestic abuse as “false accusations.” And even if we were to temporarily bracket the grim data about women and gun violence in this country, I think it’s about time that we banish the canard that Concealed Carry permit holders are somehow inherently reasonable and responsible. Being a bigoted, frequently-intoxicated rageaholic or psychopath who feels entitled to murder children whom you decide are “thuggish” or to assassinate women whom you feel “have it coming to them” isn’t something that we can detect when issuing a Concealed Carry permit – and being afraid of such people is eminently rational. So let’s dismiss the knee-jerk #notall-ism, and recognize that default presumption of maturity and responsibility to all permit holders for the wishful thinking that it is. There are intelligent conversations to be had about Concealed Carry, but dismissing as “irrational” or otherwise mocking the fear of people who regularly face threats to their well-being – or who have to wonder daily whether their kids will come home alive or instead wind up dead at the hands of some trigger-happy vigilante – is not a way to start them. If you think otherwise, well, maybe you should try walking a day in Anita Sarkeesian’s shoes – or asking Jordan Davis.

 

 

 

Campus Speech in the Crosshairs

Last night, Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a speaking event, scheduled for today, at Utah State University.

Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who addresses the representation of women in video games (and does so, I think, quite brilliantly) has been a consistent target of violent threats for some time. Such threats against Sarkeesian and other women in the video games industry have only escalated with the development of the so-called #Gamergate “movement” (for a primer on Gamergate, check out this article). There’s a lot to be said about Gamergate, about the culture-war identity politics at play in it, and about how its most strident, misogynistic voices exemplify the paradoxes of fictimhood at its most distilled – they are at once shrilly pseudo-aggrieved while simultaneously they threaten people who are genuinely marginalized – but that’s not the purpose of this post. Instead, I want to focus on the background and circumstances of Sarkeesian’s cancelling her talk.

As Utah State University News indicates, Sarkeesian received threats prior to the talk, which the FBI determined were “similar to other threats that [she had] received in the past.” Among these was the specific threat of “the deadliest school shooting in American history” targeting her and other “feminists.” However, Sarkeesian – who has bravely and regularly faced down threats of violence in the past – cancelled her appearance not simply due to this threat itself, but because Utah State officials informed her that licensed Concealed Carry permit holders would be allowed to carry loaded weapons into the speaking venue. This is not a matter of University policy: in fact, Utah State law specifically prohibits public colleges and universities from banning concealed carry on their campuses. Although the State Board of Regents retains some limited authority when it comes to regulating the presence of guns for campus, this only extends to allowing students to request to share dorm rooms with roommates who aren’t licensed to be armed, and to maintaining no more than one “secure area” where guns are not allowed in which to conduct private “hearings” (IE, for grievance procedures, disciplinary hearings, firings, etcetera); that “secure area” ceases to be a gun-free space, by the way, the moment the hearing event is over. When it comes to a public event like Sarkeesian’s, then, Utah State’s hands are tied. And although Utah is the first state in the country to have laws like this on the books, other States are poised to enact similar ones soon, and Georgia (where my own university is located) appears to have already “accidentally” enacted similar legislation this summer.

Now, in case you’re curious, the requirements for getting a CC license in Utah are listed here. As these things go, the requirements are fairly high (in that you have to take a course with a certified instructor), but Utah also maintains reciprocity honoring licenses issued by numerous others states, including, for example, Georgia, where all you have to do is fill out some paperwork, undergo a background check, and wait about a month or so for your permit. In other words, beyond having that, a gun, and a willingness to show up at a Utah college and murder someone in public, there’s really nothing stopping you: unless you’ve already made your identity and intentions clear (and most of Sarkeesian’s threats are anonymous), campus security will wave you on in.

Of course, gun rights advocates will doubtless say that the presence of guns on campus should make things safer, rather than less (in fact, there’s a national Students for Concealed Carry group that makes this case explicitly). Whatever the statistical odds of dying in a “random” mass shooting, the primary threat against which Campus Carry groups advocate arming oneself, the situation with Sarkeesian is entirely different: she is being specifically and personally targeted with the threat of assassination. Against that backdrop, her desire not to have an audience containing armed people is eminently reasonable – and far more reasonable than, say, suggesting that a “good guy” with a gun could somehow manage to get the draw on a “bad one” before the bad guy manages to get a shot off at her. At which point, what is Sarkeesian supposed to do? Bring a gun of her own, and keep it in one hand to sweep the audience with while she holds a laser pointer for her PowerPoint in the other? Roll in with her own coterie of pistol-packing supporters, forming a human shield around her, maybe?

All of this is at once ridiculous, tragic, and terrifying. As I have argued elsewhere, the presence of guns at contentious public events inevitably changes the dynamic – there’s a chilling effect on expression, an ever-present implicit threat. Knowing that random members of the public are in your audience carrying heat is something that certainly should and will impact what you say, particularly when you’ve already been told that someone will show up to your event and shoot you. While I readily admit that I also find the prospect of ludicrously over-militarized campus security personnel toting M-16s and grenade launchers likewise toxic when it comes to impacting speech on campus, and in quashing student dissent in particular, I believe that colleges and universities are supposed to be places where ideas can be exchanged freely and without fear of violent repercussion. They should not be places where speech hangs in the balance of who’s better armed or who has the quicker draw – and certainly not places where a speaker should be silenced from the get-go by the prospect of having to speak in the crosshairs.

Playing the Fictim: Identity Politics and Being a “Gun Owner”

Unlike some other posts, this one is going to be a little more free-form and abstract. It’s something I’ll expand further as part of a longer project, but, for now, I just wanted to put this out here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how in American political media we frequently hear denunciations of “identity politics.” According to one of the dominant narratives, people “play” identity politics when they either implicitly or explicitly invoke their demographic affiliations as a kind of token in a political game. For example, politicians play identity politics when they appeal to where their constituents were born and live (“Unlike my opponent, I grew up in this district! – I’m no a Washington outsider!”) or gesture to their gender and class status (“As a working middle class mother, I know what it means to raise a family, and care about what happens in our schools!”). Playing identity politics in this sense means making a claim to a specific identity in order to signal that you share a particular perspective and set of concerns with your target demographic. That identity claim serves as a touchstone for building coalitions, cementing solidarity, and turning out votes from people who identify with you.

But identity politics don’t just involve a politician making claims about their own authenticity – they just as frequently involve branding their opponents as inauthentic, or branding them as stigmatized. Unsurprisingly, then, in the contemporary landscape, the idea of identity politics as a “game” that is “played” is thus most often encountered when it comes to race. On the Right in particular, where condemnations of identity politics, like denunciations of “Political Correctness,” are most frequently encountered, this phenomenon paradigmatically takes the form of accusations of “playing the race card.” The game here, though, always seems more than a little bit rigged – Barack Obama and Eric Holder are perennially accused of “playing the race card” when they talk about events involving race, as they were in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, or in response to events in Ferguson. But while when black Democrats simply talk about race or class, they’re “dividing the nation,” when Karl Rove blasts Obama for being “a Chai-swilling, golf-playing, basketball-trash-talking, leading-from-behind, I-got-no-strategy President” or when Newt Gingrich calls him the “Food Stamp President,” they’re not “playing the race card” at all, they’re simply calling things as they see them – which of course involves no race-based blind-spots or craven identity-politics dog-whistles whatsoever.

But unpacking the nuances of “identity politics” in its various configurations in the American political landscape is far beyond the scope of this blog. What I want to reflect on is something else: the increasing prevalence of the term “gun-owner” as a term of identity politics in its own right. Americans self-identify as “gun owners” in polls and frequently vote for or against politicians based upon their supposed affinity for that identity, with numerous organizations claiming to represent “gun owners” the way organizations like La Raza or the NAACP claim to represent their constituencies. Indeed, not only does the NRA describe itself as “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization,” but Gun Owners of America, which stands to the right of the NRA as “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington,” proudly proclaims “a record of helping pro-gun candidates defeat anti-gunners in hundreds of races across the country over the past 30 years, and will continue to do so as long as our supporters provide the necessary financial resources.” “Pro-gun candidates,” “anti-gunners” – all these terms function as identity politics labels, without question. Likewise, Democratic politicians, particularly rural “Blue Dogs,” will regularly claim to be as “pro-gun” and even personally identify themselves as gun owners, often in order to avoid alienating their gun-owning voters.

But does possessing a gun automatically make you a “gun owner” in the way that a group like Gun Owners of America says it should? That is to say, does it necessarily mean that you are a member of an identity-based coalition, or even, as the NRA or GOA might suggest, that you suddenly become a member of a minority whose civil rights are under threat? Let’s set aside the complicated data on who owns guns and why, and likewise bracket the fact that many political figures who are accused of being “anti-gun” actually own guns themselves – including Joe Biden, who’s encouraged people to buy shotguns to defend themselves, and Mark Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, who owns several guns. The question I’m asking is this: what is the status of “gun owner” as a term of identity politics? Is “gun owner” an identity in the same way as being black, female, Hispanic, or gay is?

Recently, Open Carry Texas tweeted that “owning guns is the ultimate respect for defending life” Think about that for a minute. Owning a product represents the ultimate respect for a value. Not just that, but owning a weapon (not, say, a defibrillator, or an organ donor card) represents the ultimate respect for human life. Likewise, for many folks, owning a gun represents a patriotic duty – a synecdoche for authentic Americanness. But how many other powerful political interest groups and voting coalitions are defined by the mere fact of owning a particular product?

Here’s the thing. “Gun owner” as a phrase is clearly a term of identity politics. But unlike being black or lesbian or poor or from West Virginia, being a gun owner is an identity you can buy. Only in America does spending $1000-plus on an AR-15 or $75 on a Bryco .380 not just equal expression of respect for a sacrosanct value – it gives you a claim on an identity, and not just to being a patriot, but, as we’ll see in a moment, to something much more. But buying a product does not make you a thing. It just means you bought something, laid down cash, swiped your credit card, wrote a check, whatever. You became an X-owner. If manufacturers of X branded it as whatever, and you embrace that identity, then good for you, I guess. You bought in. But the truth is that buying a gun makes you an American patriot about as much as buying a tiara turns you into a princess. This should be obvious, but just because you bought something doesn’t make you somebody. It just means you gave else someone your money.

Then again, from a certain perspective, I suppose, an identity-you-can-buy represents perhaps the most quintessential example of identity politics, American-style, that I can imagine. But there’s a rub here, too. Because although Americans arguably brand more products with patriotism than any other culture out there, half the time, gun manufacturers aren’t even American themselves – they’re multinational corporations, Italian, Russian, Austrian. Chatting with me about this over the weekend on Twitter, Ross Golowicz pointed out that Chrysler brands itself as “Imported From Detroit.” Imagine the same phrase, advertising a gun: “Imported from Detroit.” Of course, in reality, it should be more like “TEC-9. Imported from Miami. Bought at a gun show in Alabama. Smuggled to Detroit.” Or even: “The SKS. Imported from Tito’s Yugoslavia. To South-Central LA. The Ultimate Respect for the Value of Life.” But, sure, brother, that $700 you dropped on that Bulgarian AK, the $500 you spent on that Austrian Glock, that makes you a true American. And it means you respect life more the value of life than the person who didn’t, or who maybe spent that paycheck on rent or a trampoline or cocaine or a sofa instead.

And here’s the last bit – more often than not, condemnations of playing identity politics from the right are coupled with an accusation of “playing the victim.” Consider how often figures on the Right blame African Americans in particular for being duped into a culture of “victimhood.” But despite the fact that the personal right to bear arms is more secure under the Supreme Court than it ever has been in American history, the defining feature of both the NRA and GOA’s activism on behalf of American gun owners is “protecting” them – as in serving them in a civil rights struggle wherein their constituents are a deeply imperiled minority: in other words, where they’re victims. And the language of victimhood isn’t even subtle. In response to efforts in Massachusetts last year to impose legal limits on magazine size, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action issued a press release to state residents entitled “Your Governor Wants to Personally Victimize Law-Abiding Gun Owners.”

My friend Jennifer Nelson, who’s a brilliant scholar out in Michigan, has a word for tone-deaf, misguided folks who seek to position themselves as the “real” victim of imagined wrongs – they’re “fictims.” I think it’s a simply genius turn of phrase – they’re fictitious victims, with their fictimhood serving not just to deny the actual victimhood of others, but to actively prevent reflection on their own complicity in that suffering by pre-emptively co-opting it. The Men’s Rights Advocates out there who decry sexual harassment laws and complain that they’re the “real” victims of sexism when 20% of women in this country are likely to suffer a sexual assault? Fictims. The angry white folks who deny the existence of structural anti-black prejudice and bemoan “reverse racism” while never having had to have “the talk” with their kids? Fictims, the lot of them.

Frankly, I can’t think of an identity-politics based group more prone to the shrillest flights of fictimhood than some segments of the militant pro-gun movement. To take but one example – I once got some threatening mail from a man I believe to be associated with a specific extremist group, a guy who, among other things, made it pretty clear he wasn’t fond of black folks since, in his words, they represented a “large, perpetual race-grievance based dependent class.” He also wasn’t that fond of me since, according to him, the simple discussion of any regulation of the right to bear arms – not just a renewed Assault Weapons Ban (which, again, I don’t support), but universal background checks or any limitation on what any civilian could conceivably own in any possible world – not only represented the “complete and total rape” of his “human rights,” but also made anyone who might initiate such a discussion, in his words, a “slaveowner.” As he wrote:

“You’re a slaveowner because you believe the rights of others falls under your control… I just want you to know, I fucking hate you and everyone else like you. You are pure fucking slaveowning scum and I am so very, very tired of having to tell you to stop presuming you can speak about the rights of free men and how best to violate them…I hope you understand, if you and your kind keep pushing for this, it’s a war. A real war.”

This strikes me as gun ownership identity politics in its most distilled fictimhood. There’s such a huge cognitive dissonance operating here – a self-righteous and histrionic attempt to co-opt the role of righteous victimhood attributed to slaves underwriting an appeal to violence against the alternate evils of the Federal Government and government-dependent criminals and social parasites who are, inevitably, stereotyped as black. Having a black man as President, of course, allows for these two threats to fold together into a kind of perfect nightmare for these people – the ginned-up fear of roving hordes of urban blacks merges with paranoid, insurrectionist fantasies of going full-Wolverines against home-invading Federal jackboots. And all this histrionic, fear-driven distortion – a grossly warped view of the history of slavery, a skewed understanding of our current economic crisis – perpetrates yet another distortion. It frames the “real” victims of our contemporary national struggles with gun control and gun violence as those primarily white gun owners who may potentially have their consumer choices somewhat more regulated, instead of the actual victims of gun violence, who are disproportionately poor, young, and black.

One last thought. In some ways, the idea that becoming a true American hinges on owning a piece of property (in this case, a gun) seems obscene in a very modern way – hell, from a certain cynical perspective, it’s part and parcel of life under globalized capitalism, a state of affairs in which being an American is itself a brand identity, something we like to think we can export, like democracy and McDonalds and Google and Law & Order spinoffs. But on another level, if we go back to the beginning, to the documents composed at the founding of this country, we have to acknowledge that, for the framers, the ownership of property was the criterion for being a true American, for being a “free man.” And we have to admit, too, that in many cases that “property” in question included other human beings. Whom “real” Americans, “free men,” kept in line at gunpoint.

At which point, then, I have to ask, if, by buying a weapon, you buy an identity, and that identity comes marked with an attitude of co-opted, histrionic fictimhood – who’s playing identity politics now? What identity, ultimately, are you really playing at – and what are you buying into?