America’s Apocalyptic Fantasies Of Violence
By Noah Berlatsky
The notion that rifles would somehow help hardy freedom fighters beat back jack-booted thugs in a future totalitarian U.S. is preposterous.
In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings yesterday, I saw tweets expressing the belief that the Holocaust wouldn’t have transpired if only the Jews were armed with handguns; this sentiment is in response to the suggestion that stricter gun control laws might possibly reduce the proliferation of mass shootings.
The exact nature and motivation of the shooting remains unclear; at the moment the shooter appears to be Muslim, though whether the motivation is politically motivated or a workplace dispute is uncertain. Whatever the exact circumstances, however, it seems like it would have been a good idea to prevent the shooter getting a gun. Unless, of course, like these tweeters, you believe that the occasional mass shooting is a small price to pay for insurance against incipient fascism.
The tweeter echoes Ben Carson’s controversial and very confused argument that the Jews could have prevented the Holocaust if only they’d had access to more handguns. Needless to say, this claim is patently patently ridiculous and worse yet, egregiously untrue. The Nazis did not have especially strict gun control laws, and in fact loosened gun regulations for most citizens because, you know, they were Nazis; violence and militarism were basically their raison d’être. The Jews weren’t allowed to have guns, but the Jews weren’t allowed to have businesses either, or personal property, or much of anything. In Germany, Jews were in any case hopelessly outnumbered by a militarized police state. Handguns weren’t going to help — and you can see it wasn’t going to help because, as it turns out, there was plenty of Jewish armed resistance to the Nazi regime. In fact, a political assassination by a Jew served as the pretext for Kristallnacht, and a ratcheting up of oppression.
The notion that rifles would somehow help hardy freedom fighters beat back jack-booted thugs in a future totalitarian U.S. is comparably preposterous. Imagine that President Hillary Clinton decides to declare martial law and round up all rural white men for incarceration in her feminist reeducation camps. Thanks to the NRA, the doughty pale XY warriors are fully armed with hunting rifles, handguns, and even some assault rifles.
Unfortunately, the same politicians who kowtow to the NRA have also spent the last several decades pouring literally billions and billions and billions of dollars into the forces of the US military — a military controlled by (wait for it) the federal government. A President Hillary Clinton who really wanted to declare the Feminist Authoritarian state would have access to fighter planes, tanks, trained snipers, explosive devices, drones, and a very, very big nuclear arsenal. The armed citizenry would be hopelessly, ludicrously outgunned. The 2nd Amendment does not guarantee the right to have a tactical nuclear device in every home. Its utility as a bulwark against a Clinton tyranny, therefore, is largely, tragically, moot.
If the NRA and its adherents want to start lobbying for massive cuts in military spending in order to forestall the liberal takeover of the heartland — well, I’m all for that, and more power to them. But lobbying for gun rights while supporting the party that most favors military spending — what kind of paranoia is that? Fear the government if you fear the government; go with that. But don’t pretend your darling little handgun is going to save you when the drones come.
The point for the anti-tyranny dreamers isn’t to fight the government in actuality, of course. The point is to preserve the apocalyptic fantasy of fighting the government. The right to bear arms isn’t a right to stave off Hillary Clinton’s black helicopters, or the NRA would be advocating for the right to bear anti-aircraft artillery. Rather, the right to no background checks is a symbolic commitment to a particular cultural vision. You can’t actually fight and win against the federal government, but it’s fun to imagine yourself in “Red Dawn” or “Olympus Has Fallen,” battling the evil liberal fascists for God, Home, and Country. If I were in Nazi Germany, I wouldn’t have gone to the gas chambers without a fight! I would have fought back, guns blazing, like Sly Stallone!
The anti-tyranny gun control position can basically be stated as follows: “I have apocalyptic fantasies of violence which I have trouble distinguishing from reality. Therefore, I need more firearms.” Which is why, whenever I hear anyone make this argument, I want to back away slowly. Or not so slowly.
Perhaps the most depressing part about the debate is that, in many ways, this apocalyptic fantasy is not an apocalyptic fantasy at all. Anti-tyranny NRA believers imagine a deeply violent world of terrifying gun battles, horror, and death. And, through that imagining, they have helped create an actual deeply violent world of terrifying gun battles, horror, and death. There were two mass shootings yesterday, ratcheting up our annual toll to 355, presuming there’s not another committed between when I type this and you read it. America’s gun death rate is 20 times higher than other Western nations; American civilians’ personal possession of weapons is the highest in the world. Conflict-ridden Yemen is ranked second and they boast half the rate of America’s.
Don’t get me wrong; I like a good apocalyptic fantasy as much as the next Terminator enthusiast. But when you start smashing your computer to forestall Skynet, you maybe need to reassess. When people say they need guns to battle a potential government takeover, they’re telling you that the pleasure they take in imagining themselves as the hero of a science-fiction story is more important than the deaths of their neighbors. And their children.