In the last couple of years, we’ve all seen lots of electrons spilled over the issue of ‘police militarization.’ What most commentaries have failed to appreciate is that America itself has become extremely militarized. The most visible sign of this phenomenon in today’s news stream is Jim Cooley, the Atlanta-area ammosexual who attracted media attention by visiting an airport with an AR-15 rifle last Thursday.
Cooley, who is originally from Chicago, recorded his interactions with airport officials and posted them to YouTube. In one video clip, a guard tells him that he is scaring passengers. He replied: “Well, people’s fear are not my responsibility.”
Last week was the second time Cooley entered the airport with his rifle. He says when he did it for the first time earlier in May, he got no reaction. The reaction from officials the second go-around annoyed him.
“Why should anyone come up to me and ask me why I’m doing something I have the right to do?” Cooley told the Daily News. “It’s like asking you, ‘Why are you breathing?'”
Get that? Walking around with a military battle rifle that has a large drum magazine attached is as natural to him as breathing. How dare we second-guess Cooley’s identity! Why, that’s like telling
Bruce Caitlin Jenner to stop being herself whenever she visits the airport, or uses a public restroom. Hasn’t America been hard enough on armed white men already? Mr. Cooley’s not the one to blame if the firepower which makes him feel safe scares the shit out of other people — that’s just their anti-ammosexual bigotry coming out.
So let’s reevaluate this ‘militarization’ concept, because it has a popular dimension as well as police and military aspects. To understand how America has become so well-armed, we must remember that guns exist in a full-spectrum capitalist system. It isn’t just the gun lobby or the manufacturers who make American gun culture so powerful, but also the enthusiasts who perpetuate the gun economy by patronizing gun shows and gun stores. Indeed, I would argue that the casual open carry hobbyist is far more corrosive to society than the moneyed interests. Have we accounted properly for the role of these militants in our ‘militarized’ nation?
If I wanted to make America a more martial society, I would:
- Make combat weaponry normal to remove the stigma. Acceptance of the ammosexual lifestyle will take time, but Mr. Cooley is only 50 years old, and with ardent effort we can achieve a world where Mr. Cooley gets to carry a belt-fed M-60 long after his driver’s license has been taken away by the DMV. We’ve already started by normalizing combat-loaded rifles in public airports and restrooms, but a real campaign should introduce high-powered, high-capacity weapons into every American social space. Activists must discuss their hip holster preferences at the water cooler, hold armed demonstrations at courthouses, cinemas, and malls, bravely hoisting their armaments at church and in schools. Although it will have to be a popular movement, a vanguard of high-visibility spokespeople is necessary: Vince Vaughn must walk onto late show sound stages with an AK-47 to explain why he thinks there should be more guns in schools. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal ought to say more about upholding the gun rights of domestic abusers and stalkers. Guns for everyone!
- Armor and arm the police. Why would your rural sheriff’s department want an armored vehicle? Why, just look at Cooley’s arsenal for your answer. When anyone can have that much firepower, the police have to presume that everybody does. Police fears of powerful weapons in the hands of criminals is what makes it necessary for them to throw flash-bang grenades into cribs, shoot people dead for holding air rifles, choke suspects to death, kill pets, and use ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics in the street. Which is to say that our police are not only armed with weapons, but with laws and regulations to protect them from the consequences of their actions and enable their behavior. And when that fails,
- Stigmatize the victims. If it hadn’t been for their (choose one: loose morals, sagging pants, criminal record, drug use, missing fathers, welfare check, suspicious behavior, resisting arrest), everyone killed by police would still be alive and the maimed would be whole. We’ve seen how this applies to mass shootings as well, especially with the most innocent victims of all: if only more teachers and principals and hall monitors had guns, then Sandy Hook massacres wouldn’t happen. If only more moviegoers would take their armories to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, there wouldn’t be any Aurora, Colorado massacres. Whenever an unarmed person is hurt or killed, the ready answer is that they are a victim because they weren’t armed enough. When Mr. Cooley carries his weapon with pride, it’s a statement that he will not be a victim, by golly! He feels naked without it because he’s that ‘good guy with a gun’ Wayne LaPierre always talks about.
To replace empowerment with firepower: this is the very essence of reactionary politics. The right to have a gun is so cherished in this country that getting one is easier in many states than obtaining food stamps, getting an abortion, or registering to vote. And when arms have replaced ballots as the primary means of political expression, then we’ll at last be a truly militarized country. See how that works?