I’m a liberal (or progressive, if you prefer the term). I’ve always had mixed feelings about gun ownership. As a child, I enjoyed playing with cap guns, and a macho, caveman corner of my personality has always liked the idea of wielding a weapon. But, the rational pragmatist in me has never been able to actually justify owning a gun.
Every so often I’ll get the urge to buy a gun for defense purposes. But when I start to reflect on it, I realize that I can’t really envision a situation where I’d need to use it. I mean, sure- I can picture a home break-in, where I’d run to the closet and open my gun safe and pull out a hand gun… but such scenarios feel like the boyhood daydreams of fighting a terrorist (and/or ninja) takeover of my high school. Even if it were to happen, it seems like something that would always play out better in my head than it would in real life.
I’m not a paranoid person. I enjoy reading the masturbatory rants of the folks who contribute to forums about the upcoming collapse of society, or post survivalist or “prepper” videos on youtube, or fret about “Peak Oil”. But I take all these things with more than a grain of salt. For the most part they are unsupported (or poorly supported) fears mixed with outright delusions.
But a couple things happened this week that did finally tip me over the edge and seriously consider a gun purchase: I watched the Republican Presidential Debates, and I heard Obama’s Address to Congress.
As someone who was recently unemployed for well over a year, and who saw his father get laid off during the tail end of that period, I now know firsthand the deep despair that fills someone who can’t get a foothold in this economy. If I hadn’t had the support of my family and friends, I may well have ended up homeless (and that’s within months of receiving a law degree).
Multiply that anxiety by the 14 million unemployed folks in this country, and the countless underemployed, and it’s not hard to see that there are a lot of scared and angry people out there.
Other countries– large, stable countries– have begun to see riots. Without an immediate reversal in course, it is only a matter of time before we see riots in the U.S. –which brings me back to the debates, and the President’s speech.
All of the front-running Republicans have decided that the path to economic recovery is a return to the laissez faire system of government– the same philosophy that was in place when America’s working class was at its weakest, poorest, and most abused. This isn’t a big surprise. As other, well respected, authors have noted, almost all modern Republican policies can be traced back to a singular goal: the creation of cheap labor. That’s all well and good, unless you are the labor. And, in case you didn’t know: 99% of us are the labor.
The President’s speech the next day didn’t make me feel any better. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a terrific speech- or at least it would have been if he had given it two years ago when it might have done some good. But it’s too late in the game for half-measures. Even if the President got everything that he asked for (he won’t), it still wouldn’t make a significant dent in the unemployment crisis.
So I spent the next few days thinking about the state of nation, and imaging what America is going to look like in a few years. If Obama stays in power without a liberal Congress, things will be much the same for years to come: political gridlock and slowly worsening conditions for the middle class.
If the Republicans take back the executive branch, then political gridlock is the best we can hope for. If they’re able to get traction with their radical fiscal policies, they’ll keep feeding our money to corporations, banks and the ultra-wealthy. The middle class will shrink. More of us will fall into poverty, and with fewer people buying any products, even the large corporations will start to buckle and fail.
With more unemployment, more disparity between the haves and have-nots, and no clear path to prosperity in sight, I can no longer pretend that the U.S. is the stable and secure place I always knew it to be.
It is no longer unreasonable to think that things may go from bad to much, much worse. I’m not saying that an economic collapse will happen, or even that it it is likely to happen. Nor can I begin to predict the severity or duration of any crash that might occur. But in the current political climate it feels foolhardy to ignore the possibility that something very bad is on the horizon.
If you’re skeptically minded, you may be thinking that I’m being alarmist or that my anxiety is premature. You’re right of course. But there’s logic behind my madness. History is rife with examples giant social upheavals that happen with very little notice. Most recently, Egypt taught us that lesson anew. That country went from protests to revolution in a span of days.
I’m not saying that the U.S. is poised for such a revolution, of course- but I am saying that things could turn ugly here, very quickly. With the proper trigger, massive protests could form. If handled poorly, those protests could easily turn to riots. If it can happen in the U.K., it can certainly happen here. And how big could those riots be? And how long might they last? And by the time we’ve figured out the answers to those questions, will it be too late to prepare?
And so, for the first time in my life, I found myself in a gun shop, talking to the proprietor about a good beginner’s firearm for someone who is interested in home defense.
If you’ve never been to a large gun shop (and I’m sure many progressives have not), I strongly recommend that you step inside. For my part, I found the place unsettling. For the first time in my life I held a working firearm, but I didn’t feel any safer– quite the contrary, as a matter of fact.
The thing about being a liberal in a gun shop is that you are privy to a lot of conversations that you wouldn’t otherwise hear. It was rather like walking into a Tea Party convention.
The shop I went to was near my home in North Carolina. When the gruff man behind the counter found out that I was from Massachusetts, he openly mocked it for being a “socialist” state. Moments later, I overheard a woman loudly ranting about how Obama’s job plan was “destroying the country” with more spending. She was interested in buying some gold coins for when the economy collapsed.
To be fair, most folks were just there to talk about guns, and play with guns, and buy new gadgets to affix to their guns. Their comfort and knowledge of firearms made me feel nervous. I was in store full of 50+ people who didn’t feel at all shy about expressing their distain for liberals and “socialists”. All of them, I’m convinced, would have had no trouble gunning me down in an honest firefight.
I went into that store to buy a gun to protect my family in the event of a riot. I walked out feeling very nervous that if their actually was major social upheaval in the United States, a lot of angry conservatives would have no problem forming an organized militia, and they wouldn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for the scores of unarmed “socialist” progressives out there.
Now I find myself wishing that liberals would flock to gun shops en masse so that they can see the world I caught a glimpse of, and so that they could interact with the same folks I did, and maybe engage in some lively political discussion. These gun shops are factories for unchecked Tea-Party-style nonsense. It means that a lot of angry and armed folks are spending their days amplifying each other’s misunderstanding and distrust of the rest of us.
And also- (and I realize that this part is just pure paranoia)– I’d like to know that if things ever really degrade, there would be a whole lot of armed liberals out there to keep the armed conservatives in check. Or at the very least, I’d like enough of them to lay down sufficient cover fire for me while I run from Whole Foods back to my Prius.