Guns = Stars and Bars?

Guns = Stars and Bars?

Dylann Storm Roof's murder of several parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17 had an unusual effect. Social media postings by the killer showed him posing with the Confederate flag (and some marijuana plants).

Shortly after the crime, South Carolina politicians led by Republican Governor Nikki Haley and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Rick Scott appeared on television to call for the removal of the stars 'n bars from their place at the state capitol.

Other southern leaders proposed the same thing, and even removal of the battle flag from state flag of Mississippi, where it was placed during the civil rights struggle of the 1950s.

This was touted in the media as some sort of miracle, but actually is not a bit surprising. South Carolina has not for some time been a picturesque fever swamp where they grow indigo and Spanish moss. Manufacturers like Boeing and BMW have a large and growing presence there, and I wouldn't doubt that leaders of those companies might have made a few phone calls on the flag issue to forestall pressure they might otherwise feel.

More importantly, friends and relatives of the victims called for forgiveness, not vengeance, in the wake of the shooting, and there was no rioting in Charleston, no doubt disappointing northern media types. Given that reaction, it was easy for politicians and corporations like Walmart and Amazon to toss the Confederate flag off the back of the sled.

And the Civil War is, after all, an event 150 years in the past. Other than a rousing commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg a couple years back, I can recall little interest in the sesquicentennial of the war. It certainly didn't spawn a whole industry of blackpowder reproductions as did the centennial in 1960. Regional differences don't have the power they had 50 years ago. People move freely around the country, and popular culture, for good or ill, penetrates even the remotest precincts.

It would be easy to let the whole thing pass, except that anti-gun columnists and politicians are suggesting that there's been some sort of psychological turning point that can be transferred from the Confederate flag to guns. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was typical:

"But the Confederacy is more than a flag, more than a region, more than Southern nostalgia based on the lie that the Civil War was about something other than slavery. The Confederacy that has endured for a century and a half after Appomattox is a state of mind that encompasses white supremacy, black subjugation, unrestricted gun rights and defiance of the legitimacy of the federal government. Banishing the flag is a beginning, but there is much more to be done."

Well. There it is. If you believe in the Second Amendment, you go right in the pot with Theodore Bilbo and J.B. Stoner and George Corley Wallace. Robinson is from the generation that came up during the heroic phase of the civil rights era, and it's no surprise that he equates personal gun ownership with the Ku Klux Klan and the federal government with U.S. Marshals escorting black children through the schoolhouse door.

In his context, it was perfectly understandable to think that in 1963. But it's 2015. Gun owners are of all races and both (or, given Caitlyn Jenner, should we say all?) sexes. To stereotype all gun owners as Bull Connor types is just as wrong as stereotyping all blacks as weed-puffing rappers or homosexuals as mincing nancyboys.

And the federal government of 2015 has powers of surveillance and coercion that J. Edgar Hoover could only have dreamed of in the 1960s.

Doubling down on this was David Fellerath, described in the Washington Post as a "freelance writer, hunter and community organizer." It would be easy to fill a book with screeds on his theme. "I'm a noble hunter who kills his own food in harmony with nature. I have nothing but scorn for those Philistines who own pistols or black guns," is the long and short of it. This sort of piece is catnip to urban newspaper editors, who can't resist demonstrating to their own satisfaction that even he-man outdoorsy types want gun control.

Fellarath writes:

"But something interesting has happened in the wake of the racially motivated massacre of nine African Americans in Charleston, S.C: Republican politicians in the South have found that it isn't so hard to push for removing the Confederate flag from public places, and here in North Carolina, license plates. Like public acceptance of gay marriage, this development was once unthinkable. Could gun policy face the same disruption?"

After repeating the now inescapable canard that gun ownership is actually going down despite a decade of record firearms sales, he finishes up with this:

"The Charleston massacre probably won't result in gun reform, but its survivors have challenged the NRA's bleak, seething worldview by suggesting that kindness can be the dominant mood of our public life. By offering perhaps premature forgiveness to the young man who killed their loved ones with a legally purchased Glock semiautomatic, they have shown us the possibility of living a more open, less timid existence. They imagine a world of joy, community and shelter, not fear, hatred and violence."

"Bleak, seething worldview?" Phew. Is NRA guilty of some pretty florid language in its fund-raising letters? Sure is. Is it prone to exaggerate every little threat? Guilty as charged, as is every other advocacy organization in this country. Try some Planned Parenthood mailers on for size if you don't think it's universal.

The gun owner worldview is that freedom is fragile. It has to be nurtured every day and protected, if necessary, by force of arms. There's nothing bleak or seething about that: it's realism. German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche identified the will to power as the driving force in human nature. Containing power is why we have the right to bear arms. The struggle to contain power and protect freedom is no more "bleak" than the struggle to eat or seek shelter. On the contrary, it ennobles life.

My grandmother fulminated about the Yankees chipping the marble steps of the North Carolina capitol by rolling whiskey barrels on them. My mother, so far as I can tell, has based most of her social relations on the character of Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. So I'm sympathetic to magnolia-scented thinking.

But the Confederate flag is a relic of the past. Anti-gunners think gun rights are, too. They are wrong, as we will show them one more time.

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