Saturday, May 04, 2013

Letter From a Man in Boston to The NRA

Gun industry lobbyist Wayne LaPierre had some things to say about my city at his recent fundraiser. I have some things I'd like to say in response. Yes, this will be political - don't want to read it, don't read it.

To Wayne LaPierre and The NRA,

First off, I don't hate you. I don't even really hate what you represent, because what you represent is actually a neutral concept. You do not, contrary to the bombastic language with which you pepper you speeches, represent The Second Amendment. Or The Constitution. Or even simply the nebulous concepts of "Freedom" and "Liberty." What you represent is money; or more specifically the ability to continue making money of a particular collection of companies in a particular industry. You and your organization, cloaked though they may be in the veneer of offering "protection" to those who already own guns, are in fact in the business of making sure that gun manufacturers are able to sell more guns.

I understand that and, what's more, I don't really have a "problem" with it. I myself openly support the actions of various lobbying groups representing the film and video-game industries in the full and complete acknowledgement that a good deal of their flowery prose has more to do with keeping movies and games sell-able than it does with the various Amendments and high-minded ideals they namecheck to make their argument; and I do so because whether or not they "believe" in my rights is not especially important to me so long as their actions benefit me vis-a-vi said rights. (that movies and games are not designed to kill anyone nor have they ever killed anyone whereas that is the sole purpose of the majority of your product is not inconsequential to this discussion, but also not the most important distinction.) I don't take much of a "moral" exception to what you do, at least in theory. I'm a pragmatist and realist: Things are good when they are used for good, evil when they are used for evil.

Or, to put it in the terminology of the make-believe macho movie dialogue which apparently passes as good speechwriting within your organization: "This ain't personal."

I'll come back to your organization's corporate functionality later, since it's not the most substantive thing I wish to raise with you. Don't worry, though, it ties together.

You wondered aloud, in your speech, about how Boston - which you seem to laughably characterize as some kind of firearm-free utopian commune - might be feeling differently about your products place in the world in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Now, I understand your position about such things: You believe, or say that you believe, that tragedies like this can be prevented by the presence of a more heavily-armed citizenry. You imagine that if there had been a greater presence of individuals carrying guns in the area that day, the odds are increased that someone might have drawn on the Tszarnaev brothers and ended the carnage right there. In fact, I understand this viewpoint better than you yourself do; because while you appear to be intellectually-arrested in the fantasy of such logic actually being logical in the 21st Century, I recognize it as your fantasy of a Wild West America that never really existed in the way you believe it did (based on movies and pulp novels) and definitely doesn't exist today.

What, exactly? Do you imagine the presence of guns and gunfighters would've done at the Boston Marathon? To be clear, I'll assume you're talking about armed civilians, since I know how your organization feels about "Federal Troops" and/or The ATF and because American police organizations support the assault-weapon bans and background-checks you now exist to oppose. The two men in question didn't attack with guns themselves (at least not at first - good thing such weapons are so plentiful in the U.S. so as to be easily-accessible by wanted fugitive terrorists, huh?) they used bombs. They didn't announce themselves in the grandiose manner of a suicide attack, they dropped them and ran like cowards. What would a crowd full of present-day Earps and Holidays have done - shoot the bombs?

Oh, wait - bad example. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday were in fact proponents and agents of Tombstone gun-control ordinances so strong they make Beacon Hill's legislature look like "Red Dawn's" Wolverines.

Maybe they could've taken down Tamerlan and Dzhokhar before they had a chance to leave the bombs. That's certainly possible - though since it's still not officially determined that the bombs were remote-detonated and not on simple timers that might only have changed the location of the blasts. Also, how exactly would you have found them in the first place? As we've established, they didn't announce themselves; and carrying a backpack in Boston (yes, even setting it down) isn't the height of suspicious behavior. How, then, would your hypothetical vigilante superheroes have spotted them?

The only answer I can think of is rather nauseating - to me, at least: A crowd dotted with NRA-endorsed wannabe-crimefighters, drawing guns on anyone who "looked like a terrorist." Now, let's not either of us pretend that such goings-on wouldn't be largely acceptable to a certain portion of your organizations' (I use the plural-form here, as I now refer both to The NRA and to The American Right-Wing in general) membership; but I'll afford you the benefit of the doubt that you are not a full-on bigot.Besides, even that kind of bigotry and "othering" wouldn't have helped. The Tszarnaev brothers were not the dark-skinned, bearded boogeyman that American paranoiacs conjure when they imagine The Great Constant Terrorist Threat - they were white guys (literal Caucasians, in fact) with names and (likely) accents that most Bostonians would've likely thought Russian-sounding. And they weren't exactly dressed in Al Qaeda "uniforms;" their midpriced-looking outfits and ballcaps didn't make them "look like terrorists" - it made them look like douchebags, indistinguishable from a hundred thousand other 'bros wandering Boston or any other East Coast metropolis.

But, alright. Assuming that we might both ultimately agree that a plethora of armed Bostonians would not have likely prevented the bombing, there is the other part of your conjecture; wherein you imagine the terror our citizens must have felt when asked to remain in their homes during the hunt for the (armed) terrorists by police - cowering, you seem to imagine, because we don't have guns.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: The idea that Boston (particularly in it's surrounding areas) is an "unarmed" city is laughable. Despite the image we may project and/or have projected onto us, Bostonians aren't "all peaceniks," "all progressives" or even "all liberals" - we're "all Democrats;" big difference. People here who want a gun and can have one (read: they are not themselves violent criminals) tend to have them. Given the neighborhoods Dzhokhar Tszarnaev was scuttling about in, I can safely assure you that the smartest thing he did was not try and kick down anyone's door; as he would've stood pretty good odds of being greeted by a pissed-off Union guy (or Government worker! ::shudder!::) with a photo of Jack Kennedy on the wall and big gun in is hand.

I am not myself currently a gun-owner, but I'm the friend and family of many people who are. I have no "fear" of guns, nor do I regard them as being some kind of powerful entity apart from their users; and I'm definitely not for "taking away" guns from the responsible users whom I count as friends and fellow Americans. In this respect, I am quite typical of Boston.

But then... you know that, don't you? Of course you do. You know that Boston isn't gun-free, it's just not gun-saturated. People who want guns here can and, for the most part, do have them... but said want isn't particularly broad or all-consuming. The fact is, there isn't much in the way of a "gun culture" here; not because some prevailing pacifism, just because of the practical realities of city-dwelling. There aren't a lot of places to shoot recreationally until you get further out from even the 'burbs, and in terms of home-defense more and more of the population lives either in closely-clustered residential neighborhoods or apartment buildings. Police, most of the time, are very close by to a given distress call. In other words, regardless of whether or not such assumptions are correct, the notion of being truly and completely "alone" against a home-invader isn't a persistent "realistic" fear among the majority of people here - and thus the "need" to keep a defensive home-arsenal is a similarly far-off concern. That's not a Boston "thing," by the way - that's a  Modern City Thing.

And there, as you are well aware, is the key to this whole thing.

As I said before, The NRA does not lobby on behalf of gun-owners. They lobby on behalf of gun-makers. They are only concerned with my right to keep and bear arms only to the degree that it means the industry can continue selling those arms to me for profit. And gun-makers have a big problem in that regard, right now - the same problem, by the way, that plagues the Republican Party (and "Conservative" movement in general) to which it has become affixed: America is changing, and they are being left behind.

Guns sell less well (and it's only projected to get worse) in metropolitan areas like Boston (or New York, or LA, etc) not simply because of "regulation" but because of culture and practicality: Correctly or not, more and more people (especially younger people) in such places are less likely to feel that they "need" them and because there's less of a hunting/sport-shooting culture are less likely to want them. The places guns do sell very well are places where the opposite is true: Rural and small-town communities where hunting and sport-shooting are part of the longstanding culture and where law-enforcement manpower is smaller and/or more spread out and thus keeping a rifle or two for home defense sounds perfectly sensible - which, just so we're clear, I agree with: I spend a lot of recreation time in rural New Hampshire; and were I to keep a home there I'd have a gun in it. It only makes sense.

Here, then, is the problem: Like it or not, the "rural America" where the gun industry makes most of it's money is either shrinking, transforming or disappearing altogether - not through some nefarious scheme, but through the simple (and inseperable) facts of economic-change, technological improvement and pop-cultural evolution. The manufacturing and agricultural industries that necessitated the creation of communities that comprised "rural America" have either moved overseas (because that's where new "booms" similar to our "boom" of the past are underway) or transformed into smaller boutique operations to survive. That automotive and agriculture sectors exist at all in The U.S. is largely owed to government aid - tax money paid mostly by urbanized "blue" states used to prop-up otherwise unsustainable industries so as to keep various "red" states from becoming essentially deserts. More and more, rural communities that are thriving are doing so because tech and science companies have moved operations there to take advantage of lowered property taxes - and the longer they are there, the less genuinely (culturally) "rural" the place becomes. I say this without any judgement to whether or not this is a "good" change, merely that it is a change.

Meanwhile, popular-culture has similarly transformed to reflect these economic realities: "The American Dream" for millions of up-and-coming young people - particularly young people seeking degrees and aquiring training in the science, tech and cultural fields that will actually matter in the economy of the near-future - is no longer to get a job that will last a lifetime, marry your High School sweetie, move somewhere quiet and have a bunch of kids. That's not bad dream, I stress... it's just not the dream anymore. For the rising generation of movers and shakers, their American Dream is to work for as many jobs as they need to for mobility and financial security, to be single/childless for longer than their parents generation went (both for money-saving and "we're-living-longer-so-let's-prolong-the-HELL-out-of-our-20s" rationales) and, perhaps most notably, to live as close to vibrant centers of cultural relevance (read: cities) as possible.

American Dream 2.0 is the skyline, not the white fence and the lawn; and the desire for it is so strong (and made stronger by economic reality making it more and more preferable) that whole swaths of what used to be thought of as "slummy" areas of New York, LA and even Boston are being Frankenstein'd to life through what's often derrided as "Hipster Gentrification" - an influx of young people who'll take the "crummy" section of a city over the alternative, just to be get a foothold in The Future. One of the things that means is that the places/populations that don't buy many guns are growing rapidly, whereas those that buy lots of guns are getting smaller. And if you make guns, or lobby for those who do... that's a big problem for your bottom line.

So you see, NRA, I understand you completely. You want to keep making money, your customer base is shrinking, so you need to get less people to buy more product. And so you scare them. You tell them they're lives and freedoms are in danger. You tell them that scaaaaaaary Muslim Terrorists remain a massive, SPECTER-esque global megathreat. You tell them that scaaaaaaary border-hopping Mexican drug-killers are coming for them. You tell them that scaaaaaaaary "urban" gangbangers are coming for them. You tell them that the world as they know it is on the brink of collapse, and that the only way that they can be safe from all this is to buy and stockpile more and more of the products made by the industry you lobby for. And then you tell them that the scaaaaaaaaaaaaaaary Black President is going to come and take those products away unless his political opponents - who also happen to be friendly to your industry - are supported and voted for.

That's what you do, and that's fine. It's your function. Besides, you've already lost the long-game: The country is changing, and the vast majority of those changes mean the eventual end of you and everything you tangentially represent. There will probably always be guns and a gun culture in America, and that's fine by me . But the version of it propped-up by you and your organizations is demographically, culturally and economically doomed. We both know this - that's why you're trying so damn hard to move so much damn product now while you still can - I'm simply more of an optimist because, well, the New & Improved America that's replacing yours happens to be my America.

But go on, tell your tall-tales and make your dishonest speeches... but when you want to use my city and our victims? When you talk us down or mischaracterize us to fuel your ignorant vigilante fantasies? I'm going to call you out on it.

Which I now have.

Go fuck yourself.

A Man From Boston.