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Gun Nuts’ Sick Power Trip: What’s Really Behind the Open Carry Crusade

Why do gunslingers want to terrify others? A desire to change how you think and behave by conditioning -- or fear.

When it comes to inspiring audiences to dizzying, irrational fear, right-wing media is especially skillful. Take, for example, the “ knockout game“ hysteria of last year, in which Fox pundits like Sean Hannity did their best to marshal a handful of disparate cases of real or alleged violence into evidence of widespread, growing, untargeted murderous intent among primarily black teenagers. Was the knockout game ever a rising threat, ever a swelling trend? It now seems unlikely, though the notion that unarmed black teenagers should be seen as de facto lethal coincided rather curiously with Fox’s banner-waving over the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. Whatever the source, the right-wing media narrative surrounding the knockout game proved that the intentional generation of fear is a tactic far-right media is comfortable engaging in, and the performance of similar tactics in real life should be understood to have similar political purposes.

The “open carry” movement is one such tactic. Weekly, it seems, new cells of gunslingers take it upon themselves to disturb order and intimidate innocent civilians in order to establish a nebulous, rotating series of political aims. A Richmond  iteration of open-carrying young men stated they wanted to “raise awareness of responsible gun ownership,” as though the population of Virginia were somehow wholesale unaware of guns. In Arlington, Texas, the open carry commandos who valiantly  terrified the staff of a Jack-in-the-Box claimed they merely wanted to “make it as normal as possible for people to see a gun like a fashion accessory … this is America.” In every instance of open carry demonstrations there are two constants: some kind of constitutional concern mashed together with a host of other orthogonal aims, and a roundly frightened public.

Meditate for a moment on the notion of making people comfortable with the sight of guns in public via habituating them to the instinctual terror of seeing one, and two issues immediately arise: firstly, it resembles other illogical forms of activism in which the goal is wholly incompatible with the means, such as murdering abortion providers to achieve a culture of life; secondly, it is, above all else, an effort at achieving control.

After all, it isn’t as though the advocates of openly carrying guns in public are unaware of the effect they have on the public; they are usually met with resistance precisely because they  terrify innocent bystanders, while their constitutional concerns – such as they are – tend to be swallowed up by the technique of their “protest.” It is rather the case that they claim the period of fear they deliberately inspire is one they intend to force the public to endure until they are no longer met with resistance. If their narrative is to be thought genuine, then their intention is literally to forcibly habituate the public to the idea that they are constantly in danger, and that there is little that can be done about it. Or, as Open Carry Texas puts it, the goal is to: “condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry [guns].” Of course, the fact that they are willing to inflict terror to achieve, bizarrely, a sense of safety demonstrates that people feeling safe isn’t really a goal here; otherwise pictures of guns or speech campaigns would surely suffice. The fear is, in other words, intentional.

So the question that remains is: Do you really believe that anyone expects guns will ever  notbe alarming? With mass shootings taking on an increasingly  public and random character, guns appearing at random in public  should be a cause for alarm. And, so long as media coverage of mass shootings persists, it seems unlikely that the toting of firearms in public will ever actually cease to inspire unrest in onlookers. (Not that there is any shortage of reasons to be wary of guns even if the gunslinger himself is trusted; guns can be dropped, mishandled, stolen or taken from their “trustworthy” carriers at any time.)

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