June 9, 2022
In our guts, it still feels like yesterday. On May 24, a gunman obliterated the lives of nineteen fourth graders and two adults at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. He used an AR-15 he bought legally on his eighteenth birthday. As the nation waits to hear whether the Senate will approve the new gun laws the House passed yesterday, I cannot help but wonder what sinister plans the NRA and republican lawmakers have had in mind, all along.
Two days ago, actor Matthew McConaughey, a native of Uvalde, stood in the White House briefing room pleading with lawmakers to pass responsible gun laws. The House of Representatives did just that, raising the eligible purchase age for semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines. Representatives responded to grisly testimony, including an eleven-year-old girl’s account of how she dipped her hand in her dead friend’s blood and smeared it on herself so that the gunman would believe her to be dead.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to die.
This is what happens in a country whose lawmakers are bought and paid for by the greediest, deadliest industry there is. As President Biden asserted on June 2, two decades of gun rights expansion have resulted in the firearm deaths of more children than active duty police officers and active duty military, combined.
“We aren’t going away. This time will be different.” David Hogg tweeted. Hogg is a survivor of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018 and a founder of the grassroots organization March for Our Lives. Depicted in Hogg’s tweet were thousands of protesters gathered outside the NRA’s national conference, held just three days later than and only 280 miles away from the carnage in Uvalde.
It’s hard not to allow personal cynicism to override the hope that Hogg is right: this time will be different. The show of support for responsible gun laws is different this time, after all: from the visible protest of the NRA in Houston to the Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety presence in Washington, DC; from the public plea by McConaughey, to the intense lobbying efforts of Hogg’s MFOL.
And yet, the cynic in me tells me there is something much more menacing afoot in the NRA’s plans. The cynic in me remembers the social media post of a Republican figure, Esther Byrd, recently appointed to the state education board by Florida’s governor. Journalist A.G. Gancarski lifted Byrd’s Facebook post on behalf of Florida Politics:
“In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled,” mused Byrd. “Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams… With Us [or] Against Us.”
You read that right. Someone in charge of educating Florida’s children is propagating a self-fulfilling prophecy of civil war for their future.
Consider, also, the words Ryan Busse, author of the gun-industry memoir, Gunfight, published on Twitter:
“If you think Jan 6 can’t happen again, go stand in a gun store right now and listen to the chatter. This shit is deadly serious.”
Busse is now senior adviser to the gun safety group named for shooting survivor and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and he was labeled by Trump as a “useful idiot” for liberals. Busse told Slate he wrote Gunfight because he wanted to explain the nation’s polarization from his vantage point as a prominent former member of the gun industry. He expressed concerns to his colleagues, Slate reported, about “racism and fearmongering” at the NRA’s annual convention.
Googling the words “the coming civil war” yields 2.3 billion results—and that’s with my protective internet software turned on. Journalist Stephen Marche, author of The Next Civil War, told Wired about fictional stories already widely read by right-wing survivalists and “preppers:”
“They have very specific visions of what a collapsed America would be,” Marche says. “It’s never nuclear winter that they’re imagining, because of course no one would survive that. They imagine something very similar to the Wild West, where you’re on your own, and you need to garden for yourself, and you need to arm yourself, and you need to run away from groups of bandits, essentially. So the political far right is very much engaged in fantasy.”
Is “the coming civil war” a fantasy of the political far right? Or is it a prophecy, which extremists and the gun-selling NRA want to usher in?
It’s a question worth posing to current and would-be members of Congress. It’s a question for candidates for Governor and local Sheriff.
The bigger question—for those of us who categorically reject “the coming civil war”—is how do we repair the damage polarization has wreaked on our country?