MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Clint Eastwood berating an empty chair
There was Clint Eastwood pulling the last plug on a sinking Mitt Romney Republican convention. There's no easier debate opponent to knock down than fatuously chastising an empty seat. Of course, when the chair gets the best of you, it might be time to hang up your spurs.
Eastwood is the iconic image to many gun owners as the man who can "make your day" with the wide barrel of a .357 Magnum cocked to your head.
Of course, that's the movies – and the .357 Magnum is now surpassed in lethality by semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles to name a few, as the gun industry ramps up its high-tech appeal to gun fetishists. But it's still a powerful symbol to the John Wayne cult of virility, the guys who comprise the firearm defense league against the hordes of non-white, non-male aliens psychologically threatening their maleness.
Nate Silver analyzed figures the other day in the New York Times and discovered that more Republicans than Democrats own guns – and the gap is increasing:
Gun ownership has declined over the past 40 years — but almost all of the decrease has come from Democrats. By 2010, according to the General Social Survey, the gun ownership rate among adults that identified as Democrats had fallen to 22 percent. It remained at about 50 percent among Republican adults.
Although Silver doesn't explore the reality -- given that the Republican Party is the political organization for white Americans who want to keep the United States run by whites and to preserve white privilege -- one could speculate that there is much more to the NRA posse argument that guns are a Constitutional right for use in self-defense. Exactly who or what are white males claiming to defend themselves against?
Since Obama was elected, we have heard many extremists on the right shout out slogans such as "to the bullet, if the ballot box fails" – and "if we keep moving toward socialism, I won't rule out war." You recognize the verbal threats and their variations. Given America's legacy of assassinations and violence – how our dreams and dashed and the course of history changed in the '60s by gunfire – it would be naïve to regard these as idle carping.
Although the NRA and other gun advocacy organizations most often play upon the emotional need for a gun to use in self-defense against alleged criminal blacks and latinos (although they would never admit to playing the race card – but trust me, it's a broken record in the coded appeals of the pro-gunners), they combine that with an anti-government agenda. Indeed, in the mid-'90s, former President George Herbert Walker Bush quit the NRA because Wayne LaPierre, the head of their lobbying wing, called agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), "jack-booted thugs."
That's the anti gun-regulation meme of the NRA, and it's vicious. Indeed, to this day, no government law enforcement agency can prevent a person on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun, because the NRA has gotten Congress to prohibit protecting the nation because of the off chance that a "law-abiding" gun owner might be kept from acquiring as many firearms as he can put in the back of his pick-up truck. The next 9/11 may be brought to you courtesy of the NRA.
But the real fear of the generally aging white males who are the core of the "you'll have to pry my gun from my cold dead fingers" cult is being psychologically threatened by a multi-cultural, multi-gender society in which the white patriarchal model (that implicitly includes white male privilege) is under siege.
Of course, BuzzFlash at Truthout has to write the obligatory disclaimer at this point in the commentary -- that there are hunters (although decreasing in number with urbanization) who shoot for sport and those who rely on venizon and other meat for their food. Ditto, there are competitors who engage in the unobjectionable sport of target shooting.
But this is not what the NRA or the angry white male movement who rabidly support any device that emits a projectile capable of killing a person (i.e., anything that they call a gun) is about. The explosive, vitriolic, sledge hammer opposition to gun control (and we are now, in this day and age, talking about firearms that are hi-tech weapons of war, not revolvers) is due to a fear that the age of white male dominance is in decline.
The blowback of such an anarchistic approach to gun ownership and the inclusion of increasingly lethal weaponry into the family of guns allegedly protected under the Second Amendment, well the blowback of mass murders such as in Newtown is just collateral damage to the NRA and its swaggering followers.
As time progresses, however, the worship of guns as a religious objects is losing its appeal as the US population becomes more diverse, with a smaller percentage of white males appearing on the horizon who buy guns as if they were Viagra for their political detumescence. But don't expect the white guys concerned about their potency – personally and as to their place in society -- to give up without a shootout over guns.
That is why 82-year-old Clint "Dirty Harry" Eastwood was representative of the revered figure of a "locked and loaded" masculinity so appropriate for a Republican Convention. That is also why his farcical interrogation of a phantom President Obama was symbolic of a masculine state of mind that may have finally lost its grip.