New Republican gun laws look to boost the far-right paramilitary forces they ally withJune 21, 2022
Police arrived, and guess what? They couldn’t do a damn thing about it, because it turned out to be just some random asshole taking advantage of Oklahoma’s “open carry” laws to wander around with his weapons. It caused a public panic, which was almost certainly the man’s intent, but Oklahoma law says it’s perfectly fine to cause public panic by appearing in public dressed and armed to commit mass murder. It was the Justice Center employees who were in the wrong for initiating a lockdown. It was the AT&T employees who were wrong for evacuating. It was the 911 callers who were wrong to report the man with two guns wandering seemingly randomly through the neighborhood.
They were all wrong, because the Oklahoma Republican government says men are allowed to strap on assault rifles, dress up in tactical gear, and cosplay as purveyors of random violence. Both the public and police are required to suck it up—until the moment a trigger gets pulled.
Oklahoma law enforcement officers do not seem too damn happy about this arrangement, judging from the quotes in the Tulsa World report. It is obviously an asinine situation, the public is obviously right to presume a gunman walking toward a courthouse or store means trouble, because no citizen has a plausible reason to need an assault weapon inside those buildings and no reasonable citizen would try it. Only criminals and assholes parade semi-automatic rifles in public. There aren’t exceptions.
As it turns out, the Broken Arrow “open carrier” was both a criminal and an asshole, so after verifying that there was nothing they could do about the man initiating a public panic, they were able to arrest him for an unrelated warrant and for carrying “brass knuckles.” Yes, that’s right. You can walk up to an Oklahoma courthouse with a loaded assault rifle, and police can’t do squat, but it’s illegal to carry brass knuckles in Oklahoma because the brass knuckles lobby doesn’t ply Oklahoma’s politicians with crooked gifts and sedition-premised threats.
There has to my own knowledge never been a case of, for example, a man killing dozens of people in the span of a few minutes at a Las Vegas outdoor concert using brass knuckles, but Oklahoma isn’t taking any chances with those. It’s the assault rifles that need to be legal.
From the Oklahoma gunman’s past, we can infer that creating a public panic was likely the man’s whole intent. The brass knuckles suggest a desire for violence, Proud Boy-style; he was carrying a weapon exceeding .45 caliber, illegal under Oklahoma law, once again highlighting that even in Glocklahoma the legislature believes that Actually, they can regulate firearms however they damn well like—even as they claim their hands are tied when it comes to all the weapons they don’t want to regulate.
This is a scene that’s going to play out more and more frequently in Republican-led states (and everywhere else, if the Supreme Court has its say.) There are no volunteer “good guys with guns” patrolling our streets in tactical gear and with assault weapons, only militia hacks and men looking to provoke violence for the sake of acting out their own fantasies of would-be heroism.
Mostly, it is a sign of absolute legislative contempt for law enforcement. Oh, legislatures will dump money into state and local law enforcement agencies, but the whole purpose of expansive “open carry” laws is to tip the public scales away from police officers and towards vigilantism.
It is perfectly, 100% reasonable for any law enforcement officer to presume a man headed for a grocery store, a public building, a movie theater, or a public school carrying an assault rifle, handgun, ammunition, and other gear intends to do harm. It is transparently obvious that the man ought to be stopped, and with violence if necessary. The sole reason for the militarization of our police departments over the last decades is because national gun laws have been reworked to give the nation’s criminals access to far more powerful weaponry while simultaneously enforcing new rules on law enforcement that tie their hands, even as the new weapons are paraded around.
How are police now supposed to respond to reports of a man with a gun? They are not supposed to respond at all, if the gunman is white. Instead, police departments are now trained to assume every traffic stop can result in a shootout; they are trained to be trigger-happy in any instance in which they do not see a gun, while being legally restricted from responding when they do see a gun.
It goes without saying that this has led both to a rash of police murders during routine traffic stops, domestic disputes, and on other calls, and that these shootings are near-exclusively taking place in racism-seeped departments with a long history of treating nonwhite Americans as inherently more dangerous.
There are few nonwhite Americans who believe they could parade around an Oklahoma town with an assault weapon and not be shot dead by police, “open carry” rules or no. We all know who the new rules are intended to protect, and who they are not. This is for the militia crowd. For the Republican militia crowd.
Specifically, the Oklahoma legislature, alongside that of Texas and other Republican states, are passing rules that tie the hands of law enforcement when white seditionist Republican militia members parade their gear in public, that being a thing that Republican lawmakers suddenly have a great deal of affinity for. It is simply understood that gunslingers who do not meet that particular criterion will not get the same treatment.
In fact, Republican senators and other lawmakers have been quite clear over the last few summers that unarmed Black Americans protesting only with signs and banners may need to be met not just with heavy police response, but a military response. Isn’t that right, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton?
This is all part of an intended militarization of the public square, a new conservative demand that we recognize not just their theoretical “right” to turn against and murder government figures if they ever deem rebellion to be necessary, but the right to turn against anyone in the public, with force, if any member individually experiences an insult that they believe requires murder as a response. This is the Bundy Ranch sovereign citizen nonsense writ into law; if the government, or the workers at an AT&T store, or a man in line at a coffee shop do an unspecified something that a conservative believes to be violative of their rights, the conservative has the “right” to start killing.
This is not about stopping crime, because the open carrying of assault rifles has had zero effect on crime. Ever. Of course it wouldn’t; it’s the people with warrants and brass knuckles and illegal guns who are doing the parading. It’s the people like Kyle Rittenhouse, who have dreams of valor and a mom willing to drive them into a neighborhood they don’t know to fight in a public battle they don’t understand.
The practical effect of relaxed “open carry” laws, the erasure of licensing and training requirements, and other legislative promotion not just gun ownership but of guns as public accessories is the creation of a paramilitary force, in America, that is as or more heavily armed than law enforcement; that answers to no one, and is exempt from police harassment; that is almost exclusively conservative; that is almost exclusively conspiratorial and paranoid; and that is self-selecting for those most willing to resort to mass violence.
The Republican legislatures are in essence building a paramilitary branch of their own movement predicated on a right to violence and sedition. It is not being hidden. The number of Republican lawmakers who now cite a right of rebellion as the reason for removing gun restrictions far outstrips the number of Republican lawmakers who oppose the seditionist premise.
Again: The practical effect is a boosting of conspiratorial far-right paramilitary groups aligned with the Republican Party, enabled by stripping out public safety laws that stand against them. We are expected to allow and support the sort of roving armed gangs commonplace in failed states, and are being told that the armed thugs are here to maintain order because the state itself cannot.
A fascist paramilitary in our midst, supported by one party, supportive of one party, one that “real” law enforcement is barred from interfering with and that decides for itself who is an enemy and who is not. That is the future that is being demanded of us, and lawmakers and thugs are both warning us that if towns like Broken Arrow do not abide those things, well then maybe that means something worse needs to happen.