Re: bias and concealed weapons

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Fri Jun 11 2004 - 12:38:37 PDT

Evidently this is an issue in quite a few states. I recall a few years ago
hearing about a Texas church that had to post a No Firearms sign outside.

One aspect of this issue is that, like gay rights or gay marriage or
abortion, it is one of those "wedge" issues that have been identified by
the organized ultra-conservatives (largely funded by a small number of
wealthy sources) as ways to generate wider interest and support for their
agenda, and draw support away from their more liberal political opponents,
by focusing attention on a few issues and taking attention away from larger
across-the-board policy differences on issues where they know they have
little popular support.

This is also a political tactic that has been used by many other factions.
It exploits one of the weaknesses of democracy, especially in a highly
under-educated society like the US. (In the Netherlands, for instance, the
national news organization, similar to the BBC, has election year websites
where you can go, vote your opinion on about twenty different major issues,
rank the importance of these issues to you, and the site then tells you
which political party's positions most closely fit your views. It's very
popular in a country with a dozen or more viable political parties. And an
electorate that is actually informed about this wide range of issues and
has some sense of the political history of these various parties. They also
have a measure of voter apathy, as in the US, but they are well-enough
informed and educated to actually make their democracy work fairly well.)

Beyond that, there is the question of just why this particular issue
attracts significant support for what seems to the rest of us to be an
insane policy. In part there is the substantial political organization of
the National Rifle Association, whose largest member base are rural
hunters, joined more recently by those concerned about "self-defense". They
have a rather fanatical position based on never having actually read the
part of the US Constitution which supposedly guarantees citizens the right
to keep and bear arms (it actually gives states the right to organize
citizen militias, and the members of these militias the right to bring
their own guns). They are trying to broaden their political base (and
smaller-stakes contributions and membership dues) by exploiting what seems
to be primarily a fear among European-Americans than "non-Whites" (since
the 1970s African-Americans, and in various places also Latinos/as, and
most recently I suppose "terrorists" who are portrayed always as ethnically
if not racially distinct) will attack them in their homes or on the streets.

This fear is actually quite real. It exists mainly in urban areas, where
there are not many hunters, but growing NRA membership. It also exists in
areas where homes are somewhat isolated by distance from neighbors or
police. This latter group was recruited by the NRA in earlier campaigns
along with women living alone, elderly people, etc. who feared attack in
their homes. The new "concealed weapons" campaign has a different target:
people who are afraid to walk the streets. There was a media-famous case in
New York a number of years ago of a man ("white") who was threatened, and
perhaps attacked, depending on versions of the story, by a group of young
African-Americans on a subway train. He had a concealed handgun and shot a
few of them, killing at least one I think. He pleaded self-defense, and
there was a considerable debate at the time about the justice, legality,
and notoriety of the case.

The fear is mainly generated by the media, except for people who live in
very high-crime urban areas (most of whom are not among the groups being
recruited to these campaigns or to the NRA). It is fairly well documented
in media studies that the "race" of violent criminals is prominent in the
media, esp. when they are not "White". Similarly, portrayals of terrorists
recently tend to show them with a definite "racial" stereotype. It is not
just the news media that are involved. Hollywood films, television fiction
and "reality" fiction, and many other media promote these stereotypes. It
has even been to the advantage of the government to encourage such
hysterias to justify policies, and of course it is highly profitable for
the media. It would also be profitable for the small arms industry if the
law allowed it, as it is quite profitable for the "home security systems"
industry. But being safe in your home is not enough. You also need to feel
safe on the street, hence "concealed weapons" ... as a right (the NRA
thinks you have a constitutional right to equip yourself with weapons,
concealed or not, everywhere, just like James Bond or Arnold
Schwarzenegger). Many Americans have lost all sense of reality and
commonsense because of the twin forces of media hysteria about the dangers
of violent Others and media and now political portrayals of a fantasy of a
nation of armed citizen-vigilantes. The real danger is that many
politicians and legislators will actually vote to pander to these hysterias
and fantasies.

This is a historical pattern that has led to disaster in many parts of the
world many times in the past. It can certainly happen here, too.


At 01:51 PM 6/11/2004, you wrote:
>Utah's legislature has been trying to pass laws that allow concealed weapons
>in schools, churches, and court buildings. The Univ. of Utah refused to
>allow concealed weapons on campus, and was taken to court. Justices in
>the Federal court building in Salt Lake City also refused to allow guns
>in the building, and had to justify their actions by appealing to some
>special provision in a little-known regulation.
>curiouser and curiouser!
>Jay Lemke wrote:
>tells the story of how Wisconsin gun enthusiasts and libertarian (if that's
>the right word) Republicans in the Wisconsin legistlature came within one
>vote of over-riding the governor's veto of a bill actually passed by both
>houses of the legislature TO MAKE IT LEGAL TO CARRY CONCEALED WEAPONS in
>the state, reversing law and policy that dates from 1873.

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276

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