The following offers an anarchist an antifascist analysis of the growing movement and rising anger against proposed anti-gun legislation in Virginia.
If you grew up in Virginia, chances are you were never very far from guns. Here, they are as divisive as they are ubiquitous. Guns are pulled out at parties and argued about over dinner. They are bought and sold at pawn shops, advertised on billboards, given away in raffles, traded informally, gifted, stolen, won in poker games, and even sold on Facebook. Anyone over 18 with a valid driver’s license and clean record can rent one at a shooting range or buy one from their neighbor. Hunting season kicks off like a statewide carnival, so ritualized that it takes on an element of holiday. Hunted meat is used for survival, shared between neighbors, or donated to the elderly. Tourists hiking along the Appalachian Trail may cross paths with little convoys of hardbody trucks chasing down a lost hound. In Richmond, guns can be found in riverbeds, in most suburban closets, in cars, and stowed under the bar at restaurants.
Just as ubiquitous as guns are their effects. Most people know someone impacted by their violence: someone who gets into fights, a bystander, a victim of domestic violence or depression or the police. Many have family, friends, and acquaintances serving long sentences who have been criminalized for their proximity to guns and guns are everywhere. They are big money, they are defined by grief and celebration, they represent an unbent back in the face of Washington DC, and have always been uncomfortably close to our politics. They float alongside the ghosts of America’s first industrialized war and of the vicious racism and vigilantism we have endured before and after.
Like lawsuits aimed at militias following Unite the Right in Charlottesville, such proposed legislation of “paramilitary activities” will more than likely be used against anarchist and anti-fascist groups.
It has felt surreal and even laughable to many Virginians that a newly Democrat-dominated state government might push through the criminalization of gun possession with proposed sweeping partial bans and regulations. But this is 2019 in Virginia, and these days we are used to things being very absurd and very surreal. The Democrats who are proposing these laws rode in on a wave of massive structural changes, redistricting, and also growing anger at Dominion Energy’s corporate influence. The gateway to the south, the gateway to the north. Virginia exists between a suburban future and the pastoral farming past, at the intersection of old world bigotry and patronage and hyper-modern capitalism. To be young here is to have your teenage years defined by several mass shootings, a street battle against the largest gathering of fascists in a century, cynical political experimenting with gentrification and Democratic party politicking. Two multi-billion dollar energy pipelines complete with mercenaries and the private surveillance force their way thru the countryside. Local police are funded to test new and more nefarious forms of incarceration and policing. And the very heart of America’s intelligence, military and political network cross over the Potomac each night to sleep. Very little is simple here, certainly not guns.
In order to understand what is happening, look to Culpeper. A small town, just close enough to DC to commute, but just far enough away to remain semi-rural. In response to the proposed bill, the Culpeper sheriff has declared his intention to offer a deputization and training course to local gun owners. He is, he says, confident that he could deputize 1,000 participants in the near future with this course. Besides flirting strongly with para-militarism, this proposal offers a taste of the type of resistance this bill will face. A cascade of murky and dangerous consequences threaten to pour out in response to a state legislature pressuring police to enforce an unpopular and extreme proposal.
This isn’t helped by the anti-gun lobby’s millionaire celebrities and almost gleeful refusal to engage at local levels. In place of the possibility of making real headway towards confronting the difficult issues of racial and gendered gun violence, police murder, or mental health, they offer poorly written bans that promise to disproportionately be enforced among non-white and poor communities. And this is to be expected, because at the end of the day this bill is primarily about achieving quick political clout and asserting authority over a law enforcement caste that acts almost as a fourth branch of government.
Add to this mix the heavy involvement of right-wing militia movements and explicitly racist social movements in the pro-Second Amendment (2A) lobby. While these groups express a disproportionate voice among gun ownership advocates, their structure is in many ways fragile. They are prone to infighting, lack a coherent message, and base their narrative around constantly shifting conspiracy theories and cults of personality. Nevertheless, because there is no alternative, these groups hold the spotlight. When Lavoy Finicum, a militia leader during the Malheur Wildlife Occupation was chased off the road and gunned down by federal officers in Oregon, it was racists and conspiracy theorists who reached out to offer their condolences. In impoverished rural areas and remote suburbs, the right to own guns is seen as a fundamental point of pride and autonomy. In those spaces it is Oath Keeper militias who run fundraisers for soup kitchens and stand up to billionaire backed organizations with close ties to the government. They attempt to become heroes of the small against the big. Until a more sustainable alternative appears, they may succeed.
Into this, where do we non-traditional gun owners fit in? Who advocates for poor gun owners, and those who happen to not be white, or straight, or conservative? Only ourselves. We cannot align with a Democratic political cadre attempting to pass legislation that will felonize us and endanger us to further violence by the police and the Right. And we cannot stand meekly behind the established 2A leadership, keeping quiet as they bicker and rant and platform white nationalists. We know full well that our presence will be tokenized when it is useful and demonized when it is not. Their goals are rooted in a long legacy of white vigilantism and State terror. We will not find friends there. The prospect of joining either side is enough to make us want to bury our guns in the back yard and open up a book while the talking heads tear each other up on Fox and Friends.
Virginian Update @GovernorVA even Antifa thinks well you can read it for yourself. By the way I’m agreeing with them, you’re too dense to understand what you have wrought. #2A #2ASanctuary #2ava pic.twitter.com/Xr6NIO3Pl7
— Gun Owner, Wilkes and Liberty 45 (@GunOwner2) January 10, 2020
On January 20th, a horde of every conceivable wing of the pro and anti-gun movements will meet in Richmond’s capitol. Michael Bloomberg, true to his word and playing the role of the sneaking billionaire bane of gun rights, was recently spotted skulking into a (terrible) local coffee shop to meet with Richmond mayor Levar Stoney. Meanwhile, white nationalists, Proud Boys, wingnuts and every flavor of militia on the eastern seaboard have spent weeks pledging body armor, blood donations and “B00tsOntHaGrouNd” against a dizzying myriad of imagined enemies.
Alarmist warnings of ANTIFA disguised as Confederates, MS-13, Islamic extremists, BLM, and “Demograts” have circulated like wildfire, drawing increasingly more unhinged fringes of the Right towards the capitol like drooling moths around an open flame. Both the Bloomberg army and the crusading Operators are most definitely busing in people from out of town. Rumors of Alex Jones himself attending seem increasingly credible.
Into this madness, why should we add our own bodies? The Democrats expect us to act as their thugs, even as they promise to prosecute us for defending ourselves. To the Right, it is a given that we are funded by Bloomberg himself, or trained by shadowy forces to make them look ridiculous or violent. We just live here, we own guns and don’t want to see any more of our friends attacked by tech bro neo-Nazis or jealous and rejected men. We own guns because we grew up around them, because the threats we face are real and present, and because we encounter them stumbling out of the breweries to stomp out the closest person they see sleeping on the street. And so we feel little love for either of these gangs of bussed-in protesters. This is our home, we’ll live here on the 19th and the 21st too.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League is one of the largest groups to emerge from the growing resistance to the current gun laws. The map represents counties which have pledged to not abide by the proposed gun legislation.
Ultimately we have no option but to make our own strategy, to craft our own community, and to meet those who look to their left and right and see the people they’re standing with for the schmucks they are. We must split away from our per-ordained roles and talk about the things that matter. We must share why we feel we deserve to own such dangerous tools, and about why our own lived experience has taught us that we must never give up that thing under the bed. For most of us, the 2nd amendment was never a protection. It didn’t protect Korryn Gaines or Philando Castile. It didn’t protect us when our houses were raided for weed or suspicions of sex work, even as the people we sold our drugs and our bodies to sat comfortable in their suburban fortresses, far away from disproportionate policing and profiling.
Throughout this 400 year legacy of genocide, slavery and state exploitation, the perpetrators have always tried to maintain control of the guns. And throughout those same 400 years, the necessity of self-defense has always been apparent. Police evolved from slave patrols (Virginia Capitol Police were the first on this continent), politicians called for lynch mobs, the national guard massacred strikers, and land treaties were broken by the divine justification of the church. Through all of that, it has been solidarity – specifically armed solidarity – between the people targeted by this violence that has provided the most tangible resistance. We remember these lessons, they are a part of our lived history.
Elections come and go. But the crisis of exploitation of our bodies and time by those at the top remains constant. We still don’t have healthcare, we still don’t have housing, we still can’t get our relatives out of hopelessly long prison sentences. Billionaire energy companies continue to kick people out of their homes to make way for pipelines, the corrupt and entrenched political forces change face, but little changes for us. Though politicians attempt to dangle glimmers of hope to persuade us, we are still bombarded from all sides. Though they purport to act out our will, like always, it has been a betrayal. Because the government will always betray, it exists to take tally of the most profitable order of betrayals. They are the force that gnaws every bit of autonomy over our own and collective lives in this place. So we want everything, we want the world. We want our freedom in every sense of the word. And since we will fight for it, we want our guns too. To be quite blunt, a gun is the the only check on this that you can hold in your hand. So we’ll continue to hold them, whether they’re legal or not.