From my cold, dead hands

I’ll try to avoid saturating this blog with politics, both because I get enough of that at my job and because you probably get as much of it as you want in other places.

But I think this is interesting:

Last week a story made its way across the web about local police forces loading up on surplus military equipment. Here are the Oxford, Alabama police posing with some of their new toys:

Now I haven’t been to Oxford, but unless the zombies are coming, I can’t fathom for what purpose a town of 15,000 needs “$3 million of equipment, ranging from M-16s and helmet-mounted infrared goggles to its own armored vehicle, a Puma.” That’s about $2000 of equipment per resident, paid for mostly through a federal grant program.

What I found interesting is the juxtaposition of this story with the ongoing National Rifle Association conspiracy theory about the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” program, which stupidly funneled guns to Mexican drug cartels in a failed effort to track their activities. The NRA, which you might expect to be enthusiastic about the release of guns to the general population, instead seems to believe that the program was in fact an elaborate plan by the Obama administration to “stick more gun legislation on honest American gun owners of the United States.” The theory goes that by providing American guns to the cartels, the administration ensured that horrific drug gun violence could be blamed on the preponderance of uncontrolled weapons within our borders, thus fueling popular outrage at lax gun control laws and allowing Obama finally to unveil his secret plan to demolish the 2nd Amendment. Or something.

Yet you won’t hear the NRA complaining about the federal grant program that gives automatic weapons and tanks to small-town police. In fact, the NRA has long collaborated with local law enforcement, even hosting an annual “Police Shooting Championship“, now in its 50th year. Isn’t that odd? The NRA defends the 2nd Amendment as a mechanism for citizens to protect their freedom against government infringement. What could be more dangerous to citizens’ individual liberty than a militarized police force?

In the NRA’s world, the federal government is simultaneously giving away guns to Mexicans as part of a plot to restrict Americans’ right to gun ownership, and also giving away guns to American law enforcement to help us protect ourselves against the feds.

Several (not mutually exclusive) explanations for this enigma occur to me:

  1. The NRA just wants more weapons in the hands of Americans, whether private citizens or public officials, and despite their rhetoric, couldn’t care less about individual liberty.
  2. The NRA believes, contrary to most historical examples, that local police are a bulwark against oppression of individual liberty, not part of the mechanism of oppression.
  3. The NRA believes that local police are sympathetic to the interests of 2nd Amendment enthusiasts–that is, of disproportionately white, rural men (see photo above)–and will protect that group in particular against incursion by both the government and immigrants.
  4. The NRA cares more about politics than about its own ideology and won’t let slip any opportunity to vilify Democrats.

Is there a better (and possibly less cynical) way to make sense of this?

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  • Liz M.  On 3 July 2012 at 11:35 am

    i’m between #4, and #5 – the NRA doesn’t have enough brain power behind it to form consistent, logical opinions. they see an issue and shoot out (har har) the first opinion they’ve formed, without thinking about how it fits into a larger scheme.

  • Dee F  On 6 July 2012 at 3:46 pm

    And let’s not forget the robotic ground vehicles! I find it unlikely that there is a need for remote IED detonation and disposal, but who knows? Maybe there is leftover unexploded ordnance from the Civil War that is periodically blowing up farmers?

    When they take this picture again in two years, they will probably have a private collection of aerial drones for tactical overhead surveillance. With any luck, in five years, the drones will carry “weaponized payloads” (a.k.a., missiles) for use in target neutralization. Because you just never know when those Hazard boys are going to need to call in an air strike…

    And hopefully within the next decade they will acquire some form of roving missile defense system. Because if they Feds are invading, they will surely need more robust anti-access, area-denial capabilities!

    Seriously, I think you more or less hit on the reasons for these apparent logical inconsistencies. Obviously, the Federal government is not a monolithic entity. From the perspective of a government contractors, there are “good things” that it does (i.e., buy things from them) and “bad things” that it does (i.e., set additional rules and regulations that make it harder to sell things). In rough terms, the “good things” stem from appropriations bills in Congress that are implemented by the Executive Branch, and the “bad things” stem from authorizing bills in Congress that prompt additional Executive Branch rulemaking, or from unilateral Executive rulemaking actions. The support for the Federal-Local partnership represents a liking of the “good things” because it solicits the outflow of money from Washington into weapons manufacturers. The gunwalking conspiracy represents a fear of the “bad things” (i.e., the assertion of additional rulemaking authority that make it harder to sell guns).

    Importantly, I think the fact that the recipients of the guns are local municipalities is mostly irrelevant to the NRA. Let’s remember that the NRA fought viciously against San Francisco’s successful proposition to ban the possession of handguns within the city. And it won by appealing to the state and claiming that the city was overstepping its political mandate. This event, more than anything, suggested to me that the purported fundamental NRA ideology of protecting the freedoms of the self-determined local yeoman from the power-hungry and intrusive Washingtonians is laughably antiquated. Just look at who was playing power-hungry and intrusive Washington in this example…

    Let’s also look at something else the NRA supports: loosening export controls for arms sales, and generally avoiding new international treaties on the matter. What in the world could that possibly have to do with the 2nd Amendment? Nothing. In this capacity the NRA is acting like other trade associations – they are simply trying to use politics to create as many sales avenues as possible for their member companies. Seen in this light, the NRA’s behavior becomes more understandable. On the one hand they have more of an ideological bent than most Washington-based associations. And sometimes they behave based on that ideology. But as they have grown in size and corporate membership, they have increasingly started behaving in the more standard mold of trade associations. In that world, the more you can increase revenue opportunities for your corporate members, the more indispensable you are to them, and the higher you can charge in dues.

    So where does all of this leave us? I think it helps unpack the apparent inconsistencies. Just as, from the NRA’s perspective, there are two Washingtons – good Washington (which spends tax money on guns) and bad Washington (which sets rules that makes it harder to buy guns) – there are two NRAs – individual liberty NRA (which gets John and Jane Doe to sign petitions and makes a big to do about protecting the 2nd amendment) and corporate NRA (which behaves as a normal trade association, promoting revenue-maximizing opportunities for its members). Before interpreting an NRA position, therefore, it is useful to interpret which Washington they are referencing, and which side of NRA is taking that position.

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