Notes From the Margins…

The United States of Fear

  • March 20, 2013
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The US Senate has killed Senator Diane Feinstein’s Obama-backed  proposal to ban assault weapons as part of a series of gun control measures put forward in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre last December.    The bill proposed to ban  160 specific semiautomatic weapons and rifles,  assorted military-style parts, and limit the size of ammunition magazines.

It was dropped because it failed to garner the sixty votes required to bring the bill to final passage.   Needless to say no Republican senator voted for it, and some Democrats also opposed the bill.

Feinstein attributed her defeat to the fact that ‘the enemies on this are very powerful’ and singled out the National Rifle Association.  But some of the comments in an article on the Washington Post  on Feinstein’s defeat perhaps explain why America will not let easily let go of its guns, such as the person who declared:

To celebrate I’m going to get a “Hello-Kitty” style AR-15.

And the one who remembered how

During the LA riots after the Rodney King ruling, the cops bugged out of whole areas.
Lawless. Government protection? “poof” gone.
What do you do?
It happened. It is real. It can happen again. Are you prepared?

And another who wrote

New Orleans after Katrina. No police.

And then there was this astute observation

Hitler took guns away from the jews and all the nations he conquered. His philosophy was to disarm a nation citizens was the first step to dominance.

So God bless America, a country that has the largest military machine in history and no conceivable military challengers, yet lives in fear of a seemingly endless array of ‘threats’ that includes rogue states, terrorists, and drug cartels.

It’s the country of ‘homeland security’, whose citizens are increasingly as afraid of each other as they are of the outside world, a country haunted by apocalyptic visions of social collapse depicted by Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice-president:

‘After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia. Looters ran wild in south Brooklyn. There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get home at all.’

And worse is yet to come:

‘Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It”s not paranoia to buy a gun. It”s survival.’

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there is President Obama, who has refused to construct ‘ a secure border fence along the entire Mexican border’, thereby creating a situation in which the border today remains porous not only to people seeking jobs in the U.S., but to criminals whose jobs are murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping. ‘

Given these scenarios, it’s a wonder that Americans don’t just barricade themselves in with a stockpile of food and ammunition and shoot anything that goes anywhere near them, like the cast of The Walking Dead.

No wonder LaPierre wants   a ‘trained professional with a gun’ to be permanently deployed in every school and believes that rape can be prevented by  ‘ a good woman with a gun.’

Meanwhile, on 7 March,  statistics indicated  that 2, 793 people had been shot dead since the Newton killings, including 43 teenagers and 143 children.   And in Newton itself, there have been  79 requests for gun permits since the massacre on 14 December, compared with an annual average of 130 licences in the years that preceded it.

The rise in permit requests has also been felt nationally.   All this is a positive development, according to LaPierre, which proves that ‘  tens of millions of Americans are already preparing to Stand And Fight to protect their families and homes.’

In LaPierre’s view, guns are the ultimate guarantor of individual freedom and security, and the more Americans have guns, the freer and more secure they become.

But the equation could also be put another way: the more frightened people are, the more they want guns; and the more guns there are, the more they have reason to be frightened of each other, creating a dynamic whose ultimate outcome would to have a society in which pretty much everyone can walk around with a pistol or an automatic weapon.

That might be the NRA’s ideal of the good society, but from where I’m standing it looks a lot like dystopia



  1. Nik H.

    20th Mar 2013 - 10:48 am

    The most incredible part is _how_ these weapons are sold and the lack of checking what kind of person the man/woman who’s buying is – as superficial such tests/check might be, at least they are a little bit of a deterrent for the complete nuts to just go and buy a assault rifle (that is, if those backgrounds checks would work properly).

    Excuse me, but the mere thought of being able to go to the city center or the village mainsquare and being able to buy an assault rifle is so outlandish, that it’s hard to find words to even describe it.

    If I look back at my time in the army (long live the draft) and the amount of preparation, training, psychological etc. checks before I was handed a Steyr AUG and still today remember the bad feeling I had when I saw some of my rather strange/weird/rambotype comrades fiddling/shooting with those rifles I cannot even begin to imagine a society where any fool – if capable of pulling a straight face – is able to lay his hands on such a weapon. No proper checks, no training, no “respect” for the gun, as oldfashioned as that might sound.

    The ways in which you can barely or actually hurt _yourself_ are limitless. Same goes for the savety of your fellow comrades. Inspite of harsh punishments for fooling around with the rifles, be they loaded or not, I remember quite a few guys who clearly should have never been handed a gun. Especially when we had to do our two months of border service. That’s when the shit hit the fan, and our ncos and cos acted as if we were at war with those poor sods who tried to cross the border into the EU. Me being half polish on my mothers side, I obviously had an “awesome time” when all of a sudden I realised that the folks we just _had to_ arrest shared a few desperate words and I understood them. Most of the time though, and I can assure you that, me and my comrade who were in a patrol team, turned into heavy smokers anytime we heard some rattling in the bush and 90% of the time checked our backs for sneaky officers trying to catch us sleeping with our scopes/nightvision and jokingly said to each other “Welcome to Austria” whenever we realized someone had managed to pass us within save distance.

    Wow, I think I just wandered just a little bit off the subject 🙂

    My point is, inspite of tight controll, weeks of training, heavy punishments and the watchfull eyes of comrades still so much madness went on with them guns, be it “funny” mock executions, staged “suicides”, funky pointing of loaded assault rifles, saving bullets during life fire exercise in order to fire them off on the border for fun etc. that the thought of especially young men in the US just being able to go to a gun store and buy the same gun that I had for 8 months in one of the strictest enviroments you can get into as a young man with a gun, is simply breathtaking.

    • Matt

      20th Mar 2013 - 8:49 pm

      Very interesting observations – and anecdotes – Nik. Thanks for sharing them. I went to the Polish border you know, doing research for my book ‘Fortress Europe.’ Which part were you stationed at?

  2. Nik H.

    20th Mar 2013 - 11:26 pm

    You are welcome, though I sort of deviated there from the topic 🙂 I know about your book, and I am looking forward to reading it as soon as I have some more time due to uni-related readings etc.

    Our units “sector” was around Heiligenkreuz border crossing area in the Austrian state of Burgenland. (Here you can see it on the map:,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.44011176,d.Yms&biw=1521&bih=565&wrapid=tlif136381696102810&q=europe+map&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x46ed8886cfadda85:0x72ef99e6b3fcf079,Europa&gl=at&sa=X&ei=EDJKUYyDCMbZswb34ICYBA&ved=0CCwQ8gEwAA)

    By the way, that was back in Febuary/March of 2002 and hence pre the 2007 EU-joining of Poland, Czech Rep. et al. The Assistenzeinsatz (roughly translates Assistance Operation) which all conscripts had to go through for 1-2 months, was introduced in the 90ies I think and last till like 2 years ago (in the end just observing and to calm down the locals – so no more hide and seek madness and nightly wood chases for our young guys today, which scared the shit out of me, not even to think of those poor folks who were being chased by angry young males who blamed them for not being allowed to sleep the night through and instead being alarmed to half a sleep comb through the wood after someone reported to hq fleeing or resisting “illegals”).

    Basicly we supported the border police, which within their ranks had some of the most despicable characters a person is likely to encounter in a whole life time. The insults and slurs and handling of “illegals” still make me feel ashamed today – especially because I never reported anything.

    But to be honest I was more than lucky. A very good friend of mine was on the Austrian/Czech border in Nov./Dec. 2001 when many Afghans tried to cross the border in big big groups of 15-20 people and how hard it was to not loose it and get too scared or too aggressive. He told me that he had never seen such devastated people before and how it affected him (he used to be very conservative on the “illegals-questions”) and thanks to his advice I knew how “act” and “behave” (I mentioned the chain smoking after suspicious noises whilst having your buddy screen your back for officers with your nightvision) in order to avoid “encounters” from both sides of the border – however, it didn’t always work unfortunately.

    Well on the one occasion when we encountered two young Poles who just happened to run right into us (thus forcing us to arrest them, since the risk of being observed by our own officers whilst letting go or ignoring “illegals” was very real and had severe consequences which were hammered into our heads frequently) I was really surprised. The last thing I expected “hunting”, as it was nicely called by our ncos, were fellow countrymen of my mom. I was later told that some Poles take (or rather took) the route via Hungary into Austria because the Czech/Slovak/Austrian border was way more difficult to cross due to tighter control on both sides.

    I have to be honest, it was easier for me to arrest Romanians and Chechens. However, I made up for the two polish guys by convincing one of my less “relaxed” comrades (sometimes teams changed due to real or faked illness) of letting go three Romanians with out of date passports.

    In hindsight, and like 11 years older, I can say that there’s a reason why they make you join at such a young age. You just swallow any shit they force down your throat and you munch it even though you feel it is wrong. On the other hand I have to say that the only reason there was some kind of humanity on the border was because 95% of the folks there youngsters with guns, who just wanted this to get over with. Having semi-civilians ie. conscripts around had a good effect, inspite of the occasional suicides every now and then during those roughly 20 years. The “professionals” ie. the border police, were only professional in one way: Being overwhelmingly racist scum (I can say that, because they were the ones we handed over to the poor folks we caught).

    But to end on a positive note I wanted to share this video with you which sort of nicely represents the attitude of most of the Austrian conscripts who had to heroicly protect Austria mainly against Czech, Slovak and Hungarian boars:
    Border Operation – You are a Superstar! (mocking the usually jingoist idiotic commercials for the Austrian Army). At the end it says “Austria’s borders are secure!” I guess what those two brave guys did there might have scared off even more “illegals” than my smoking… 🙂

  3. Nik H.

    21st Mar 2013 - 10:50 am

    Hmm, looks like something went wrong. Wrote quite a lengthy reply to your question last night and saw it here as “awaiting moderation”. Now it is gone :-/

    • Matt

      21st Mar 2013 - 10:57 am

      No, it’s here. Thanks!

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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