Charlottesville Militia: Is It Time to Revisit Gun Control?

As images poured onto my Twitter feed of swastika-tattooed meatheads and torch-bearing neo-Nazis last Saturday, I kept asking myself the same question: "Why is no one talking about the guys in camo holding assault rifles?"

As a Brit, public protest brings to mind busloads of placard-bearing students having a shouting match with lager-slurping skinheads, not grown men dressed up as soldiers wielding military grade firearms.

The 32 heavily armed and well-equipped men photographed patrolling the Charlottesville protest were members of a makeshift militia.

No, we're not talking about a war-torn banana republic. This is 2017 America.

Resembling a group of renegade mercenaries from an Andy McNab 'novel', they came with the supposed purposes of keeping order, protecting people from violence and, of course, "defending free speech".

They received praise for doing more to maintain order than the apparently inactive state police and have publicly condemned the "right wing lunatics". However, I can't be the only one asking whether it's a sensible idea for members of the public to attend heated rallies carrying guns?

There are several issues here. These militiamen need to ask themselves whether they're really "defending free speech" when it comes to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, rather grandiose terms for a bunch of villainous losers, who are preaching hatred and actively encouraging violence against minorities.

An automatic weapon that could mow down an entire crowd of people in seconds doesn't belong at a protest

I would also question how much the presence of these heavily armed men would actually de-escalate the situation.

George Curbelo, commanding officer of the New York Light Foot Militia played the role of "second-in-command" on Saturday. He praised the militia for their composure and claimed: "We were de-escalating things." Then he admitted admitted: "If I saw me coming at me in all my gear, I would find it intimidating."

They were so professionally equipped that The Guardian devoted an entire article to describing their costumes.

And there’s the rub. That's what they are: costumes. These are literally just members of the public who have bought themselves Kevlar helmets and enough weaponry to invade a small country. Surely the keeping of public order and policing of protests is best left to the publicly-accountable and reliably-trained police and military?

The open carrying of 'long guns' is only banned in three states so it's a strong possibility that as increasingly tense clashes seem inevitable, the presence of armed militias could become a regular feature of protests.

Whether or not the militia caused more harm than good last Saturday, they definitely did one thing. They perfectly crystallised America's problem with guns.

Even if this militia was a "neutral" peace-keeping force and had nothing to do with the white nationalists, what is stopping the latter from turning up to the next protest with a gun?

There were even some reports of people on both sides arriving with semi-automatic weapons.

An automatic weapon that could mow down an entire crowd of people in seconds doesn't belong at a protest. Whether it's a tiny snub-nosed revolver or a lumbering Barrett 50. calibre sniper rifle, it shouldn't have any place in public.

A couple of months ago, I was in America and insisted that we went to a firing range. Now I'd consider myself firmly 'anti-gun' in so far as any reasonable person would be - they shouldn't be as easy to obtain, you shouldn't be able to carry or use them in public and the stubborn obsession with constitutional rights is puerile

This infamous Jim Jefferies' routine perfectly sums up my attitude.

Nevertheless, I still wanted to take the opportunity to satisfy my inner child and to shoot a machine gun- something I'd never be able to do back in the UK.

It was all very controlled and the workers were, perhaps surprisingly, very helpful and patient with us.

the hope of gun reform is impossibly optimistic

Used in a non-military, purely leisurely, manner, there's nothing inherently wrong with guns or wanting to shoot them. Being a progressive liberal and enjoying guns aren't mutually exclusive. Hell, legendary Gonzo journalist, Hunter S Thompson, was exceptionally liberal and a life-long supporter of the Democrats, but he sure loved guns.

This experience suggested a potential solution.

If people want to own and shoot guns, that's perfectly fine. However, the use of all non-legitimate hunting firearms (so automatic rifles and handguns, as opposed to shotguns and hunting rifles) should be restricted to controlled and regulated shooting ranges. These guns will have to be very securely kept and solely used at the ranges.

Coupled with this idea, more comprehensive background checks and applications should be made compulsory for purchasing guns (as in the UK).

Now, I'm under no delusions. I know this has no chance of happening, at least not for a very long time. In the current political climate, with an increasingly aggressive NRA and under the administration of a man who woefully failed to condemn properly the actions of far-right terrorists, the hope of gun reform is impossibly optimistic.

But then again, what should be the liberal opposition's raison d'être, if not pushing for change, the more optimistic the better

The Democrats should see last Saturday’s tragic events in Charlottesville as an opportunity to revisit the country's least favourite conversation.

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About the author

Despite sharing the company of Rimbaud, Voltaire and co. for the third year in a row, Alec's real passion lies in writing. When the French degree permits it, he can be found scribbling away for a variety of publications, including The Spectator's Coffee House blog, Spiked-Online and - oh, how could he forget? - Disclaimer Mag!

A self-professed bon vivant, Alec is currently busy sunning himself in the South of France, whilst gleefully perusing the bountiful array of vin on offer. He's also been known to dabble in unscrupulous cheese-pairing. 

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