Spree Killings in Colorado Springs & San Bernardino: 2 types of not dissimilar political extremism

Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.


Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.

(The first NY Times front page editorial since 1920)

By ann summers

Good luck with getting anything out of those cold/warm empty hands since you will be requiring state policing power to confiscate guns from those who most prize them either as collectables or as recreation. This will not be easy and in fact is nearly impossible in a country whose founding existence came from those whose shooting expertise helped in the armed struggle against colonial rule.

If the US were the scale and scope of Australia that might be possible but there are US states, some with the population size of Australia whose politicians see such an action as a first step to secession. Such enforcement and regulatory activity will keep the PIC in business and revitalize the demand for their political existence and in some cases promote their increased privatization. Concurrently even greater criminal cultures will emerge to foster arms trafficking as the Southern border has demonstrated.

The folks on the NY Times editorial board need to appreciate the following realities:

  • Until we have a society which resolves its crises without the force of arms as the first rather than seemingly the last step in engagement, there will be guns and guns with extreme capabilities.
  • Until we have a society which can address its racism and classism, there will be those who abuse authority and legally dispatch innocent civilians under the color of law and with minimal consequence, so there will be guns and guns with extreme capabilities.
  • Until we have a society with policing that serves and protects its communities rather than treating civilians as the subjects of occupying force, there will be guns and guns with extreme capabilities.
  • Until we have a society based on a corporate economy that is not based on selling those combat arms to other nations and their armed forces, so there will be guns and guns with extreme capabilities.
  • Until we have a society whose politicians are willing to address the above democratic realities,  there will be guns and guns with extreme capabilities. All the reclassification in the world cannot will them away.

Until the American people and its representatives address those realities directly no sense of decency can even begin nor peace be maintained. It is more than margins and numbers of harmful objects, it is some fundamental thinking about the kinds of communities we wish to live in and live together in harmony rather than fear of anything or anyone. And it’s hard to say whether I respect Warren G. Harding more or less right now what with John Kasich still in the race for POTUS, but the NY Times probably didn’t need to post their 1920 editorial on the front page even if Harding or even Coolidge is more interesting than Kasich.

Warren G. Harding (1919)
Warren G. Harding – “a second class” Ohio politician (NY Times editorial 1920)

But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.

It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.

Opponents of gun control are saying, as they do after every killing, that no law can unfailingly forestall a specific criminal. That is true. They are talking, many with sincerity, about the constitutional challenges to effective gun regulation. Those challenges exist. They point out that determined killers obtained weapons illegally in places like France, England and Norway that have strict gun laws. Yes, they did.

But at least those countries are trying. The United States is not. Worse, politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs. It is past time to stop talking about halting the spread of firearms, and instead to reduce their number drastically — eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition.

It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.

Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.

What better time than during a presidential election to show, at long last, that our nation has retained its sense of decency?



“Can we all just get along?”

Remember that as a population group, there are probably more RW so-called homegrown, self-radicalized extremists residing in the US than those based in non-native ideologies that have been radicalized as the result of international military action since WWII and have resident immigrant populations in the US, a country founded by “self-radicalized extremists” that have inhabited every wave of immigration.

The response by politicians as well as interest groups has been disproportionate in many ways with racism and sexism excused in one instance while conspiratorial organization has been denied in the other. And yet these proportions could be inverted in other parts of the world simply on the basis of location and demographics even before one considers race, class, and power.

While all such murders in Colorado and California have been tragic, these have been two attacks in a short time that may have been influenced by a variety of factors, including events both recent and in a distant past, yet retain certain similar structural features, and yet exhibit contrasting hegemonic features corresponding to their respective traditions.

The agents of such actions couldn’t be any more different: a middle age reclusive racist motivated by anti-abortion ideologies attacks a medical facility with a firearm and a young couple decides to attack a workplace with assault weapons. Both deployed poorly improvised explosives.

There are ideological causes as well as cultural ones and the desire to have clear causal explantions and preventative prescriptions is proportional to the complexity of the events themselves. Nothing is binary or dualistic. There is plenty of nuance.

Yet both of these recent events in the past two weeks represent death cults that affirm survival only for the ideologically converted and destruction for apostates.

This all has occured in a world with complex actions and actvivities that have complex and possibly unintentionally common structures. While the ideologies are not identical they have extremist resemblances particularly in terms of ideological commitment to certain deterministic narratives.

Incitement has come from a variety of fundamentalisms, which while culturally distinct and even antagonistic in a global sense, are triggered by similar zealotry and commitment to apocalyptic endtime narratives, each of which views plural democracy in a modern republic as anathema to its ideological, religious program.

If there is any path for political leadership it should come not from even more force but from even more peace…unfortunately the 2016 election will see greater rather than less polarization and demagoguery. Public policy may focus more on command and control of the instruments of violence where the real violence is instrumentally symbolic and no less contentious or vital to their adherents. May we find peace in the coming weeks.

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5 Responses to Spree Killings in Colorado Springs & San Bernardino: 2 types of not dissimilar political extremism

  1. Ann, I agree with much of what you say; however, we have a problem with this:
    Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way…

    For example, many common hunting rounds are no different than those used by the military. Our Celtic Lassie had a .243 deer rifle, which is not much different than the .223 round used in the AR-14. You can buy those bullets at Walmart. Empty brass cartridges can be reloaded. It might be possible to regulate cannon rounds, but not much else. Unfortunately, 20mm or 37mm cannons are not the weapon of choice for terrorists.

    The modifications made to the AR-14 in San Bernardino were intended to convert the legal semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic; in other words, machine guns. According to news sources, neither of them had any military or firearms experience. Whatever they learned, they apparently got their information from the internet or books. Law enforcement said their attempt to convert their weapons to fully automatic failed, and the guns wouldn’t work.

    As for the black powder they used to load the pipe bombs, that is easily available and in common use for primitive (muzzle loading) weapons. Black powder burns so fast it is classified as an explosive, whereas smokeless powder used in modern ammunition burns more slowly and is classified as a propellant rather than explosive. These wannabe terrorists were inept as weapons makers, because none of the pipe bombs went off.

    Getting back to black powder. It is easy to make. Our forefathers made it at home. They had to, because it was not something a frontier settler could run down to the store and buy. Black powder only has three ingredients; two of them minerals, and the third is charcoal.

    Caliber? I have a .50 caliber rifle. It uses black powder, but can bring down a bear or buffalo, as well as a deer.

    The latest thing in weapons are air guns. No powder at all. Just compressed air. How about this one? It charges up to 3,000 PSI pressure, and can hurl a .45 caliber Minié ball downrange in excess of 1,000 feet per minute with sniper accuracy. Not even a “bang” when the trigger is pulled, other than the sonic boom of the bullet leaving the barrel.

    I don’t think the solution is going to be found in regulating the hardware. The solution, IMHO, will come in regulating who can buy and own it. For starters, anyone convicted of a crime of violence, even if the charge is reduced to a misdemeanor. Domestic violence, assault, road rage, and the list goes on. If somebody cannot control their temper behind the wheel of a car, they have no business owning firearms. How about restricting ownership to persons who are actually loyal to the US Constitution and laws of the land. Right there, we eliminate ‘Sovereign Citizens,’ neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis.

    They won’t want to do it, but Congress has the power to define what “militia” means. That might be useful given the fluid definitions it has been given over the past two centuries. Create an official militia, much as the Swiss have, and make that mean the same as “militia” in the 2nd Amendment.

    • ann summers says:

      agreed, the NYTimes is quite misled and in fact their earlier efforts that influenced the existing CA gun control laws only created a host of methods to bypass the laws, hence the accessories and the DIY movements made stronger by the Web.

  2. Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Guns cannot be “uninvented”. They can be built from scratch with equipment and materials that are neither exotic nor shockingly expensive. The skills required are not difficult to master well enough to be successful if not artful in constructing one. Barring the collapse of global civilization, the technology isn’t going anywhere.

    Legally the problem is more pragmatic and economic. If you outlaw guns, there are so many in circulation and so many countries engaged in their manufacture that what will result is a black market. That is simply a consequence of prohibition where there is demand in a market economy.

    The genie is out of the bottle.

    What needs to change is human nature.

    Good luck with that.

  3. To continue Gene’s thought. Anyone who has basic machine shop skills can make a firearm. Mikhail Kalashnikov, a Soviet tank mechanic, invented and built the first iteration of the AK-47 while recovering from his wounds in WW2. The “47” in the name of the rifle designates the year it was adopted by the Soviet army. Clones of the AK-47 are built in little shops around the world. The parts are cheap, and many are simply stamped metal. A blacksmith can make many of the parts.

    Ronnie Barret got the idea for a .50 caliber rifle about 1980, building the first rifle that now bears his name in 1982…in his garage in middle Tennessee. When he built it, he had never even fired a .50 caliber round, so his virgin shot on the rifle range was with the rifle he built in his garage. Barret sniper rifles are the weapon of choice of snipers around the world.

    To date, I have built several pistols, the largest of which was a .44 caliber revolver. The smallest is a .38 caliber “snake eyes” double barrel derringer. That pistol is moslty cast brass, including the barrel(s).

    Wood of the willow tree makes the best charcoal for use in black powder. It can be ground very fine.

    Here is an interview with Ronnie Barrett, who explains the origins of his rifle:

  4. pete says:

    Just a few quick points. As Chuck said the .243 is a good sporting round. If I recall it was originally developed for countries that ban military rounds for civilian use. The .243 is a necked down .308 Winchester/ 7.62x51mm NATO brass. Great for deer or a small black bear, but if confronted by a grizzles or a polar bear I’d suggest the buddy system. Shoot your buddy in the knee cap and back slowly away.
    As for cannons (I looked this up recently) they are legal. Muzzle loaders, that is. So if you have a 2 pounder or a 12 lb Napolian or even a 32 or 64 lb caronade and you need to fire some round shot or maybe even some canister go right ahead. Best check your local city ordinances though, but federally speaking you’re okay. Just no exploding shot. Seriously, it is legal, though you may not be very popular with your neighbors. You local fire dept. also may not care for it if drought conditions exist.

    A few other thoughts. The San Bernardino shooting doesn’t even crack or top five in number of people killed. Tied at six and seven if I recall. Not much consolation if one of the victims is a friend or relative though. I won’t speculate what might have happened if they had kept moving and shooting like so many of the non muslim mass shooters.
    But when you get right down to it, that is the big difference in this mass shooting and every other one that has come before it.
    The religion of the shooters.
    That’s where we draw the line.

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