A January WIRED article “I Am Not a Soldier, but I Have Been Trained to Kill,” while conceived in 2020, has taken on a new meaning following the attack on the Capitol. Functioning as a “Shooting Party” for a post-bipartisan world, Rachel Monroe’s vignette recounts her time spent at Green Eye Tactical, a Texas firearm training site.
Imbued with impressions from her fellow trainees as well as Green Eye founder Jeff Cooper, the article documents people who have so much distrust in their own government that they take the law into their own hands.
Monroe does at times examine why this training site “has had a run of record-breaking enrollment” since 2015. There are select references to Black Lives Matter, the often difficult life of the war veteran, and platitudes of “keeping my family safe.”
However, Monroe seems more focused here in creating a depiction—and an unflattering one, at that—of her time at Green Eye. What is absent is the possibility of an investigative look into why exactly enrollment has risen since 2015. Following President Biden’s inaugural address, one that spoke of understanding each other, cracking this ever-elusive code seems more important than ever.
Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump
Racial protests came to a head in the spring of 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray. This similarity with the 2015 pivot in training registrations compacted with Monroe’s observations that “[firearm sales] skyrocketed as protests against racial injustice spread across the country” in 2020 could tempt one into concluding the protests are directly correlated to an emphasis on firearm training.
The McCloskey couple, who spoke at the 2020 Republic National Convention, are famous in conservative circles for brandishing firearms outside their St. Louis homes in an attempt to discourage potential intruders during a June protest. If one could assume that RNC speakers are the gold standard for America, surely the raison d’être for firearm training in America has evolved from creating well-regulated militias to staving off potential protest looters.
However, it’s just not that simple. Given the rise in training registration since 2015, we can assume that the trend has been steady. However, the presence of Black Lives Matter in the cultural cache had dissipated for the majority of the Trump administration, according to a Google Trends analysis; this means there is a disconnect. Besides, a few protests do not reflect the daily threats that lead people to firearm training in the first place.
The election of Donald Trump should be noted as well. We might assume many who engage in firearm training also welcomed his rise to power.
Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech declared a stop to murderous crime as we know it, however, this did not ease tensions or the usage of firearms. The insurrectionists of the capitol took the law into their own hands, even when they identified with the government at hand. This irony is not dissimilar from the majority notion that race relations worsened under Obama.
Terrorism and Mass Shootings
To get to the bottom of this issue, we need to do some backtracking. In order to really get to the bottom of this, some backtracking needs to be done. In the 2000s, following 9/11, terrorism was a prevalent perceived threat.
Then, as the 2000s turned to the 2010s, mass shootings became more and more common in the U.S, and the focus of worry shifted. The threat was no longer a bomb from the sky but a bullet from across the room.
Even that concern seems to have dissipated. If we view the Google Trend for “mass shooting,” the conversation on mass shootings seems to be muted as of late. From a scale of 0 (not enough data collected) to 100 (the most discussed time for that topic), August 2019 was the last time the term was above the popularity of a 20, the longest gap since 2017. Hopefully, this means we are already in a post-mass shooting America.
If we cannot validate these threats then why the spike in firearm registration in 2020? There is, instead, another observation to be made: “Firearm sales surged as the pandemic hit last spring…”
It has been well-documented that conversative Americans have downplayed the threat of COVID-19 compared to liberal Americans. Besides, why would you take arms against the threat of a virus? That evokes Borat trying to kill COVID with a frying pan and a microscope. With that in mind, do people simply have more time on their hands, or are there psychological factors at play?
Social Media, Partisanship, and the Departure from the Physical World
One big trend from 2015 to the present is the departure from the physical world. While big innovations like smartphones and social media were established before 2010, these strongholds now wield immense influence over the public. Social media has brought on an epidemic of anxiety, with terms like “doomscrolling” entering the cultural lexicon.
In addition to anxiety, we can attribute the partisanship divide to social media.
Customized media echo chambers mean that people only hear the news they want to hear, spun in the way they want it to be spun. This issue is apparent in the Facebook algorithm controversy. By customizing your news feed to only see more of what you want to see, Facebook users were withheld “objective” content and given content slanted to their views, only further solidifying them.
Social media has also allowed radical communities to go further into conspiratorial rabbit holes. Subcommunity platforms like Reddit and 4chan have amplified the voices of once obscure communities into major forces in the sociopolitical spectrum. The emphasis on the truth emerges from a media landscape that facilitates anything but.
The threat is a microscopic one, invisible to the naked eye. The world is being ravaged by a virus no one can see. The capitol is being overrun because of a rigged election with no evidence of rigging. The lack of evidence is perhaps the whole point. Data hacks and paper shredding are enabling misinformation and conspiracy theories. The mentality has permeated to the point where range paper silhouette targets feel like a thing of the past.
Just as new administrations haven’t yet phased out the following of old ones, new laws in this new decade will not phase out the gun culture that is so well-steeped into American folklore. While many are rejoicing that the National Rifle Association is declaring bankruptcy, this is only a reset as they follow companies like Oracle, Tesla, and SpaceX who are leaving blue states for Texas in hopes of less regulations. It seems as though things don’t change with the times; they simply adapt to them. Even when one threat fizzles out, another one is there to take its place.