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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: The Tree of Liberty

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Timothy McVeigh hawking bumper stickers outside the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kid who called 911 while a gunman stalked her classroom in Uvalde, Texas. She used her dead teacher’s phone and said, “Please send the police now,” and nobody came, not for a long time, and the cops were right outside the door.

The teenage gunman used an AR because the rifle is light-shooting, easy to use, easy to obtain and is capable of rapid and high rates of fire using large-capacity magazines. One under-emphasized detail of the Texas shooting is that the killer arrived at Robb Elementary with 58 fully loaded 30-round magazines. That’s about 1,750 bullets. No other rifle on the civilian market allows for this kind of one-man infantry and that is exactly why mass murderers use them.

That’s also why AR rifles occupy such a central place in our national psychosis and why we will continue living and dying with these weapons for a long, bloody time.

The gun lobby and its representatives are sincere in their way when they claim events like Uvalde and Buffalo are outliers – misuses of these weapons by deranged outcasts. That’s not really what AR-15s are for. Less sincere is the prayer-circling when it’s been clear for a long time that a staggering domestic body count is simply the price of freedom from gun control.

But to those asking whether there is a moral or theoretical limit to the number of dead kids in classrooms or little old ladies in parking lots, the answer is no. Not exactly.

And to those asking if guns are more important than people, the answer is, Ask a different question.

***

Tim McVeigh sold bumper stickers outside the Branch Davidian compound during the siege at Waco and I remember him when I see a Gadsden flag or an AR cling on the rear window of a pick-up truck.

An armed society is a polite society.

Sic semper tyrannis!

Don’t tread on me.

When he was arrested outside Oklahoma City, McVeigh was wearing a t-shirt that read, “The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” quoting Thomas Jefferson. Many will remember the blood of innocents and bystanders from the Murrah Building, especially those in the daycare. But the quote endures in Gun Land and the sentiment still undergirds the hardest of the hardcores, those devout patriots who will have their guns pried from their cold, dead fingers.

***

The AR-15 is a war-fighting machine and is meant for war-fighting here at home.

The nature of this war is sufficiently nebulous but could be a civil war or societal collapse; it could be the cities emptying out and threatening hinterland America with the fiery Antifa Armageddon of 2020 Portland and Minneapolis. It could be the final betrayal of bedrock America by everyone and everything else, including and especially the regulatory state. Choose your own adventure.

Maybe it never happens. The threat and the power of the gun will remain.

The AR-15 is a potent offensive weapon and frightening deterrent, a killing tool that doesn’t make a lot of sense in a civil society. Except in the context of building internal arsenals, in which case they make perfect sense. And so do all the other insane elements of maximalist gun culture that go undiscussed outside the hothouse: The 50-cal. sniper rifles; the totally legal silencers for rifles and pistols; the 50- and 100-round drum mags; the point-and-shoot Red Dot sights synced to night-vision goggles like something out of the raid in Abbottabad. You know about the body armor. How about Tannerite explosives?

This isn’t Field and Stream stuff. When someone like John Thune says people need ARs for varminting it’s with a wink. But he is correct that the 5.56 NATO rounds from an AR-15 are not suited for deer or larger animals. They are not “sporting rifles” at all in any traditional sense. They were designed for hunting humans with small-but-fast bullets and have been doing so since the 1960s. We will continue to live with them because they are a near-perfect companion to minority rule, or what some traditionalists like to call state’s rights.

***

During the pandemic I watched a group of heavily armed men menace a smaller group of mostly young women outside a coffee shop in Goshen, and the image sticks with me. This was a so-called counterprotest but its meaning was clear.

Come and take it. To your grave.

Music: “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” by The Beatles