As we know, prolonged exposure to the certifiably awul website Twitter.com encourages and incentivises our absolute worst impulses as human beings. One of the ways this has manifested for me is that, from time to time, I like to send rude or annoying replies to dumb right-wing reactionaries that I despise. Like former Tea Party congressman and overall massive piece of shit Joe Walsh, best known for his abborhent beliefs about virtually any subject and for not paying his child support payments. (Pay your child support payments, Joe.)
So when Joe weighed in, in typically awful Walshian fashion, on the news that Dick’s Sporting Goods was no longer going to be selling the AR-15 — a similar model to the weapon that had recently been used to massacre 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — I thought I’d take the opportunity to grind his gears a little bit.
I had noticed in some of the Twitter circles I run in that saying the phrase “The AR in AR-15 stands for Assault Rifle” to a certain brand of extremely online gun enthusiast is like infecting them with the word virus from Pontypool. It just drives them into a frenzy for some reason. Turns out it's much more: a powerful combination of words that, when uttered in that precise combination at the exact right moment, can literally open the gates of Hell!
They came first by the dozens, then the hundreds, then the thousands—as you can see if you click that tweet. They told me I was wrong. They sent me memes, infographics, screenshots of Google searches, wikipedia pages, rifle manufacturer webpages. The dumb liberal journalist strawman they had built up in their fevered imaginations had been rendered flesh, and they were there to extract their pound of it. I responded by quadrupling down on my assertion that the AR in AR-15 does, in fact, stand for “Assault Rifle.” Nothing anyone said could convince me otherwise. Rather then give them the satisfaction of correcting me, I stuck out both middle fingers, Stone Cold Steve Austin-style, and simply allowed the endless waves of Chuds to wash over me, like a baptism.
I’m well aware that the lament of the owned online is that they are Not Mad and Actually Laughing, but it was and is genuinely funny to me to short circuit these people’s brains by refusing to stoop to the debate they want to have. I know it’s childish. I know it’s not helpful. But it’s satisfying on a certain primal level. And in this case, maybe I did learn something. I didn’t end up learning what the AR in AR-15 stands for — I really don’t care — but I did learn a little something about the people on the other side of this debate: That this is what upsets them.
Not dead children. Not the toxic masculinity that has been an obvious thread linking together many of these mass shooters — that’s simply a myth concocted by the SJWs, or the Cultural Marxists, or whatever the fuck. Not the increasingly organized white supremacists that have now murdered dozens of people across the country. It’s not an obviously sick culture that fetishizes and worships violence and death that inspires them to spring into action. Nope. A dumbass liberal journalist was wrong about their guns.
It’s a little like they’d been programmed. “There’s no such thing as an assault rifle,” they told me, over and over and over. Like if they just kept repeating that particular mantra, it would become true. I wonder if it’s a comfort to the grieving teens from Parkland that the AR-15 is not, technically, an “assault rifle.” Did you know if you carried around a knife and then used it to attack someone, it would then become an “assault knife?” Many hundreds of people angrily laid out this exact analogy for me, to expose my cluelessness about the subject. The AR-15 only becomes an assault rifle when the bullets start flying, you see. So there’s nothing that can be done. Let’s let the parents of the dozens of small children that died at Sandy Hook know about this. Or survivors from San Bernardino. Or from Las Vegas, where this not-technically-an-assault-rifle was used to shoot upwards of 1000 people. It’s not technically an assault rifle, folks. Got it? Do you feel better?
We can and should look at the emerging movement out of the Parkland shooting with cautious optimism, but the Parkland teens burgeoning activism has been exhilarating to watch because they refuse to meet their opponents on the same ground. It seems like they picked up something from the Obama years that the liberal pundit class didn’t about the utter uselessness of engaging America’s most virulent reactionaries in reasoned debate. They are treating them as ideological obstacles that must be removed, and in the process, teaching ther rest of their generation about a political calculus that is much more effective than the weak pablum the Democratic Party consultant class has been serving for the last few decades. Maybe, this time, it will lead to actual change.
Who knows what that will look like. Any discussion about gun control should probably start with disarming America’s heavily militarized and increasingly malevolent police forces. That’s going to involve actually listening to the marginalized communities that have been pleading for action on this front for years, and giving them the same attention and respect that has been afforded the Parkland kids.
I can say for sure, though, what change with respect to American gun control is not going to look like: endless pedantic debates about what the AR in AR-15 stands for, or what the definition of “assault rifle” or even the word “assault” is. I feel confident in guessing that anyone who has ever been terrorized by this or any other weapon probably felt like they were under assault. So it is for this reason, and also because it’s simply the objective truth, that I choose to maintain:
The AR in AR-15 stands for Assault Rifle.