Tactical Reality


From TPM Reader SS

I’m a pretty left-of-center liberal. Read TPM regularly. Donated nearly $1,000 to BHO’s re-election campaign. But I was raised with guns. More to the point, my childhood was steeped in gun lore: I learned to hand-load ammunition when I was 10 and 11, and – by the time I was 14 – my dad was trusting me to prepare my own handloads. I could (and to some extent, still can) recite chapter and verse of firearms arcana, from muzzle velocities – a product of the type of gunpowder used in one’s handloads; of the weight (in grains) of a projectile; of the length of a gun’s barrel (the longer, the faster); of the temperature and elevation at which one is shooting – to impact energy (measured in footpounds), to trajectories (flatter for heavier bullets; some calibers have an innate advantage over others), and so on.

I bring this up to establish my bona-fides.

The gun culture that we have today in the U.S. is not the gun culture, so to speak, that I remember from my youth. It’s too simple to say that it’s “sick;” it’s more accurately an absurd fetishization. I suppose that the American Gunfighter, in all of his avatars, is inescapably fetishistic, but (to my point) somewhere along the way – maybe in, uh, 1994? – we crossed over into Something Else: let’s call it Gonzo Fetishization. The American Gunfighter as caricature.

The guns that I grew up with (in the late-1970’s and 1980’s) were bolt-action rifles: non-automatic weapons, with organic fixtures – i.e., stocks – and limited magazine capacities. As a pre-adolescent, weaned on the A-Team and the nationalist inanity of the Reagan years, I still remember marveling at the gorgeous glossiness – at the beauty – of my dad’s Sako “Vixen” .222 Remington, with its hand-checkered French walnut stock.

I was raised nominally to hunt, although we didn’t do much of that: once a year, at most. More frequently, we’d go to the range and shoot at targets. So I grew up practicing, and enjoying, what’s commonly called benchrest rifle shooting. I still do so (to a limited extent) today.

Most of the men and children (of both sexes) I met were interested in hunting, too. Almost exclusively, they used traditional hunting rifles: bolt-actions, mostly, but also a smattering of pump-action, lever-action, and (thanks primarily to Browning) semi-automatic hunting rifles. They talked about gun ownership primarily as a function of hunting; the idea of “self-defense,” while always an operative concern, never seemed to be of paramount importance. It was a factor in gun ownership – and for some sizeable minority of gun owners, it was of outsized (or of decisive) importance – but it wasn’t the factor. The folks I interacted with as a pre-adolescent and – less so – as a teen owned guns because their fathers had owned guns before them; because they’d grown up hunting and shooting; and because – for most of them – it was an experience (and a connection) that they wanted to pass on to their sons and daughters.

And that’s my point: I can’t remember seeing a semi-automatic weapon of any kind at a shooting range until the mid-1980’s. Even through the early-1990’s, I don’t remember the idea of “personal defense” being a decisive factor in gun ownership. The reverse is true today: I have college-educated friends – all of whom, interestingly, came to guns in their adult lives – for whom gun ownership is unquestionably (and irreducibly) an issue of personal defense. For whom the semi-automatic rifle or pistol – with its matte-black finish, laser site, flashlight mount, and other “tactical” accoutrements – effectively circumscribe what’s meant by the word “gun.” At least one of these friends has what some folks – e.g., my fiancee, along with most of my non-gun-owning friends – might regard as an obsessive fixation on guns; a kind of paraphilia that (in its appetite for all things tactical) seems not a little bit creepy. Not “creepy” in the sense that he’s a ticking time bomb; “creepy” in the sense of…alternate reality. Let’s call it “tactical reality.”

The “tactical” turn is what I want to flag here. It has what I take to be a very specific use-case, but it’s used – liberally – by gun owners outside of the military, outside of law enforcement, outside (if you’ll indulge me) of any conceivable reality-based community: these folks talk in terms of “tactical” weapons, “tactical” scenarios, “tactical applications,” and so on. It’s the lingua franca of gun shops, gun ranges, gun forums, and gun-oriented Youtube videos. (My god, you should see what’s out there on You Tube!) Which begs my question: in precisely which “tactical” scenarios do all of these lunatics imagine that they’re going to use their matte-black, suppressor-fitted, flashlight-ready tactical weapons? They tend to speak of the “tactical” as if it were a fait accompli; as a kind of apodeictic fact: as something that everyone – their customers, interlocutors, fellow forum members, or YouTube viewers – experiences on a regular basis, in everyday life. They tend to speak of the tactical as reality.

And I think there’s a sense in which they’ve constructured their own (batshit insane) reality.
One in which we have to live.

Thanks for reading. I apologize for having gone on for so long. Hope that you’ve found it interesting,


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.