PBS/Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Rebel Hell

Why gun reforms won’t happen. Unless …

Jeffrey Denny

Rebellion is in America’s blood.

From the 1773 Tea Party to the 2009 Tea Party movement to today’s MAGAs, rebellion has defined and driven America.

Rebellion powered our founding, manifest destiny expansion, economic success, many secession threats, and even a civil war to fight for the right to enslave people for free labor.

The J6 rioters waving the Confederate flag as they attacked, invaded and desecrated our Capitol and democracy proved that Johnny Reb remains alive and well in our darkest hearts.

Rebellion has been part of teen-hood since teens existed, a rite of passage. In my lifetime, rebellion helped end the Vietnam War, challenge corporate hegemony and abuses, and advance rights for all.

Rebellion also drives ingenuity, innovation, efficiency, productivity, and products and services that enrich our lives and power our economy. For better or worse, Amazon and Apple — with market cap at nearly $4 trillion combined, beating the GDP of wealthy Germany — rose from rebels Bezos and Jobs.

Rebellion by unhappy workers, consumers and shareholders also forces change and progress.

Even our waves of immigrants — including my mother as a teen with her family—rebelled against their home countries to come here. Emigration is rebellion. America’s first major immigrant wave rebelled against Britain. (And the people already here rebelled against them.)

America is a nation of rebels.

This helps me understand America’s insane gun culture.

And why we have more mass shootings and gun deaths than any other developed nation — by a long shot.

Our rebel spirit is also why new gun controls seem unlikely. No matter if they’re easy, obvious, long-overdue, effective and painless like universal background checks, red-flag laws, or banning ridiculous AR-15s beloved by troubled mass shooters and fake militia patriots.

Forget that the overwhelming majority of Americans support better gun controls among all measures to protect children. (Like some parents hope by censoring teachers and books.)

You can marshal all the thoughtful, proven, powerful facts, arguments, memes, clever slogans and pleadings about protecting children against guns, but it’s all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Not as long as today’s Johnny Rebs say “Not no, but hell no” to any new gun measures, declaring they’re a slippery slope to disarming true American patriots against nonwhite urban and immigrant criminals who are replacing real Americans and elite Socialist liberal tyranny.

They may be sad bigot fools who are Clockwork Oranged by Fox and their other chosen media propaganda. But these rebels dictate America’s gun policies. More than oppose new gun laws, they’ll make Congress reverse current laws to permit unlicensed open-carry and other NRA bucket-list wishes. Especially as Republicans take Congress this fall with a sympathetic Trump Supreme Court, and maybe the presidency in 2024.

This is not pessimistic. It’s realpolitik.

Decades of Republican gerrymandering have backfired on the party and nation by summoning America’s angriest rebel spirit. While they’re a distinct and misbegotten minority they command the country and our lives.

Yep, the meanest rebel yell rules America.

This is whipsawing for someone like me who grew up in the 1960s with Republican parents. The Republicans were the starchy rule-bound rule-makers; Democrats were the angry rebels. The roles have flipped, as the pandemic response demonstrated.

My industrial Midwest region was also blue-collar Democrat, but now it’s red-hat Trump Country.

I get it; what powered America’s progress left the Rust Belt and Farm Belt behind.

The rebels there may have a cause. But many commanding our gun laws are simply rebellious by nature, nurture, immaturity, or rebel for ornery kicks.

As one psychologist wrote,

Rebel personalities … almost always disregard the reasons for rules, even though the outcomes are likely to be painful or of disadvantage to them.

“Sometimes they do this as a way of asserting a sense of power and control over others, or to try and compensate for real or imagined inner weakness.

“Adult rebels can be like obstinate children — no amount of punishment or scolding is going to decrease their rebelliousness, but instead is likely to intensify defiant behavior.”

Donald Trump understands these rebels.

He plays to them, even prostrates himself, for their attention, adulation or whatever succors his soul.

Trump’s rebels believe his act that he’s a rebel too — even if his rebellion is cheating and lying for power and wealth or committing high crimes and misdemeanors against America.

The worse Trump does, the more his rebels love it. He could scream the n-word from the top of Trump Tower and they would defend him.

MAGA rebels sneer at liberals for being sheep of the professional media but gobble any silage from Trump and his political media.

They also give rebellion a bad name.

Not all rebels are as harmful. Consider three types:

1. Rebels who break rules for good causes.

They make “good trouble,” as civil rights icon John Lewis called challenging power to advance racial equity and equality. Progress on many fronts often demands breaking eggs to make omelets.

2. Rebels who mostly hurt themselves.

And their loved ones when they suffer or die.

These include smokers, motorcyclists who won’t wear helmets and drivers who won’t wear seatbelts, and people who scoff at health warnings and risk morbidities and untimely death.

Unfortunately, if they enjoy Medicare, Medicaid or Obamacare health coverage, we all pay for their personal recklessness.

3. Rebels who don’t care about others.

These rebels feel their lives, beliefs and needs are more important than yours.

These rebels include: Reckless drivers who cause deadly or maiming accidents; Covid deniers and anti-vaxxers who extended the pandemic shutdowns and economic impact, spread the disease, and sickened and killed their fellow Americans; and the J6 rebels who brutalized police and fought to cancel the votes of their fellow Americans and overturn the election.

Also include rebels who are killing sensible gun safety measures and have blood on their hands.

Yet, like the psychologist said, you can’t plead with these rebels — the more you try, the more they dig in with cockamamie reasons and reasoning, or simply, “Well, that’s how I feel.” It’s like arguing with a toddler who demands a cookie — it’s stupid, pointless and you’re the fool.

Rebels without a care unfortunately own the gun debate.

The question is, will the Republican Party that put these sad foolhardy, dangerous rebels in control summon the courage and decency to bring adult supervision and sense to curb the mass gun slaughters?

Will Fox and other cynical media that fuel and feed MAGA hate, paranoia and resentment finally put public safety over propaganda for profit?

You have to wonder, how many Republican National Committee staff or Fox News personalities own the AR-15s they defend? How many are frightened that their children's schools could be the next mass shooting headline? How many can look their spouses and kids in the eye when the subject of gun safety comes up?

As a cockeyed optimist, I believe there must be good, caring, God-fearing people at GOP and Fox headquarters who are dying to stand up and say, enough already. Enough with the slick spin that riles the foolish rebels for votes and viewership at the risk of gun violence and death. Enough innocent deaths for power and money.

Certainly children and their parents, teachers and communities are dying to hear that.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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