June 14, 2014 in City

Gun tragedies evoke the sublime and the ridiculous

By The Spokesman-Review

Shawn Vestal
(Full-size photo)

Scads of school shootings since Newtown, and you would have to say the winners, in terms of public policy, are the gundamentalists.

Seemingly every other day, someone is shot dead in their school, and somehow the upper hand, legislatively, lies with those who see the only solution as more guns, faster access, weaker background checks, rifles in grocery stores …

Shooting after sick shooting, followed by the inevitable national shrug. Whoops. Very regrettable. If only.

The worst of the gundamentalists have now lost all sense of decency; they are unembarrassable. You see this in the proud defiance of the open-carry boys in Texas, walking into hardware stores with rifles strapped to their backs and two lonely ideas in their heads. You see it in Joe the Plumber’s willingness to declare in the days after shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that “your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.” You see it in the decision of an Oklahoma company to market bulletproof blankets for schoolchildren. You see it in fervent denial of radio paranoiac Alex Jones, who tells people that the Las Vegas cop killing was a conspiracy to make him and his ilk – self-declared patriots who dream of revolution – look bad.

He probably shouldn’t worry. He and his ilk could not possibly look worse, but they’re winning anyway.

Is there a bright spot? If there is – a tiny gleam somehow surviving a black hole – it might be the hero of the Seattle Pacific University shooting, Jon Meis, a student security guard. Meis set a humane, decent example in every way. After the shooter had killed one and injured two others, Meis pepper-sprayed him and took his gun. In the days after, he avoided the limelight. He did not swagger or boast. When he did make a public statement, he said something incredible: “When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man.”

Holy cow. A good guy without a gun.

Worse – much worse – are the zealots who have seized this violent moment to insist constantly upon their own goodness. I’m not talking about regular gun owners; heck, most gun owners and even most members of the NRA have tended to support, in polling, the low-hanging fruit of reasonable gun laws, such as closing the background check loophole. But the most extreme are more emboldened than ever.

The great Northwest has produced a recent example of this. Gavin Seim – a candidate for Congress from Wenatchee running on the slogan “No More Politicians” – is provoking the police and other local officials in Grant County over petty and ridiculous gun issues in the hopes of capturing the confrontations on video and making himself look like a heroic antigovernment avenger. Recently, he marched into the courthouse there and demanded a lockbox for his gun. He can’t manage the walk from his car unarmed, apparently. Because the courthouse lacks such a lockbox, as called for by state law, Seim declared a constitutional crisis and made such a patriotic spectacle of himself that the cops came and helped him leave.

Next he visited the town’s chief of police for a similarly dumb encounter; Seim’s YouTube headline for this video is: “Seim Owns Police Chief on the Law – Get’s (sic) Thrown from City Hall.”

On video in the chief’s office, Seim can be heard saying, “I have a huge concern about our liberty, the Constitution being followed and lawlessness in police officers. … You guys are not the dictators of Ephrata.”

He badgers the chief repeatedly and asks for a written apology over the previous incident at the courthouse. “I clearly understand the law better than you,” he says.

I dare you to watch it and not yearn for the chief to punch him.

But that would be wrong, of course. Instead, the chief asks Seim to leave.

“I guess I want the law to be followed a little too much,” says Seim, the constitutional martyr, into his video camera after he is escorted from the police department. “Every time I do this, every time I challenge the law, I’m amazed at how our public officials … Why do we tolerate this?”

“We the people need to take action.”

How much distance is there between someone like him and someone like Jerad Miller, the Las Vegas cop killer? Obviously, there’s a lot. Miller had gone down to stand with the supporters of Cliven Bundy in Nevada, but was apparently asked to leave because he was too extreme for those gathered there.

But the views Miller expressed in his “manifestos” do not differ all that much, in tone or substance, from the way that your run-of-the-mill Bundy boys and tea partyers and Seim tend to talk – not much different than the concerns and attitudes you might hear Alex Jones spout, when he’s not talking about FEMA camps. Miller wrote passionately – and vaguely – about liberty and tyranny and the Constitution. He warned of the imminent financial collapse. He compared routine police actions to Nazi Germany. He called for revolution under the Gadsden flag: Don’t Tread on Me. He painted himself as the one who understands and dares to speak. He cast himself as the savior of his children’s futures, in the face of government despots.

Jerad Miller saw himself as a good guy – a great guy – with a gun.

Watching Seim’s videos on YouTube was an alternately depressing and amusing experience. Throughout, you can sense his deep desire for heroics, his yearning for confrontation. He sees himself as the one who understands and dares to speak. It was somewhat heartening to look at the comments below and find at least one voice from the right calling BS.

“I would be supportive of you if you would handle things with a little common sense,” the commenter wrote. “But you make us conservatives look like a bunch of idiots …”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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