Charles Trimble: Frontier mentality continues with guns
As a well-worn cliché has it, there is a frontier mentality in America that has not advanced much beyond its early years. This is much in evidence in the ongoing market for guns.

Guns have always had a good market here in America. It’s a market driven by hunters, frontier re-enactors and collectors. Certainly gangs in most of the inner cities and increasingly in Indian reservations make up a huge subterranean market that is not even measured in the economy. But the most frightful and dangerous market is represented by paranoid yahoos who see enemies around every corner and behind every tree. These are people who are driven by fear – mostly fear of minorities whose rights they have trampled over the years, and fear of their own government’s every action to secure human and civil rights and opportunity for those minorities.

In the original American colonies and later the ever-expanding frontier, hunting was important to survival; but it was fear of Indians mostly that there was at least one blunderbuss in every home. And this persisted down through the years. Even as late as 1973 when the American Indian Movement occupied the village of Wounded Knee, many whites in a wide area surrounding Pine Ridge and other reservations drove around in their pickup trucks displaying racks of weaponry in the rear windows. Although it has always been in manly vogue to carry hunting rifles in the pickups, some of these were assault rifles that wouldn’t have left enough carcass for much of a venison dinner.

In frontier of the late 1830s there was great danger along the Oregon Trail and other routes westward. At demarcation points from Kansas City north to Omaha, booklets were being sold to the emigrants preparing for the trek; warning of Indian raids and giving advice on protecting against them; and, of course, selling guns to them. Gun sales boomed.

History tells, however, that Indians were no great threat if the pioneers would behave and stick to their routes. At the outset some friendly Natives would come along to trade for coffee, tobacco and pots and pans. But after a while they stayed far away because the wagon trains were fouling the rivers and spreading diseases. Their oxen teams ate much of the forage along the trails, and buffalo herds were driven off. From where the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails converged in central Nebraska, the road grew upward to twenty miles wide in places as different wagon trains spread our seeking more grass and safer water, and trying to avoid the trash jettisoned by overloaded wagon trains ahead of them.

Fresh shallow graves could be found all along the trail, as death was ever present. But most deaths came from drowning at river crossings, from wagon accidents, snakebites, and the dreaded Cholera that resulted from drinking the human and animal-fouled water. The biggest killer, however, was firearm accidents, those very same weapons sold to the immigrants to protect them from marauding Indians.

The same scare tactics used back then to sell weapons are being used today, much for the same purpose. Reports tell of a new arms mania, with gun shows overflowing, gun factories going flat out in production, and annual sales of guns in the U.S. reaching over $3 billion. Reportedly, Smith and Wesson stocks are up 115%, and Sturm/Ruger stocks are up 85%. Cabela’s arms sales are up 70%.

The following opening sentence of one report, however, causes me the greatest concern: “Barack Obama’s victory in November sent weapons sales shooting upward.” That report noted a major factor being fear that the new President would outlaw all guns. I would hate to guess what the other factors might be.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the possibility that some lunatic might believe he could save America from whatever some right wing talk show hosts tell him is threatening the country. And it wouldn’t take much to convince such a nut that Obama must go. If a deranged assassin was successful in such a mission it would have unimaginable repercussions when blacks and other minorities see their hero martyred and the doors of opportunity opened by Obama for their children are again slammed shut. For this is how it would appear to many of them. How will their rage play out?

What can be done about it, if anything? Most of the responsibility must lie squarely upon the Republican Party, for it is in their ranks that such lunacy festers. They should openly condemn the trend, then help isolate those nuts from society. There are many good people among the Republicans; the vast majority of them are decent, responsible people who would be as horrified as any American at the prospects of assassination of the President or any of his family or Cabinet. I hope that somewhere in their ranks some brave leader is speaking up about it.

However, there is no great alarm or even concern visible either on Capitol Hill or in any State political organizations. Indeed, the GOP’s fight against Obama’s mandates, especially for health care reform and economic recovery, brings forth questions of the President’s constitutional legitimacy, his patriotism, his motives, and even his sanity. There are even some people resurrecting the specter of a communist take over of the country if his initiatives are allowed to continue.

At least publicly, none dare mention Obama’s race in their attacks on him, but there can be little doubt that it is a prime factor among many of those critics.

Besides rational Republicans speaking out against the hysterical, inflammatory hyperbole of right wing nuts in their midst, a small start would be a new civility on the part of both political parties in debate over the critical issues that President Obama is trying to address.

Charles “Chuck” Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He may be reached at His website is

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