The week a gun rally in Virginia became a Trumpy version of MLK’s dream

One of the memories of being in London for Veterans Day was that even with Brexit hanging over the country, there still seemed to be a unity greater than what I feel here at home.  That feeling materialized at the Tate Museum viewing Edward Ruscha’s 2017 painting, Our Flag.

The torn flag may be seen showing the passage of time or the divisive moment in what I’ve come to think of as America’s culture war.  The image embodied the erosion of e Pluribus Unum here at home.

On Monday, approximately sixteen thousand gun rights advocates gathered peacefully in Richmond. Armed militias carried assault-style weapons and marched in formation, while unarmed rally participants swarmed the statehouse. The symbolism is obvious, armed men, mostly white, organized on the grounds of the Richmond Capitol which had once been the capital of the Confederacy. This is how lovers of the Second Amendment protested on the federal holiday of the most notable African-American leader of our time, himself a victim of gun violence – an obviously intentional ironic note in our culture war.


Last week, a Washington Post poll of African-Americans said that eight in 10 black citizens believe the current President of the United States to be a racist. Take that in a moment. If this is true, what progress have we made since Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech in August 1963?  How tainted is any of that progress made by today’s cultural divide?

Covering the rally, Fox & Friends featured Antonia Okafor Cover, the director of outreach for a gun-rights group, who concluded, “…it’s almost as if MLK’s dream to see that people judge people based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin has actually become reality.” This was a Trumpian view of a gun-rights rally, on the grounds of the South’s former capital, as the fulfillment of a slain black leader’s dream.

Black American’s experience structural racism in more ways than I can sum here. It is also true that a portion of America sees gun ownership as their primary relationship with the government.


Some people use stickers to identify themselves as part of a family. As this became a trope, others have come to liken their weapons as something like components of a family. Note that the van’s model has been replaced by the letters NRA, and that that sticker says they’re a ‘family man’.


A neighbor displays a bumper sticker “You Stomp My Flag, I Stomp Your Ass”. At first, the message seems based on fear of a radical who could forcibly take a flag from patriotic hands and defile it. But then on reflection, it sinks in, this statement asserts an interest in every American flag. It serves as a threat against offensive expression with any flag, a prior restraint by the promise of violence for objectional expression. Its subtext, like Monday’s rally, is shut-up, you’re in *my* country.

You can decide if guns are the problem or the solution. The American Journal of Medicine found that people in the US are twenty-five times more likely to die from a gun homicide than those in other wealthier countries. Nearly 40,000 people die each year in the US from firearm injuries, which are predominantly suicides.

Monday’s rally followed a weekend of gun violence across the US. In San Antonio, a nineteen-year-old killed two and injured five a night club shooting on the city’s River Walk. In Hawaii, an assailant shot two police as they arrived at a burning home and a woman stabbed the assailant in the leg.  In Kansas City, a gunman opened fire on people waiting to get into a bar, killing two and injuring fifteen. This suspected shooter had two previous weapons charges. They would have likely served prison time for their offenses, except for a change in Missouri state law allowing concealed weapons to be carried without a permit.

If Doctor King was contemplating our country this weekend, he might have been mourning these dead. His thoughts might then move to healing and justice, because he’s Dr. King he might lead those efforts. Whatever your second amendment view, can a person of conscience ever say that a gun rally fulfills Dr. King’s dream? This seems like disrespect written in the greatest possible relief.

As the painter of Our Flag, Edward Ruscha, said of his work “any flag that flies for 250 years is bound to get a little ragged and tattered, especially if we help it along.”

E Pluribus Unum, our national motto meaning ‘from many one’ is feeling tattered. It’s not just time; civic disregard is helping it along.

1 Response to "The week a gun rally in Virginia became a Trumpy version of MLK’s dream"

  • frankie

    March 1, 2020

    i thnk there is a pattern of disrespect across the board. Everyone has a right to hate the country they live in or hate another person But just because its a right doesnt make it right have some respect for your fellow human beings

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