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The Cold Civil War

By Patrick Vitalone.


On Tuesday, President Obama announced a series of measures to tighten the availability of guns in the United States, citing the numerous instances in which civilians have been killed by firearms. The NRA promptly responded with its own criticisms. The prevalence of guns in America has been debated for years, and the issue of firearms in the United States begs a question beyond regulation: is America in a Cold Civil War?

The Cold War between the United States and the USSR was a unique chapter in the history of humankind. For the two major powers that emerged after World War II, they found themselves co-rulers of a peculiar new world: declaring total war would have ended civilization, if not all of Earth’s life. Indisputable mutual destruction had then presented a challenge: how does a superpower eliminate its rival without full scale war?

The answer was proxy warfare. These geopolitical foes chose to conduct violent conflict in remote places that did little to affect their immediate stability. Rather, these far away battles were waged with the sole purpose of hindering the rival’s economy and expansion. Vietnam, Greece, China, Iran, and Africa are only some of the bellicose examples funded and sometimes directly fought by the opposing economic powerhouses.

In the United States today, the widespread availability of guns and the ease with which they are purchased could very well enable another Cold War, only one that’s civil and within America’s own borders. In fact, the United States may already be engaged in a Cold Civil War, depending on how history presents these tragic events.

Not quite the distance between Capitalism and Communism, domestic American politics faces nearly insurmountable ideological divides. Daily rhetoric from politicians, websites, and pundits often assigns the blame for societal ills to the policies of either the Right or the Left. But as the two sides venture farther from common ground, some have chosen violence over discourse to settle these disputes.

On June 15th, 2015, a young white man named Dylann Roof had opened fire in a Christian church, killing nine of its members. Using money given to him on his birthday, Roof purchased a handgun from a retail gun store in Charleston. Roof had targeted the church because of its black attendees and his own conservative views. Outraged by his interpretation of the events in the Trayvon Martin trial, Roof had found solace in the Council of Conservative Citizens, a website promoting paleoconservatism and racial segregation. Armed and with a clear plan, Roof had published his motivation for violence over discourse:

“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Across the country, on November 27th, 2015, another South Carolina man motivated by his radical Christianity and conservative views, opened fire on a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. After being apprehended, Robert Lewis Dear told detectives that he wanted “no more baby parts.” Though Conservatives did not take ownership of Dear, nor did they politicize his violence as is wont with shooters of other creeds and ethnicities, Dear was unabashed in his motivation. On a website called Canabis.com, Dear was very open about his religious and conservative beliefs, writing various calls to action:

“turn to Jesus or burn in hell. Wake up sinners u cant save yourself u will die an worms shall eat your flesh, now your soul is going somewhere.”

“god made the woman out of the mans side sorry but womans lib cant change it.”

“aids, hurricanes, we are in the end times. accept the LORD JESUS while you can.”


Three people died in Dear’s carnage: a mother of two from Hawaii, a Colorado Springs police officer, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to a New York Times investigation, Dear long had access to guns as a “generally conservative man . . . [who] had kept guns around the house for personal protection and hunting.”

And while the contemporary Left may eschew guns, that hasn’t always been the case and could very well change in the future. Upset with American society and seeking answers in Marxism, Lee Harvey Oswald wanted to make a name for himself in history. Purchasing a 6.5 mm Carcano rifle and .38 mm Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver by mail, Oswald first attempted to assassinate US Major General Edwin Walker, an outspoken anti-Communist, segregationist, and member of the John Birch Society, a far right political advocacy group. Oswald failed to kill Walker, and would then go on to successfully execute American President John F. Kennedy.

In 1967, the Black Panthers, a Leftist group dedicated to the advancement of Black Americans and racial equality in America, had published a Ten-Point Program describing their ideology and goals:

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

With gun battles that often involved police and ended in deaths on both sides, the Black Panther Party was one of the first groups, Right or Left, that argued for the modern unregulated right to bear arms at a time when Governor Ronald Reagan, the Klu Klux Klan, and even the NRA pushed for stricter gun laws. Knowing this, Bobby Seale, one of the founding members of the Black Panthers, proclaimed on the steps of the California State capitol that:

“The American people in general and the black people in particular, must take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless. Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people. The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.”

Though talk of gun regulation today may sound like a mere issue between government regulation versus constitutional freedom, a closer look reveals a political civil war waged by civilian proxies. After the recent San Bernadino shootings perpetrated by two Muslims swearing allegiance to the Islamic State, a Christian gun shop owner in Florida declared his business a “Muslim Free Zone.”

And with minority groups such as Muslim-Americans, Mexican-Americans, women, African-Americans, and others who are constantly fighting for their equality under the law, what could stop these groups from becoming more militant, opening their own gun shops and exclusively arming their own kin? The answer is nothing. For America to bridge its ideological divides and end the Cold Civil War, it needs to reform the 2nd Amendment to tighten the availability of guns, while also promoting an American identity that transcends being white or black, Christian or Muslim, woman or man. Promote unity to bridge the divide and disarm the warring militias: otherwise, gun violence in American civil society may never end.


Patrick Vitalone is a writer from New England who focuses on politics and international culture. He can be found on Twitter and his website.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, January 9th, 2016.