Terrorism in the Checkout Lane

February 20, 2013
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

No doubt you heard that shoppers at a Kroger supermarket in Charlottesville, VA got a bit of a scare yesterday evening when a 22-year-old man walked into the store toting a loaded AR-15 rifle. Sounds frightening, and it was for some customers who ran out of the store upon seeing a large, semi-automatic gun similar to the one used by Newtown, Conn. shooter Adam Lanza in their grocery aisles.  [1]

In Virginia his behavior is considered legal and sane, and police released him. But perhaps in case the police or another gun-owner mistakenly killed him, the armed shopper carried in his pocket a note explaining that he was just exercising his 2nd Amendment right to walk around with a menacing weapon.

This is a brilliant demonstration of the politely hushed reality that the demand for guns correlates with insensitivity to the feelings and rights of other people. To be blunt: displaying a military-style assault rifle associated with rampage massacres is a form of psychological violence against unarmed people. The reality is that the man terrorized some fellow citizens who were intelligent enough to flee the store. Why say “terrorized”? Because his arsenal gave him grossly disproportionate power over others in an obscenely inappropriate situation. The vicious nature of the weapon allows it to kill indiscriminately in a split-second—much faster than any potential victim could evaluate the gunman’s intentions.

At a minimum, the armed shopper was brutally insensitive to other people. More likely, I’d guess, he wanted to force a confrontation with a world he feels is threatening his sense of potency. However he intended it, his behavior can be read as a threat display: a violent signal designed to intimidate “enemies.”

Because the behavior deliberately challenged social custom while careful not to break the letter of the law, it is passiveaggression. And passive aggression can be as lethal as an overt assault because it disables our reality-testing capabilities through its compulsive dishonesty. The grocery gunman pretends he is just “sticking up for himself,” and the public pretends that it isn’t reciprocally angry about being scared to death. Such a fog of motives invites accidents.

The grocery gunman’s mentality suggests a level of anxiety and paranoia that could justify keeping lethal weapons away from him. After all, even the NRA wants guns kept away from mentally unstable individuals. And with such a violation of community rights to peaceful food shopping (with children), how can we trust the gunman’s motives?

You notice that media conventions unthinkingly echo the gun carrier’s perspective by reporting he was “exercising his right,” not terrorizing people, and referring to him as “a 22-year-old man” not a “gunman.”

Similarly, neither media nor the Senate hearings call attention to the intoxicating nature of the nervous system arousal that has been triggered by the shock of massacred children in Newtown CT and by disputed government efforts to tame the threat of promiscuous military weapons in unpredictable hands. But look at the number of copycat and otherwise routine gun crimes in the news since the Newtown massacre. In the newspaper before me, I read “Suspect on loose after deadly Ariz. shooting” (AP). And beside it, yet another “Gunman kills bus driver, seizes boy” as hostage—in this case a retired truck driver who was “a menacing figure who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe” and threatened kids “for setting foot on his property.”

For all you know, he’s standing next to you at the cucumber display.

The public reality is politely irrational—crazy—on this subject. The refusal to look at personal motives goes deeper than mere hypocrisy. Unless you’re considering fighting a guerrilla war against the Federal government (“to defend your rights”) or slaughtering a rival drug gang, there is no rational need to own assault weapons with large magazines. If your trigger finger demands that satisfaction, gun clubs could oversee their use.

The “debate” over gun control is actually a singing contest, with each side trying to woo public applause with its carefully crafted lyrics and repeated riffs. The gun control advocates have suffering and death supporting their position, as in the testimony of grieving parents from Newtown and nearly assassinated Rep. Gabrielle Gifford. Data also show that large-capacity assault weapons produce more rampage carnage. But the NRA and its politicians aren’t listening. They recite.  They riff.

If you think about it, this farce is a familiar form of negotiation when polarization has thwarted compromise.  The real work is “outsourced” to distant polls of the remote electorate. By the time the debate seeps into public awareness it is bound to be diluted, the compelling numbers outshouted by impassioned demands.  The crucial insight is that for the NRA and “the 22-year-old man,” the behavior is also passive aggression. It riffs to play along with polite negotiations, but the real argument is the threat of orchestrated retaliation by NRA supporters and election ad “war chests.”

If you’re being terrorized by a gunman in the toilet paper aisle of your supermarket, it’s not wise to confuse a “debate” with the passive fog of war.

*   *   *

1. “It’s time for more fun with guns from the great state of Virginia! Shoppers at a Kroger supermarket in Charlottesville got a bit of a scare yesterday evening when a 22-year-old man walked into the store toting a loaded AR-15 rifle. Sounds frightening, and it was for some customers who ran out of the store upon seeing a large, semi-automatic gun similar to the one used by Newtown, Conn. shooter Adam Lanza in their grocery aisles. Take it away, Daily Progress:

Charlottesville police Lt. Ronnie Roberts said the man did not break any laws. Since he legally owned the rifle and it was not concealed, he was within his rights, Roberts said. Virginia requires a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but has no such restriction on guns in plain view. According to police, the man originally entered the store unarmed, then went back to his car and retrieved his rifle. He then walked back into the store briefly before leaving again.

So, basically, it’s totally legal to carry whatever size gun you want anywhere in Virginia, so long as you have a permit. At least the supermarket managers were able to take some meaningful action. The gunman received a lifetime ban from the Kroger, according to The Daily Progress.”

James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 at a Colorado movie theater on July 20, also allegedly used an AR-15. (kf)



  1. I’m with the gun owners on this one. Until the police are willing to disarm themselves, no private citizen should be forced to do so.

  2. Why would we want the police to disarm??? Might as well just get rid of them and put ourselves completely into the hands of those toting guns around intimidating and killing others for their own personal reasons.

    • I should be the one asking you, why do you presume that a uniform or a badge changes the nature of a man with a gun?

      • 1). Police are trained to uphold the law of the land.
        2). Hopefully, they are screened and not just anyone who cares to carry a gun. A uniform and a badge does not change the nature of a man, but the idea of screening helps to keep the unfit out of such lines of work.
        3). Police have to face down others with guns, and all kinds of other war-like stuff as assault weapons, flak jackets, etc.

        I will be the first to admit police are far from perfect, as are the laws, as is society as a whole. However, I do not relish the idea of a “Wild West” again, where everyone goes around toting guns. We already have that in the poor and drug-infested inner city… Or maybe you prefer to go to Africa where the children are armed with machine guns? After all, even they need to protect themselves! Everyone should have his own gun ready to be fired for any pretense!–Right???

  3. Willis, aren’t you being a bit extreme here? You question whether a uniform or a badge changes the nature of a man, but I would argue that we should not so much fear man’s ‘nature,’ but his nurture… that is, the degree to which universally agreed upon human values have been instilled in him by our democratically elected society/culture. As DiaEla points out, we should be able to screen out most individuals who have not internalized such values. Like it or lump it, this is part of the social contract… we give up absolute individual freedom (e.g. the freedom to terrorize, intimidate, or murder without consequence), so that the state/nation can enforce law, order, and the interests of our collective will.

    Now, we might argue, as you presumably would, that modern governments have become pathological and no longer work to that end, but does that mean that we ought to regress into a paranoid self-protectionism where we believe that ‘everybody is potentially out to get us?’ Maybe we should if things get really bad, but I don’t think we’re there yet. Unless one prefers a Hobbesian-like state of nature, I think we ought to do what we can to fix the problems of government and culture (as frustrating as it may be), not worsen them by giving up entirely in preparation that the sky might be falling. And how far do we take this paranoia anyway? What’s next – building moats around our property and putting land-mines in our front yards?

    Don’t get me wrong, I wish police did not carry guns. I don’t know much about it, but I think Great Britain had the right idea… police generally don’t carry guns there, but then again, the citizens don’t have them either (chicken or the egg?). They have the lowest homicide rate in the world. But before US police can get rid of their guns, you need to get the individual to give up theirs; otherwise I’d imagine us ending up in a state of transition that would quickly turn into mob rule.

    • Thanks for the reply Brad.

      Before beginning, I need to clarify what we are discussing here. We are not discussing whether an individual should own a gun; we are discussing whether an individual should be forced by government to NOT own a gun. Whether an individual free to own a firearm does or does not own one is a personal choice tied up with many variables not under discussion here.

      Brad, you talk about instilled values, about “nurture” and its effect on human behavior. Let me ask, what value is instilled by a state which gives a monopoly on guns to itself?

      It is all well and good to talk about proper procedure and vetting of the police, and I do not doubt that this generally takes place. There are some corrupt cops, but most no doubt intend to faithfully uphold and protect the law of the land.

      Read that last part again. Apart from those rare corrupt cops, the policemen with the guns are not the main agents of government. They do not make decisions, they follow orders. The main agents are the judges issuing verdicts, the assemblymen passing laws, the governors and presidents issuing commands. The policemen, if they want to keep their jobs, are obliged to obey and enforce the law, whatever it is, whether they personally agree with it or not. And they are obliged to use their guns if necessary. It is their sworn duty to do so.

      A state which gives a monopoly on guns to itself is a state which is afraid of its citizens, and a state will only fear its citizens when the state’s objectives diverge from the objectives of the citizenry.

      That is precisely what is happening in 21st century America, with its widening class divide, its mounting debt (both of the government and of the citizenry), its oil wars abroad, and its mounting media propaganda at home.

      • Whilst I share your concerns about abuse of power and the direction that corporate capitalist ideology is leading us, I cant agree with what appears to be the main thrust of what you are communicating. Firstly, your position is totally ambiguous with one who has problem with the concept of authority. This is problematic because what we could be talking about is simply an issue of your bad faith in regard to your own relations, which, given what we know about constraints on the psyche could be….something other than a wild guess??? Secondly who gives a jack about what someone else does? So the cops have guns…then you have to have them? Do you realise what you have done there in taking that position? Yes, you’ve relinquished your own volition for the sake of another person/group who you are in opposition with. Return to first point, whats informing all this – a pre-existing dualism in your psychological interiority, your responsibility? Far too ambiguous for comfort.

        I thought these basic things were all quite clear to everyone, but apparently not.

  4. There are only three places in the UK where you are guaranteed to see cops with guns. 1. Outside the US embassy. 2. Outside the Israeli Embassy. 3. Outside the Saudi Embassy. Says alot about the world that does.

    Otherwise, if you lived your entire life outside London you could well have never even seen a gun – ever. One of the few great things about the UK in my opinion.

  5. I live just south of C-ville and know that Kroger well. It’s right next door to the Whole Paycheck.

    I think you really have to live in Virginia to see what is happening here. C-ville is an island of wealth, sophistication and education in a vast sea of Fundamentalist evolution deniers. Outside C-ville racism is blatant and President Obama is a Muslim who has every intention of confiscating all the guns and forcing us all to become Muslims. Our Governor is a graduate of Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson (hurricanes are God’s punishment on us for tolerating gays) and Jerry Falwell (9/11 happened because God turned His back on America because, you guessed it, “we tolerate gays”). At Liberty University (Jerry Falwell’s school) students are encouraged to carry loaded guns on campus because it makes everybody safer. On the other hand, should an unmarried student be found alone with someone of the opposite sex on campus they will both be expelled.

    If you were to have asked me where in Virginia a stupid stunt like this would take place I would have answered immediately… Charlottesville!

    C-ville is an island of educated people with high paying jobs that voted democrat in the last two elections. A little blue island in a sea of red. If a young red neck wanted to put the fear of God into some pinko, socialist, “Real America” hating obama worshipers… he picked exactly the right location to do it. Thomas Jefferson’s home town.

    • [Update]… I spoke to a detective today who is assigned to the Central Virginia area in which Charlottesville falls. I asked him about this incident. He told me that this has happened on a number of occasions in different places in this area. It is usually orchestrated by a “Tea Party” group made up of… (wait for it)… Liberty University students.

  6. To get back to the original point of this article, toting guns into supermarkets is intimidating. While the Liberty University students may just want to make a point, when they show up in a grocery store no one knows what their point is. Do they want to show off their guns or do they want to show off their shooting abilities?

    • Of course toting guns into supermarkets is intimidating. That’s the whole point. As is the intimidation factor of a policeman with an AR-15 standing outside of an important bank or government building. As is the judge’s elevated bench and black robes. As is the expensive suit worn by a businessman or lawyer. As is the fruit salad and cleanly pressed look of any military general.

      Really we’re not disagreeing over what we’ve been overtly discussing here. Our disagreement is much more fundamental and involves the righteousness of the state’s authority at this point in history.

      Most here would, I think, adopt the position that the intimidation factor of the cop, the judge, the businessman, or the general is more legitimate than the intimidation factor of a poor white man with a weapon.

      I disagree. It’s really all the same thing in a time when the moral authority of the state is waning.

      • Not at all willis668.

        The “poor white man” (interesting that it’s a “white man) isn’t as intimidating as he is pathetic. Cops, judges, generals and (I have no idea how well dressed men of business got in there) are culturally accepted and defined roles that are well understood. Like any culture, there are bound to be external marks or accouterments of status that designate people recognized as having certain positions of authority in society.

        What the kid with the AR-15 represents is a pathetically immature attempt to terrify mothers shopping with their babies and little old ladies. It has nothing to do with any “moral authority”, or, any state. It has everything to do with an utterly powerless person who has acquired absolutely no social or cultural status or credibility “acting out” in a fashion usually reserved for spoiled children.

        There is nothing “legitimate” about getting off on terrifying helpless women and children. Quite on the contrary, there is something profoundly sad about it. Next time, try it at a State Police Barracks, or, a military installation where you can see how good you are at intimidating grown ups. Show them how their authority is waning why don’t you.

      • Mrs. neutron,

        It is “acting out” to do what these college students did, but in the same way that it is “acting out” to put on a uniform or a business suit to intimidate and garner respect in a “culturally appropriate” fashion.

        It’s just that the kids with the guns perceive no route to intimidation and respect available to them through the mass culture. And they’re right. The culture’s hold on these people is weak and growing weaker, and additionally the culturally important positions are becoming more and more limited to the elite.

        Like it or not, a man who can’t command respect in a culturally appropriate fashion will find other ways to get what he needs. It is not a solution to denigrate and criticize these men, calling them “pathetically immature” as you do. One can try to take away their guns, but that is not a solution either because it will never happen.

        The only true solution would be to change the culture to provide these poor white men with realistic and attainable avenues to respect within the cultural framework.

      • willis668 writes to me… “Like it or not, a man who can’t command respect in a culturally appropriate fashion will find other ways to get what he needs.”… and willis668 is correct.

        willis668 goes on to proclaim… “The only true solution would be to change the culture to provide these poor white men with realistic and attainable avenues to respect within the cultural framework.”..

        In this willis668 could not be more wrong. I also can’t understand why the same avenues to success are not available to “poor white Liberty students” that are available to other people of the same age and socioeconomic background.

        Change the culture to better fit the failures, or, should I say, the under achievers, or, they will threaten women and children with guns? Respect those who have not gotten up off their behinds and earned it because if you don’t they will act tough, and shamelessly point guns at little old ladies?

        Is this the outcome of offering a generation of young people guaranteed high self esteem, trophies for showing up and as many strikes as it takes to hit the ball? Should we expect such spoiled behavior from “Liberty students” where the only prerequisite for admission is a check that can clear the bank? A so called “university” where, as John Stewart puts it, “The only way you can flunk out is by getting the answers right.”

        [Earth to willis668] One EARNS respect, one does not frighten people into providing it to you. The earth is not 6000 years old either, and “The Rapture” isn’t going to happen any day now in spite of what is professed at the Liberty Bible Academy.

      • Mrs neutron,

        You said: “Change the culture to better fit the failures, or, should I say, the under achievers, or, they will threaten women and children with guns? Respect those who have not gotten up off their behinds and earned it because if you don’t they will act tough, and shamelessly point guns at little old ladies?”

        This is circular reasoning. These men are “failures” and “under achievers” because the culture defines them as such; YOU define them as such because you are immersed in said culture. You dismiss them because you have been culturally conditioned to do so, and in this way the culture reinforces itself.

        As to the rest of your response, one of the most tried and true ways for a man to gain respect is by being feared. This will always be the case, whether all the guns are taken away or not. Our culture “civilized” itself by providing men with other, non-violent outlets to earn respect and admiration. Now that our culture is breaking down, these outlets are no longer as available or as effective as they once were; men are being left out who would have been supported by their culture 50 or 100 years ago. That’s the sad state of affairs; don’t blame these disadvantaged men for it.

      • willis668…. Let me get this straight. This 22 year old boy brandished a loaded AK-15 in a supermarket and terrorized women and children because he was “disadvantaged” and, due to the fact that culture is “breaking down” he couldn’t find a non-violent way to earn respect and admiration…. Is that your contention?

        It’s almost poetic that this group has its members at Liberty “University” whose roots go back to “White Only Christian Academies”, started for profit, by the Falwells, to counter forced government integration of public schools. Today gay people cannot attend and it is openly declared there that no one who is a democrat can simultaneously be a christian.

        For YEARS they have condemned affirmative action for ANYONE. And you have the nerve to write on behalf of these white young men who have no problems scapegoating ANY group different from themselves for anything and everything wrong with America..

        …”Now that our culture is breaking down, these outlets are no longer as available or as effective as they once were; men are being left out who would have been supported by their culture 50 or 100 years ago. That’s the sad state of affairs; don’t blame these disadvantaged men for it.”…


  7. Brilliant post!! Much as some segments of our gun-culture crowd hate to admit it, increasingly assigning a monopoly on the use of deadly force to the publicly commissioned and regulated central authority (police, IOW) is largely synonymous with civilization. Citizens of any intention who place themselves in opposition to this are, in the largest sense of the word, common outlaws. I think it is time those of us who speak on the side of civilization embrace positively the slogan “When military-style assault weapons are outlawed, only outlaws have military-style assault weapons.”

  8. I suppose Willis668 is willing to give up his life to “those who can’t command respect in a culturally appropriate fashion” or does he have some fantasy about winning in a shoot-out?
    The poor have been with us for a long time (however, not all shooters are poor!), but it is an interesting society that seeks to arm them with weapons rather than knowledge.

  9. You lot are hilarious. You want to get some of the Brit spirit going on in Virginia – the “have a go hero” approach. I can tell you that if someone turned up in my local supermarket with an AK15 he’d be downed by rolling Galia Melons and boomeranging bananas before being rendered unconscious by a fine Leicestershire turnip.

    The second amendment….pffffff.

  10. Wills668 is so ridiculous, do you think he is putting us on?

    • Let’s hope so. Upset with the current state of affairs, he seems to be advocating for some form of anarchism. He demands both justice and freedom, but they are interconnected. Absolute freedom will naturally impinge on the freedom of others, and will undermine the value of justice. You can’t have it both ways.

      • Brad,

        I don’t consider myself an anarchist, but I prefer anarchy to total control at the hands of the state. And sadly, those are the only two choices we have going forward. True freedom and the suffering that goes with it, or technological oppression and whatever “safety” it provides.

        There is one future in which drones roam the skies over cities and suburbia, where we are all tracked with cameras when we go to the corner grocery store and followed in our movements on the internet, in which thought crimes are uncovered and prosecuted before any criminal action is even taken, in which social cohesion is enforced by labeling outsiders mentally ill and forcibly medicating them, in which “free trade” is enforced by a global police force, and in which all tribal and familial ties are burned to the ground. We’re fast heading in this direction and it won’t be pretty if we stay on track.

        The other option is a form of anarchy, a collapse where human freedom is restored, though at the expense of many lives and many structures which have been built up over the past 200 years. And yes I favor this alternative. There is no third possibility.

      • You take this Brad. I’m to old for this nonsense.

  11. Wills668: So you think that anarchy results in human freedom? I think of the Russian Revolution which resulted in Communism. As a matter of fact, I know of no state of anarchy that resulted in more freedom. Would appreciate an example of this!

    • What comes after anarchy is distinct from anarchy, same as a completed book is distinct from a blank page.

      You’re probably right in your conclusions, by the way, but I think that strengthens my point. There is a cyclical nature to these things.

  12. “I prefer anarchy to total control at the hands of the state. And sadly, those are the only two choices we have going forward.”

    In seeing only two choices you would decidedly repeat the sad dialectic that has reverberated throughout history. Disgusted with the injustice of the world, you indignantly rebel, demanding the absolute freedom of anarchy. But this is an adolescent kind of thinking… and it will only serve to undo the same value you initially sought to protect. In the end you would only prove yourself a hypocrite.

    • Brad,

      I’m not demanding absolute freedom or anything else for that matter. I’m an observer in all this; I’m not marching around with guns, nor am I demanding that all the guns be confiscated. I am watching what is happening around me and I am drawing my own conclusions and forming my own opinions about it.

      • No, you are not an observer you are part of the world, part of society, life, all that is, all that ever will be. The claim that a person is an observer is an age old human problem that has now hypertrophied into the the state of affairs that you are raising concern about. The illusion of separation from all of life, society, the finite and the infinite wants to claim its status as an observer. But funny isn’t it that its caught in this ideal for existence; beyond threat and authority – bound by those constraints, seeing/observing them everywhere. Maybe you are not who you think you are? Where is the non-objective action world?

      • Smashy,

        I get what you’re saying, but you’re reading too much into what I said.

        Besides, what is it that I could accomplish by behaving more actively? I could campaign for anarchy and end up in prison (the end of my campaign) or I could support the system and further my own oppression. No thanks to both, I’ll wait and watch what happens instead. The forces at bear here are too strong.

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