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Natives Are Not Gun-Rights Mascots

While the NRA side of the gun debate claims the recent deaths of 20 schoolchildren and six educators from Newton, Connecticut are being exploited to promote an anti-gun agenda, another anonymous gun rights promoter has exploited the historic plight of Native Americans to fit their own political program.

In Greeley, Colorado there are signs along a busy highway that show a picture of three Native men holding guns that say, “Turn in your arms, the government will take care of you.” The people who created billboard do not want to be disclosed. Just over 200 miles away from Greeley, the site of the infamous 1864 Sand Creek Massacre took place in which 700 cowardly Colorado volunteers and soldiers gunned down over 200 mostly Arapaho and Cheyenne women, children, and elderly men while most of the warriors were out hunting.

Before the massacre, pacifist and Cheyenne “peace” Chief Black Kettle had waved an American flag he’d gotten from Abraham Lincoln himself the year prior, and told the camp they needn’t be afraid because he was assured no Americans would fire at anyone who flew this flag. The “well-regulated militia” opened fire, however, and slaughtered his people before his eyes. Later, they paraded their ghoulish “trophies” of things like women’s private parts in downtown Denver among other heinous acts.

Atrocities endured by our ancestors have seemingly become likened to a pro-NRA prop to fuel political ignorance and paranoia of G-men coming to confiscate every law abiding citizens’ guns if added modest regulations are proposed to buy them, or existing rules are actually enforced with teeth.

Disclosure: my brother, who was just a year younger than me and someone I considered my best friend, was a victim of gun violence. He died several years ago at the age of 26, exactly a month before his son’s first birthday. The impact of a bullet had shattered his pelvis, and he laid and bled out for several hours before he was begrudgingly taken to the hospital by the one who shot him where he was pronounced DOA - Dead On Arrival. It obviously pains and angers me when I think about how horrid my baby brother’s last couple of hours on this earth must’ve been.

However, I never blamed a gun for his death; I blamed the person who abused it. During the court sentencing I said to the face of my brother’s murderer, “Guns don’t kill people, idiots with guns kill people.” The presiding judge agreed and even quoted me soon after. I consider myself a crack shot, and I’ve used guns and respected them since I was a young boy wandering the Montana countryside.

I personally know at least a dozen people my age or younger I count as good friends that have served in Afghanistan or Iraq- most with multiple tours and a few that were Special Forces. I’m just noting that’s my generation and I’m proud of these warriors, and none of them need to pretend they’re manlier-than-thou because they’re playing GI Joe with a AR-15 shouting against imagined “tyranny.” They’ve seen the real oppression of Taliban and Islamic radicals firsthand.

But with any proposed gun restrictions automatically being deemed "unconstitutional" by factions, I'm curious what self-proclaimed patriots think is "constitutional" regarding an amendment written when muskets fired once or twice followed by bayonet and close quarter physical fighting was the rule in 1791—not like when the Tucson killer expended over 30 rounds in a brief terrifying moment and received 19 charges of murder and attempted murder for the minimal effort of twitching his finger.

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Do current gun rights advocates honestly believe there are no lines to be considered because of political partisanship? Or does a mentally ill, deranged mass murderer’s right to bear and stockpile arms that they bought with little or no questions asked before pumping rounds into civilians always trump our own right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?

As far as the definition of "arms," do they think selling more firepower that includes fully automatics, Surface to Air Missiles, and grenades to any citizen is a right that "shall not be infringed" lest they can't adequately defend themselves from said theoretical government tyranny?

Am I under the mistaken belief the NRA is supposed to be about teaching safe and responsible gun ownership, or has the NRA motto become: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of schoolchildren and civilians"? Does that sound like freedom?

Rather than unite behind the unite behind the recent horrific tragedy of Newton, extremist pro-gun Americans have wrapped themselves in the same haunted American flag that Black Kettle flew over his camp while he watched women and children being slaughtered and called it patriotism.

As a proud Cheyenne who knows how hard my ancestors fought so I could speak today, I know their spilled blood should not be used as a “gun rights” Straw Man ploy. Does anyone really believe the anonymous people who created this billboard are some kind of longtime American Indian rights activists?

Not to exclude other non-white killers like that of the Korean National V-Tech and the Ojibwe Red Lake killers, but if we’re bringing race into the issue, why don’t they use pictures of mass murdering Caucasians Jared Loughner of Tucson, Newtown’s Adam Lanza, or Aurora’s James Holmes? They’d call it insensitive, while ironically telling me I should “just get over it” regarding the deaths of innocent Sand Creek children being exploited. They could have a picture of all three of them together as it says, “Buy more guns. The NRA will make it easier for these guys to do so, after all.”

Sardonic, perhaps, but at least having their photos on a billboard wouldn’t be a deflection to the real reason of why we’re having this discussion in the first place instead of using the systematic genocide of Natives as some sort of political gun nut mascot.

A lifelong Montana resident, Adrian Jawort is a freelance journalist, writer, and poet. A proud member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, he is a contributor to Indian Country Today Media Network as well as Native Peoples, Cowboys & Indians and many other publications.