“I am Not a Soldier, but I Have Been Trained to Kill” by Photographer Jesse Rieser

A thought-provoking series by photographer Jesse Rieser. “I am Not a Soldier, but I Have Been Trained to Kill” explores the growing tactical industry that teaches American civilians to fight like Special Ops forces. Photographed the day after the insurrection at Gunsite — the nation’s oldest firearm training facility — Rieser questions whether preparing for violence at home merely calls it into being:

“Like many of my works, I employ the use of text paired with imagery. Here we see an episodic approach broken into 4 chapters and denoted by the 4 rules of Gunsite and gun safety. Words courtesy of Rachel Monroe.”

Check out “I am Not a Soldier, but I have been Trained to Kill” below.

I. ⁠Rule 1:⁠⁠
All guns are ALWAYS loaded. ⁠⁠
⁠⁠This scenario situated us firmly in the role of what sociologist Jennifer Carlson calls the citizen-protector — the armed figure who finds “authority and relevance by embracing the duty to protect themselves and police others.” As institutions crumble and people lose faith in traditional sources of security, the citizen-protector sees themselves as even more essential to maintaining order.

No wonder, then, that Americans responded to a year marked by pandemic, protest, and election uncertainty by buying guns in record numbers.⁠⁠

II. Rule 2: NEVER let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. ⁠⁠
⁠⁠“You should feel angry at the target” the instructor growled in my ear. “It’s gonna make you do something you’re gonna feel for the rest of your life. ⁠⁠Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter.” ⁠⁠

III. Rule 3: Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target. ⁠⁠
⁠⁠The National Rifle Association (NRA) responded to the mass shooting that left 10 people dead in Boulder, Colorado, by quoting the Second Amendment —
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” the NRA wrote on its official Twitter account, quoting the Amendment as a caption to a picture of the Bill of Rights.⁠⁠

As we head into an era that seems destined to be marked by escalating vigilantism and political violence — or, if we’re very lucky, just the fear of them — it’s time to reckon with the whole of American tactical culture. For all its power to shape this moment, that culture has roots that long precede it. The tactical world is a byproduct of years of rampant mass shootings and of our nation’s longest wars, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a space where paramilitary ideas thrive and where ordinary gun owners learn to see themselves as potential heroes; but it’s also where many Americans have simply gone looking for a way to negotiate living in a country where there are more firearms than people.

IV. Rule 4: ALWAYS be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
“We’re not teaching you how to shoot,” Gunsite Ceo Ken Cambell says while in his office with a cut out of founder, Lt Col Jeff Cooper. “We’re teaching you how to fight when death comes to your door.”⁠⁠

Cooper was at the vanguard of a major shift in attitudes toward firearms, what Wake Forest University sociologist David Yamane calls Gun Culture 2.0. Rhetoric around gun rights increasingly aligned with law-and-order politics that focused on the individual right to armed resistance against crime. A politicized National Rifle Association lobbied for more permissive concealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws.

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