Socialists Need an Independent Approach to Gun Violence

Gun violence may be one of the most troubling aspects of U.S. society in 2022. This is because it seems so solvable but also so hopeless.

We are caught in a national gun debate, between a rabidly right-leaning center and a stubbornly apolitical left. The left is nowhere to be seen. On one side are demagogues in the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Republican Party who whip up fears of Black and Brown “criminals,” threatened masculinity and postindustrial decline. On the other is a group of organizations that are increasingly influenced by the technocratic and narrow solutions offered by Michael Bloomberg (the billionaire former mayor of New York City).

As a result, most of the most horrific mass shootings like those earlier this year in Buffalo or Uvalde are followed by an anguished but largely inane discussion, with some saying “If you only the shooter didn’t have a gun,” and others saying “if only Everyone had a gun.”

The hostilities between them hide similarities in their worldviews. In June the Supreme Court ruled that New York State’s tight restrictions on “open carry” gun permits violated citizens’ Second Amendment right to self-defense. Eric Adams, the New York City Mayor, was one of many leading Democrats to express outrage. Adams had three months prior been a New York City Mayor. reestablished a special police unitWith a history of excessive violence in an effort to crackdown on illegal guns. The Republican-dominated Court and the Democratic mayor see themselves on opposite sides of the gun issue, but both want to put more people with guns on the street as a way to “reduce” violence.

A week after the Newtown school shooting in 2012, NRA president Wayne LaPierre declared, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” liberals were justifiably horrified. However, few were able to see that this terribly violent mindset is also the core concept of modern law enforcement. It has been a driving force of U.S history since the beginning of slavery patrols and genocidal attacks against Indigenous peoples.

Establishing Common Ground on Guns Among the Left

The socialist left in the U.S. has greatly impacted debates on health care, climate change and mass incarceration in recent years, but we’ve been largely silent on gun politics, unsure how to approach an issue with no clear solutions. We’re appalled by gun violence — whose primary victims are poor people of color, abused women and people with mental illness — but reject the brutal criminal legal system as a solution to violence. We support people’s right to armed self-defense — especially those who have the most reason to mistrust law enforcement — but see how the right uses self-defense rhetoric to advance “Stand Your Ground” legal doctrines that increase impunity of vigilantes and white nationalist militias.

Socialists, feminists and anti-imperialists all need to have more open discussions about how we can reach common positions on guns, gun violence, and gun laws. I want to provide a framework that will allow us to do this, starting with two basic ideas.

One: Gun rights must be respected regardless of how they are understood. This has never been the case in the U.S. The U.S. has long history of having both broad access to guns and strict gun control for others. The Second Amendment gave white male citizens the right to be armed for the sole purpose of keeping arms out the hands of Indigenous peoples, and enslaved (and liberated) African Americans. Gun laws today are selectively enforced and written to allow for both gun-celebrating culture and a police state approach to gun ownership among poor Black and Brown residents. It is most likely that those who are most in need of the right to armed self defense will be denied it. Socialists must fight for gun laws to be applied equally, regardless of how strict or lax they may be.

Two: Guns are more effective for reactionary groups working in alliances with corporations and police than they are for fighting them. Although self-defense is an important right, it is only a part of the equation for achieving positive political change. Collective struggle is the most powerful tool for the left (sometimes armed, but mostly not). Those in power know this, and it’s no coincidence that most states that have seen an increase in “gun rights” have also seen a decrease in our right to protest. Socialists should intervene in gun political affairs in a way that promotes and projects strength through building solidarity and community.

Based on these two premises I propose four broad principles which could form the basis for an independent socialist approach towards some aspects of gun violence in the United States and U.S. gun culture.

Universal Gun Safety Measures, Not Profiling for “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys”

By far the most popular gun reforms are about expanding the use of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Given how frequently background checks are mentioned in the media, it’s remarkable how few people know what the NICS checks for. While some criteria, such domestic violence or stalking, are tied to higher levels of violence, most criteria are not. These categories — which include drug use, immigration status, felony convictions (which include a wide range of categories),And something called “mental defectives” — are more about stereotyping than violence prevention.

It isn’t politically easy for socialists to oppose background checks at a time when people are understandably demanding that elected officials “do something” to stop mass shootings and (to a lesser extent) other forms of gun violence. But the entire premise of screenable categories of “good guys” and “bad guys” is misguided. Many mass shooters pass (or would be eligible to pass) the NICS, while many police officers — who enjoy exemptions from almost all gun restrictions — have far greater rates of both domestic violence and suicideCompared to the general population.

The troubling politics surrounding background checks are another. After this summer’s passage of a bipartisan gun reform bill that increased background checks, Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) declared, “The legislation before us would make our communities and schools safer without laying one finger on the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens.” We should be wary of cheering on any precedents that the current Supreme Court can use to declare that constitutional rights only apply to certain “law-abiding” segments of the population.

There’s an alternative approach to profiling and scapegoating. The left must support universal gun safety measures, which recognize that anyone can, under the wrong circumstances of violence, commit violence. These measures could include:

  • Universal safety and health measures, such as raising the gun ownership age, waiting periods for gun purchases, and safe storage laws, are all part of universal public health and safety.
  • A licensing system for gun ownership that is based on the automobile model and administered by public health agencies and not police departments.
  • Restricting background checks to past acts statistically linked with higher rates gun violence, such domestic violence, is a good option.

Democratic Power over Gun Institutions, not Police Power over People

Authoritarian approaches to public safety, shared by both sides of the current gun debate, call for arming and empowering “heroic protectors” — and demanding that the rest of us obey them. These “heroic protectors”, whether they are cops or civilians armed with guns, rarely stop shootings. They can, however, cause them: one-third of all “stranger homicides”Are committed by police officers.

Rather, democratic solutions focus on the potential strength and potential for violence reduction in communities. This includes long-term efforts to reduce poverty, heal trauma, and more immediate work to de-escalate conflicts. Building democracy also means taking on the absurd privileges and powers that have been granted to this country’s two primary gun institutions: law enforcement and the gun industry. Here are some suggestions.

  • Repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms ActThis law grants firearms corporations legal immunity that is unmatched.
  • Repeal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. This allows retired and current cops to carry concealed weapons in any part of the country, regardless if local laws are followed.
  • Stop the gunocracy’s public health gag order by reversing the Dickey Amendment,Federal funding has been halted for research projects focusing on gun violence.
  • End the numerous local practices that allow officers to bring home their service weapons despite higher rates for suicide and domestic violence.

Change Gun Laws is Only Part of a Movement for Gun Culture

After background checks, the most publicized demand of the gun control movement is a ban on “assault weapons.” While some find it self-evident that troubled youth shouldn’t be able to get their hands on military-style weapons, the details of how such a ban would work — and even what an “assault weapon” is — are quite complicated.

We must remember that any ban on firearms or gun modifications will not lead to less violence. Without such a cultural shift, before the ban took effect, there would almost certainly be a massive surge in purchases, and afterward, there’s a strong likelihood that a vibrant and possibly dangerous illegal trade would develop. That’s because, like it or not, there is a massive demand for guns in the U.S., and history shows that prohibitions against goods with a strong demand generally do not work — especially when those laws are seen as illegitimate among wide swaths of the populace.

Advocates of gun bans often point to the example of Australia, where sweeping gun reforms in 1996 — including a mandatory government buyback of semiautomatic weapons — led to a major reduction in gun deaths over the ensuing decade. But when it comes to gun culture, there is simply no comparing Australia — which at the time had a firearms ownership rate of under 7 percent — with the United States, where ownership rates have always been at least five times as high.

This is not to say that socialists shouldn’t oppose any attempt at regulating the types of weaponry legally sold. It does not mean that we should ignore cultural changes that have led to significant declines in dangerous behaviors. drunk driving, bullyingAnd cigarette smoking in recent decades.

We need to greatly increase public awareness of the realities of gun violence, especially in its most common forms of suicide and domestic violence — neither of which fit popular images of guns as a heroic tool of self-defense. To achieve this, a social movement must be developed that is different from the gun control lobby.

The Most Affected by Gun Violence must Lead a Movement Against Gun Violence

There are survivors of domestic violence, mental health advocates, community leaders in high violence areas and community leaders who have worked for decades to reduce gun violence in communities all over the country. But all too often, their insights and experiences have been either ignored or barely factored into the politics of the gun control movement, especially in the decade since Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic empire has come to dominate the discussion.

As Micah Sifry has documented, Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund has used the power of its funding to co-opt more grassroots groups, steering them from protest to press conferences and narrowing the movement’s aims to background checks, which match’s Bloomberg’s longtime political vision of “better” government via policing and data collection.

Because gun violence is so deeply connected with the structural inequalities of racial capitalism that Bloomberg would rather ignore, many victims of gun violence are also likely to be victims of the U.S. criminal legal and immigration systems — with felonies or deportation orders that make them “bad guys” in the eyes of the NICS. Perhaps, as Gary Younge arguedThis was the reason gun control seemed to have so little to do about most victims of gun violence (except for mass shootings) a few decades ago.

March for Our Lives was founded by a group of youth who saw the potential for a movement against gun violence. It was formed in response to the Parkland school shootings in 2018. Speakers like Edna ChavezLos Angeles and Trevon BosleyEach of the Chicago brothers who had lost a brother in a street shooting connected gun violence to mass police brutality and disinvestment from Black and Brown communities.

It was a glimpse into a new kind of movement against gun violence. We should envision what it would look like to continue building this movement, including organizers from domestic violence shelters and cop-watch teams, as well as migrants who have personally experienced the effects of guns in U.S. soldiers’ hands.

I’ve made this my final point, but self-determination is the first principle of any political struggle. I don’t know what a national movement led by working-class survivors of gun violence would look like; perhaps it would reject most of my framework and proposals. The left can offer some alternatives to the gun debate, which can expand on the very different frameworks that are often ignored.