Revolution Is a Warm Gun: Rethinking the Left’s Positions on Violence and Gun Control

by Arun Gupta on April 15, 2013

First published by Truthout. Republished with author’s permission.

Tony was the first gun-toting revolutionary I ever met. A Jewish African-American studies major, he quoted Frantz Fanon in the twilight of the Reagan era. When he popped by the school cafeteria, he was usually upset about something – the frat-boy student government, the state of Black America, a shop owner admonishing a customer, “Don’t Jew me.” Tony once vowed if a revolt suddenly “went down” in Baltimore, where we went to college, he would join in. “It would be premature,” he said, but he would nonetheless grab his assault rifle and give his life fighting alongside the rebelling urban underclass. I thought, “This guy has a death wish.”

I didn’t realize how right I was. One day in the cafeteria, someone said, “Did you hear about Tony? He killed himself. Gun to the head.” Rumor was his young wife and baby daughter were at home when he did it.

I’ve been thinking about Tony and what he represented in terms of the left’s relationship to guns. Namely, why is it that so many leftists — and by leftists, I’m referring to self-described radicals and revolutionaries, not liberals — are against gun control?

Despite the Aurora and Newtown massacres, it’s almost impossible to pass effective gun-control measures. It’s not enough to attribute lax gun laws to our founding mythology, a violent culture or the power of the gun lobby. After all, same-sex marriage has triumphed, and reproductive rights still exist, despite the same mix of power, money and culture in the opposition’s corner.

What’s missing from the pro-gun-control camp is a genuine grassroots campaign, and that’s where the left comes in. Pick an issue and the left is organizing around it — climate justice, labor, rape culture, immigrant rights. But why not gun control? Because, most leftists, myself included, agree with the principle Tony advocated, which is political violence – meaning collective self-defense – is a necessary though not sufficient means of securing freedom from a violent state.

Before you equate radical with bomb-thrower, realize Americans, with few exceptions, support state violence. Yet some support gun rights and some oppose it. Many leftists are in the former camp. To confirm this, I asked a couple thousand Facebook “friends” if they opposed gun control and their reasons why. The responses came pouring in:

“Is a state monopoly on arms in the best interests of the working class?”

“Gun laws, much like drug laws, are used to oppress the poor and people of color.”

“We can’t have a revolution without them.”

“Governments already have too much of a monopoly on violence and we will one day have to bring this one down.”

“I’ll be damned a cop can have a gun but I can’t.”

“Gun control laws … are another step down the incline to a full-fledged police state.”

“[I support] the right to bear arms — because I’m horrified that racist whites are heavily armed in areas of the country that oppose democratic rights.”

Judging from these comments, many leftists agree with the right that the biggest threat to society is not mentally ill shooters like Adam Lanza. It’s the state. The implication is that the solution to a society with too many guns is more guns. That’s why leftists tend to shrug off gun control. They see it as impinging on their freedom, or at least as something that doesn’t affect them.

But I’m rethinking this position and now conclude that a society awash in guns is more of a detriment to the left project of emancipation than a means to secure it.

This is not an abstract argument. Obama’s gun-control push is on the ropes after the bill banning semi-automatic pistols and weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines, died in the Senate. Remaining measures include providing resources for school “tip lines, surveillance equipment, secured entrances” — such as metal detectors and armed police — and enabling the use of National Guard troops to “ensure schools are safe.” That’s right. The response to guns in schools is to put soldiers cradling machine guns in schools.

Without bottom-up pressure, like the campaign that’s blocked the Keystone XL pipeline thus far, legislation is beholden to those with the most money and lobbyists, in this case the NRA and gun manufacturers. As liberals and gun-control NGOs play an inside game, they lack the skills, base and inclination to organize the kind of movement that can disrupt the balance of forces.

Loathe to grant the state more power, leftists have sat out the gun debate. However, every Aurora and Newtown convinces a terrified public to trade civil liberties for security, allowing the police, already equipped with tanks, armed helicopters and drones, to gain more weapons, more powers, more surveillance and less oversight. Ironically, much of the left’s energy is focused on reining in police powers, such as campaigns spearheaded by Cop WatchStolen LivesINCITE!, and Critical Resistance, and extending to projects led by liberals and libertarians in the NAACP, ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Thus, the left should connect the dots by framing gun restrictions as part of the effort to limit police powers, abuses and surveillance. Unlike the right, the left does not believe the state of nature is a war of all against all. Central to the left project is demilitarizing society, and by using this as the umbrella, gun control can provide an opening to shackle the state instead of the people. But first, the left needs to rethink the role that violence plays in social change.

Let me explain. My journey was different than Tony’s (he was an ex-Marine), even though I arrived at the same conclusion, that violence from below is often legitimate. I began my political education devouring works by Gandhi, King and Gene Sharp, solidifying my belief that nonviolence alone would triumph. Reading the Managua Lectures by Noam Chomsky shattered my naiveté. In his signature style, Chomsky mined the official record to demonstrate how the US government greets peaceful change with violent terror. President John F. Kennedy admitted as much in 1962 when he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” With shamefully few exceptions, conservatives and liberals, corporations and unions, pundits and intellectuals, supported the cold war.

Soon, I was marching in support of armed revolutionaries in El Salvador and South Africa. At the same time, I was being arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience, alongside storied Catholic pacifists like Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister, to oppose US policies repressing these movements.

There is nothing contradictory about the two approaches. The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front in El Salvador and the African National Congress in South Africa calibrated the mix of violent and nonviolent tactics that would best advance their struggles according to “the constellation of forces.” Movements turn to violence after nonviolence alone proves futile, as in Southern Africa, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Iran, Palestine, Guatemala and Syria. Of course, popular violence is often defeated, and some violent tactics, like suicide bombings, are self-defeating. A New York Times article on nonviolent resistance in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh observes that Palestinians there “insisted they had the right to armed resistance; they just don’t think it works.” As such, they viewed suicide bombings not as “a moral error so much as a strategic one.”

Nonviolence can work for limited campaigns or to change the political class, as the civil rights movement and Egypt’s democratic revolt did. But rarely, if ever, does nonviolence uproot the old order. Governments crush nonviolent movements all the time, as in Czechoslovakia and Mexico in 1968, Uzbekistan in 2005, and Bahrain in 2011. Nonviolent resistance alone is futile against the Pentagon, as proved by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As for the Indian independence struggle, it left relatively untouched caste divisions, the grip of rural landholders over the peasantry and the capitalist economy.

One has to dissect the social context: What are your vision and goals? Who is in your camp? Who is sitting on the fence? Who opposes you? Only then can a movement determine which tactics are likely to build support and power that can undermine their opponents while bringing their vision to fruition. This analytical process becomes evident in when and how leftists decide which armed resistance movements to support.

For example, when Israel, the US muscle in the Middle East, pummeled Lebanon in 2006, leading left-wing intellectuals, including Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Howard Zinn, Judith Butler, John Berger, Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali and Ken Loach, published a “Statement in Solidarity with the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine.” It decried “The deliberate and systematic destruction of Lebanon’s social infrastructure by the Israeli air force [as] a war crime, designed to reduce that country to the status of an Israeli-US protectorate,” and offered “our solidarity and support to the victims of this brutality and to those who mount a resistance against it.” On one level, it’s an unremarkable statement, as the right to resist illegal wars and occupations is enshrined in international law. But they were also boldly acknowledging that only Hezbollah’s trained army, not protests, tweets or petitions, could counter Israeli aggression.

The domestic situation is more complex. H. Rap Brown hit the bull’s-eye when he quipped, “Violence … is as American as cherry pie.” The mile markers of US history are colonization, genocide, slavery, the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny, the Civil War, World Wars, cold war, Korea, Vietnam and globe-spanning coups, counter-revolutions, drug wars, proxy wars, secret wars, drone wars and the war on terror.

The public, liberals included, reflexively backs state violence. Only in America is a state headed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s bombed seven countries and asserts the right to globalized kidnapping, torture and secret kill lists not seen as the grotesque absurdity it is. On top of that, Americans gorge on violent movies, television, video games and sports, as they blindly support state violence – a mere 4 percent of the public “strongly opposes” drone strikes against terrorist “suspects” – but they will denounce “violent anarchists” if a scrawny black bloc protester smashes a Starbucks window. The left wants to overturn this order, but it knows the hammer will come down on it for anything but peaceful dissent. So the left has shunned violence for years. Some hapless youth might get ensnared in FBI terror plots, but left-wing leaders aren’t making threats about “Second Amendment remedies” or brandishing guns and placards invoking the warning, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Despite living in a deeply violent society, armed resistance is suicidal, as even Tony recognized. So I call myself a “strategic pacifist,” meaning violence is counterproductive under present conditions. Even property destruction has become self-defeating, as shown last year on the West Coast, where prosecutors jumped on incidents of window-breaking to repress Occupy Wall Street-related movements. At the same time, I argue that categorical pacifism — secular advocates of which are about as common as green penguins — is ahistorical and apolitical because it imposes a one-size-fits-all ideology, denying the specifics of history and the political constraints every movement faces. It’s so rare, in fact, that a few years ago, while talking with fellow activists at the War Resisters League, it dawned on us that not one was an absolute pacifist. Many people claim to be antiwar, but a little prodding will get them to admit World War II or the American Civil War was justified.

This is the contradiction at the heart of the left’s relation to guns. Despite its peaceful character, the left is unwilling to abandon the idea of violence. As Malcolm X put it: “By any means necessary.” Therefore, allowing the state to circumscribe gun rights means surrendering power.

There is a flaw in this formula, however. Popular violence is merely an instrument to bring about an ideal society free of violence. While violence against the US government is inevitable abroad, does it make sense here? One of the few public intellectuals to engage with popular violence is Slavoj Žižek, who writes: “every act of violence against the state on the part of the oppressed is ultimately ‘defensive.’ … for the oppressed, violence is always legitimate (since their very status is the result of the violence they are exposed to), but never necessary (it will always be a matter of strategy whether or not use violence against the enemy).”

That’s the rub. The main strategic concern for social movements is not to declare war on the state, but to create broad-based organizations that can first resist through every peaceful means possible. That involves maximizing public space in which to organize while minimizing state repression. Public space was essential to Occupy Wall Street’s success, and OWS still hasn’t recovered from the violent evictions. But it’s a fallacy to equate violence as a means to one day overthrow the state with violence as a means of protection for movements to claim public space.

This is why many leftists fetishize guns as Tony did. It’s easier to feel the power in the cold steel of a rifle barrel than to trust the arduous path of building a collective movement that may yield social power years down the road, if you’re lucky.

I got a taste of this false sense of power during ex-cop Chris Dorner’s war against the LAPD. The paranoia in Los Angeles was palpable, with the incessant thump of choppers, jumpy cops and locked-down schools. The police verified Dorner’s bitter manifesto by shooting up innocents and neighborhoods, and engaging in what appears to have been his pre-meditated murder. Dorner was lionized as a folk hero — with tens of thousands of people liking dozens of Facebook pages — and one commentator comparing him to a real-life Django Unchained. But Dorner’s rampage also bolstered support for the police, and you won’t build a movement by celebrating mass murder.

In this light, support for Dorner, as well as for gun rights, is a sign of social impotence. I think Tony gravitated to guns for that reason: weakness, not strength. They were his solution to a troubled society and his own troubled life. Likewise, the left looks for silver bullets to its predicament of powerlessness. Refusing to engage with the state doesn’t make it disappear; it just becomes a bigger threat. Trying to use the state apparatus to constrict the state is tricky, but many cherished freedoms — from habeas corpus to abortion rights to freedom of speech and assembly — involve precisely that. Otherwise, we sit back and watch as the state grows more powerful and society grows more violent.

{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

Arthur April 16, 2013 at 5:05 am

I agree that the posts here celebrating Dorner reflected the same weakness as the author’s friend Tony’s romantic guevarism.

But such stupidities don’t turn an incoherent stream of consciousness into a case for disarming the people.

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Luke Elliott April 16, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Thanks Arun! This is great. Already know several left friends who resonate with your thinking on this.

Arthur – your response sounds like one of the FB replies that Arun mentions – did you read the article earnestly? It is strategic thinking: how about taking issue with some element of the argument put forward, rather than calling it ‘incoherent stream of consciousness’. I’m sure folks are all ears if you’ve got something substantive to put forward.

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Arthur April 17, 2013 at 2:49 am

Yes I broadly agree with most of the FB replies that Arun mentioned. I called the article an incoherent stream of consciousness because I could not see anything worth a substantive response. (In view of that dismissal I felt obliged to mention a point I agreed with).

If you have a substantive response to the succinct and clear FB replies, by all means present it.

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Luke Elliott April 17, 2013 at 6:35 am

This is how it works. There is an argument put forward. If you have something to say about some element of it, go for it. I’ll be happy to respond. If not, that’s it.

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Christian April 17, 2013 at 3:25 am

This is a very good and thoughtful article!

“This is why many leftists fetishize guns as Tony did. It’s easier to feel the power in the cold steel of a rifle barrel than to trust the arduous path of building a collective movement that may yield social power years down the road, if you’re lucky.”

That is a good point.

In the end, it seems revolutions win over enough of the army in decisive moments, and that “should” give them the edge they need to win. Stockpiling military grade weaponry seems to be a hobby of the far right more than I feel it is a legitimate means of spending the resources of the left. If you have $1000 to burn, should you buy an AR-15 and a thousand rounds of ammo “just in case”, or should you maybe donate to some socially progressive movement? Training your fellow leftists at the rifle range is probably about as efficient and timely a use of resources as would be drafting the constitution to be adopted by the 2025 All American Congress of Workers or deciding what paint schemes would be best for the fully renewable energy grid we’ll vote to build after the Pentagon has been abolished and turned into museum of Imperial crimes.

I see a most likely scenario being “the left”, including folks like me, support center- far right wingers in defending gun rights on a matter of principle. But ultimately we may be hurt by it more than aided by it.

Far more likely than the left first winning a revolution with arms (the very few) members of the organized left have stockpiled in non revolutionary situations, would be AR- toting protofascists today joining a FOX news led “brownshirt” type movement in the next decade or so. In such a movement the racist declining white middle class vents its wrath against gays, blacks, hispanics, feminists, and liberal bureaucrats and activists in a bloody rampage accompanied by a combination of electoral victories and vigilantism.

Such campaigns have succeed before, as they did in the rise of the segregationist Democratic party led South and the re-vived KKK in the early 1900s. The result was 60 years of hardened hearts, popular extra legal violence, and legalized disenfranchisement of many citizens while a combination of cutthroat capitalists and demagogic lunatics wrote the country’s laws.

Does that mean we ought to jump on the gun control bandwagon? Personally I think not, for matters of principle I still think are accurate.

But it also means we have to recognize that the guy at the Tea Party Rally with the “Tree of Liberty has to be periodically watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots” poster whose facebook news feed is a collection of racist denunciations of the president is *not* our political ally. Far more dangerous to our nation’s health and well being than the loss of our weapons from restricting legislation is our current national infatuation with weapons, violence, and militarism generally.

We can be a nation of responsible hunters and gun owners without being a nation leading the world in body count and frequency of public massacres. But to do so means we need to be a nation of responsible, sane people with a moral compass. That is a battle the left needs to win, and the best way to do that would be to keep it to one in which bullets will hardly if ever be used.

Every time guns are resorted to to solve political problems, the side with the most money, the most armies, and the most rich friends in other countries gets a hefty advantage from the get go. It’s one that time and again has been able to more than make up for a domestic shortcoming of popular support.

If the Western Left can learn anything from Guerrilla movements of the East it should be dynamic thinking, not a comical imitation of macho militarism. It’s not so much the gun that liberated the third world (partially) from colonialism as it was knowing when to use it. In any fight, you don’t attack superior forces directly. You decide when it is time to attack, and you do so from a position of strength. You do so in a way that minimizes losses to your side. And you keep the fight to a terrain where the tools that work best for you are the ones principally used.

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byork April 17, 2013 at 4:42 am

Christian, I know of no people who have liberated themselves from tyranny without weaponry, including guns. I once read a biography of Condoleezza Rice where she talks about the impact of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in her hometown. She heard the blast. Rice recalls the terror she felt as an eight-year-old. “These terrible events burned into my consciousness,” she remembers. And, as America shook its head in disbelief at the murder of four girls, Condi was mourning the two she knew personally–including Denise McNair, her kindergarten classmate. “I remember more than anything the coffins, the small coffins, and the sense that Birmingham was not a very safe place.“
Armed with a shotgun, her father joined the other men of the black community in night patrols to keep the KKK out of the neighborhood. It was in the crucible of that experience that Condoleezza developed her opposition to gun control and came to value what she sees as the Second Amendment guarantee of the ”right to bear arms.“

Source: Condi vs. Hillary, by Dick Morris, p. 71-72 , Oct 11, 2005

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 9:04 am

The weaponry comes from winning over the armed forces to the cause, not from a (white, right-wing) citizenry awash in small arms. See Libya, Syria, etc. for examples.

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Arthur April 17, 2013 at 9:21 am

See China and Nepal for other examples. Both scenarios are possible.

BTW any revolution in a country with a large white population will include whites. And a leftist revolution obviously requires a leftist citizenry.

The right remains armed with or without gun control.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

The problem is that most of the FB comments cited in Gupta’s piece make it plain that these people have no perspective of much less confidence in winning the military over. They really believe their AR-15 or glock is protecting them from a state armed with B2 bombers and Abrams tanks.

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Arthur April 17, 2013 at 12:15 pm

These FB comments don’t make much sense:

“I’ll be damned a cop can have a gun but I can’t.”

“Gun control laws … are another step down the incline to a full-fledged police state.”

But the following strike me as reasonable. It would have been odd if they had discussed winning the military over instead of responding to the question asked about gun control:

“Is a state monopoly on arms in the best interests of the working class?”

“Gun laws, much like drug laws, are used to oppress the poor and people of color.”

“We can’t have a revolution without them.”

“Governments already have too much of a monopoly on violence and we will one day have to bring this one down.”

“[I support] the right to bear arms — because I’m horrified that racist whites are heavily armed in areas of the country that oppose democratic rights.”

You haven’t offered any response to these comments. (Except for mentioning that revolution is also possible when the state armed forces split, which does not conclude the issue).

PS Disclaimer in Australia we don’t have the same constitutional tradition as America and there has been no signiicant resistance to the imposition of tight gun control. I don’t claim to be familiar with the US debate except that the liberal side of it it is echoed in Australian media with widespread expressions of incomprehension that the USA has not implemented tight gun control. But I still prefer the Swiss policy of mandatory gun ownership and am commenting from the traditional left perspective of asking “has the oppressed class arms”. On the same basis I prefer mass military conscription to volunteer armed forces.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm

“Is a state monopoly on arms in the best interests of the working class?”

Depends on context. If the state’s monopoly on arms is only being challenged by right-wing militias, I would say this is worse for the working class. Iraq 2003-2007 is a good example of how a bourgeois state machine lacking the monopoly of armed force was not a win for the oppressed and exploited, the militias/warlords that run Somalia being another.

“Gun laws, much like drug laws, are used to oppress the poor and people of color.”

We can say this about practically all laws. Do we oppose laws under bourgeois rule? I hope not.

“We can’t have a revolution without them.”

Libya and Syria and practically every other revolution that has succeeded in world history did not have an armed citizenry prior to those overturns. If demonstrators had fired back at the Syrian army in spring of 2011, that probably would have retarded the development of the defections that fed the Free Syrian Army.

“Governments already have too much of a monopoly on violence and we will one day have to bring this one down.”

With civilian small arms? Ridiculous.

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Arthur April 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Fine, those count as a response rather than an incoherent stream of consciousness like the original article.

I don’t find them convincing but I’m backing out of this discussion due to lack of time.

However I cannot resist a final note that you didn’t respond to this one:

“[I support] the right to bear arms — because I’m horrified that racist whites are heavily armed in areas of the country that oppose democratic rights.”

Leaving aside the phrasing, it strikes me that the most important thing is that when there is a mass based left again your stand would not result in disarming the right but in greater difficulties responding to the armed right because the left would be oriented against doing so.

There is every reason to expect that in crisis conditions armed right-wing terrorists will operate as they have in the past and the state power will not be an adequate defense against them but is more likely to collaborate with them or have great difficulty suppressing them.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I missed that one:

“[I support] the right to bear arms — because I’m horrified that racist whites are heavily armed in areas of the country that oppose democratic rights.”

No one is proposing repealing this right. Furthermore, it’s a bit of a strange contradiction to be “horrified” at racist whites toting guns while supporting their “right” to do just that.

When the context changes, i.e. when we have a mass-based left, so will my position. If the left can wield capitalist state power as in Venezuela, we could use it to go after the right-wing militia types, disarm them, jail them, or whatever else.

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Arthur April 17, 2013 at 4:26 pm

1. As noted in my disclaimer the Australian situation is different and I may not understand the nuances of US arguments. But in Australia tight gun control means there is no right to bear arms. It doesn’t just mean registration or limitations on types of arms or checks on mental health and criminal record etc. With no right to bear arms here you need special permission which is not generally available. My understanding of those FB comments I agree with is not that they are opposing any restrictions whatever but that they are arguing for the left to be in favour of the right to bear arms and the article is opposing them on this rather than arguing for minor regulatory measures that would not prevent large numbers of American citizens being armed.

2. Glad your position will change when the context changes. Problems are that a left culture empathizing with the liberal gun control advocacy will be difficult to change (as it will in Australia). A left culture that agrees with arms control opponents in trusting an armed citizenry more than an armed state is far more likely to become a mass based left and to be able to act appropriately when the situation changes.

3. Done the finance test that was keeping me up all night and going to bed.

David Berger April 17, 2013 at 11:10 am

You’ve got to be kidding.

First of all, why would any Leftist quote Condaleeza Rice on anything, including instruction on how to lick a stamp? She is a congenital liar. (And just as a historical fact, she came from a very conservative African-American family that refused to have anything to do with the Civil Rights Movement.)

It is also a myth that Black communities were able to defend themselves against the KKK. By the 1960s, the KKK was a shell of its old self and while it was capable of acts of violence, it was no longer able to engage in large-scale lynching, “night riding” and the kind of mass violence it had once reveled in. There are no events that I can recall where the KKK was defeated by armed Black citizens.

Rice’s position on gun control is a reflection not of her racial background but of her vicious right-wing politics. Remember that she was one of the architects of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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byork April 18, 2013 at 12:43 am

So you would have rather the men not taken up arms to defend their churches and communities? As for Rice’s politics, she is also hated by just about every former and current dictator in the Middle East, so you’re in appropriate company. She stood up to fascism in Iraq and to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Iraqis are about to vote in competitive elections – and your side, the ‘resistance’ with their market bombings, have been unable to halt the democratization process. You’re actually to her Right. (And that’s why Leftists quote Condi Rice).

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Aaron Aarons April 29, 2013 at 1:47 am

Rice was the U.S. National Security Advisor when U.S. marines kidnapped the popular (and overwhelmingly elected) president of Haiti and dropped him in the middle of Africa. She was also in that position when the U.S. supported the failed coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. She was very brave in opposing those, whether ‘dictators’, ‘democrats’ or whatever, who were targeted by the ruling class she served. And, like Obama and a few others, she put a Black face on a white-owned empire.

No, leftists do not approvingly quote people like Condaleeza Rice, except in the rare cases when they let the truth slip out. But, unsurprisingly, pseudo-socialist apologists for imperialism, like the supporters of “the last superpower”, do.

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anon April 17, 2013 at 10:52 am

“mentally ill shooters like Adam Lanza”

This serves as nothing but the scapegoating of people with mental illnes. Not to mention the fact that talk of mental illness only happens with white killers, people of colour killers aren’t given the same “luxury” of an “excuse” for their crimes by society.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/12/30/autism-had-nothing-to-do-with-adam-lanza-s-rampage.html

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David Walters April 17, 2013 at 11:06 am

By letting the NRA/petty-bourgrois right wing shape the debate, and define the gun control issue for those defending the 2nd Amendment, Arun *politically* adapts to these groups. He makes no real attempt, except though anecdotal conversations, to show that “leftist fantasies” about being armed are somehow misguided. Arun fails to really deal with the issue from a serious political point of view. In a certain way by allowing the petty-bourgeois right-wing T-Party/NRA latch up to define the discussion and then supposing:
“Judging from these comments, many leftists agree with the right that the biggest threat to society is not mentally ill shooters like Adam Lanza. It’s the state. The implication is that the solution to a society with too many guns is more guns. That’s why leftists tend to shrug off gun control. They see it as impinging on their freedom, or at least as something that doesn’t affect them.”
…Arun adapts to the worse of liberal non-materialism and the far-right’s own view of the left. So lets call it straight: the petty-bourgeois right-wing (as opposed to the ruling class which is generally supportive of Obama’s appeal to law and order and getting guns out of the hands of people and leaving them in the hands of the repressive apparatus) is RIGHT that it is the government, not individual gun owners, that are a ‘threat’. Historically this is THE position of the Marxist and socialist left. Arun fails to make a clear argument why this is wrong. The right wing is wrong about the nature of the repression, who the enemy is, etc but their understanding of the issues around gun control is way more accurate than the liberals that Arun is adapting too.

Non-violence? Why is this being brought up here? Non-violance, as Arun implies, is a tactical question. MLK wanted to own a gun for protection but correctly used non-violence as a political strategy. Why is raising this issue in this discussion being done as if there are those on the left who argue that using guns to achieve a political objective is serious? Arun is using a straw-man argument, through his relationship with his deceased acquaintance Tony to make a point…about what?

The issue, Arun, is do you seen the 2nd Amendment as worth fighting for? It’s true the left is mealy mouthed about getting involved in its defense as its liberal wing is around gun control. You don’t lay down a cogent argument why socialists should abandon it’s long held position of worker and oppressed have the right…and thus the means…to defend themselves.

Sorry…Arun…but the State IS the biggest “threat to society” and it is not lunatics like Lanza (please note I don’t add the liberal guilt tripping suffix of “…and of course how terrible Newtown was, blah, blah). If one doesn’t recognize that the State is the threat, WTF are we talking about???

Police kill and impression 10s of thousands of Black youth every year and you think the issue is a school massacre? Really? This is excatly what liberals focus on…the horrid massacres that take place every few years and the not the whole underlying class repression in society. THAT is the issue not how big a magazine is on a rifle or whether a hand gun is a revolver or can fire in automatic.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 12:06 pm

“the State IS the biggest ‘threat to society’ and it is not lunatics like Lanza (please note I don’t add the liberal guilt tripping suffix of …and of course how terrible Newtown was, blah, blah). If one doesn’t recognize that the State is the threat, WTF are we talking about???

Do you think it would be possible to convince a family who lost someone at Aurora or Newton (or at the Boston marathon bombing) that “the state IS the biggest ‘threat to society'”? If so, how?

Police kill and impression 10s of thousands of Black youth every year and you think the issue is a school massacre? Really? This is excatly what liberals focus on…”

So when people want to talk about school massacres, the socialist line should be “defend the 2nd amendment” and “think about all the Blacks killed by cops in the ghetto”? Really?

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Aaron Aarons April 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm

The “socialist line” in such situations should be something like:

If the society is concerned with preventing the avoidable death and suffering of children, there are many ways to do so far more effectively and efficiently than by trying to prevent unknown and unidentifiable people from carrying out a possible future school shooting. Far more such avoidable death and suffering is caused by things like lack of health care, unsafe streets and highways, etc., etc.

This is, of course, just an outline. We need to compile statistics of deaths, etc., from those other causes in comparison with deaths and injuries from school shootings, and ask people who are so worried about such shootings what they want to do about those other, far more real, dangers to children.
In other words, don’t let the forces of capitalist order determine either the answers or the questions.

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David Walters April 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Pham, wow! Such an argument? I’m not trying to convince them of anything, nor would I. I don’t or wouldn’t convince my Israeli relatives who lost friends on a bus bombing during the Intifada…which WAS political…of why Palestinian fighters do what they do, either. Yours is quite the “liberal” argument, isn’t it? I lost my uncle to to a pharmacy robbery when I was 10. I’m still against the death penelty but forgive my aunt if she wasn’t objective in her view on criminal justice. The issue is what stance socialists take on this question.

II. No, the response to a school massacre should be to find out who, why and what were the causes. The defense of the 2nd amendment comes in response to YOU who raise a school massacre as an excuse to disarm people…when such disarming will do squat to stop such massacres. All the talk about “Assault rifles” and banning magazines (seriously? This would of stopped or reduce the death toll?) doesn’t even address all these massacres. Until recently, Pham, the biggest massacre was in Columbine where 13 dies and 24 others injured by non-assault rifles (hand guns and shotguns).
Arun’s defense of Obama’s legislation are totally 100% liberal “feel good” emotive responses to the massacre. None of it would prevented what happened. Ergo, you and any others who defend these liberal solutions are lying to your readership. Ridden by guilt responses are not serious.
Columbine’s murdering teens were going to set off explosives. Quite homemade, quite effective. As we saw in Boston just the other day. The whole gun control debate is a liberal law-and-order *panic* over Newtown.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm

There’s nothing “revolutionary” in allowing people like the Colorado shooter to buy tons of rounds over the internet. Since when do socialists take a laissez-faire approach to gun regulation?

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David Walters April 17, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I don’t think owning weapons is “revolutionary”. Stop using strawman false arguments. I said revolutionaries should defend the right to own weapons. Full stop.

The the other clearly mentally deranged person in Aurora owned “tons of rounds” was wholly irrelevant to his actions. He only carried about 200 on his person, which is all he needed, when he committed the crime there. He could of bought them a box-of-2o at a time and still had thousands. Buying on them on the internet is simply lazy. He could of gone to 10 different hunting stores and accumulated the same number.

Pham, you are sounding desperate. How would stopping ammo sales on the internet help a damn thing? 99.999% of ammo sales go to people who do not use them for crimes. The issue is why people do these sorts of crimes. Anders Behring Breivik who murdured 77 social-democratic youth in Norway…gun banning, no-amm0-for-nobody Norway…simply went to eastern Europe and bought illegal ammo and guns and brought them back to Norway. As a socialist I would think you’d want answers to why people do these things and why alienation of the type exhibited of late ends up with people killing others and themselves?

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Does this right extend to everyone with an internet connection and a mental illness? Surely not.

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Brian S. April 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Norway – like Britain – operates a system of conditional licensing for firearms. While it can’t provide 100% protection it certainly makes mass shootings far less likely . While the UK has a serious and growing problem of use of guns in gang conflicts, it has had only two major mass shooting incidents in the last 17 years. How does that compare with the US?

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Aaron Aarons April 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Binh writes:

There’s nothing “revolutionary” in allowing people like the Colorado shooter to buy tons of rounds over the internet.

Revolutionaries don’t have the power to allow, or not allow, anything of the sort. Neither do reformists like Binh, although the fact that he discusses the issue in that way shows once again that his thinking is based on the perspective of managing the capitalist state, rather than subverting and overthrowing it.

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Richard Estes April 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm

“The public, liberals included, reflexively backs state violence. . . The left wants to overturn this order, but it knows the hammer will come down on it for anything but peaceful dissent.”

US public will support repressive measures against anyone perceived as engaging in violent resistance against the government. There would be no support for them as there was from some quarters for 1960s radical groups. As Bifo said in a similar context: “How can we think of activists going against professional organizations of killers in the mold of Blackwater, Haliburton, secret services, mafias?”

Since the 1960s, there has been a proliferation of various kinds of semi-automatic weaponry for purchase, and, yet, the government has successfully disempowered the working class and intensified its police powers over poor communities and people of color. There is no shortage of weapons in these neighborhoods, and, yet, the police are able to act with more and more impunity. Pham points out the absurdity of believing that anyone in the US can resist a paramilitarized police, able to call upon the military whenever necessary, with the weaponry currently available to them.

Prior to his unfortunate, early death, I had a conversation with anarchist Joel Olson, who lived in northern Arizona, about guns. He supported the right of people to possess them as a means of potential resistance against the government, but I responded that such possession, especially in the context in which he lived, was not politically empowering, but actually tended to reinforce an insular perspective of personal empowerment and self-protection that ran against attempts at collective organization. He seemed to agree that this was, in fact, a problem.

I have begun to think guns in a different context, one in which capitalist corporations make more and more money off the sale of them, just as arms suppliers make money selling weapons to countries around the world. Manufacturing and selling commodities that intensify violence to both public and private consumers is beneficial to global capitalists, as there is a synergy whereby private sales facilitate public ones, and vice versa, not to mention that the proliferation of them is frequently used to justify more repressive police practices. Is the violence that invariably results a contemporary form of ‘creative destruction’ that benefits capital as well? If so, what is the way out of this cul-de-sac?

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David Walters April 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Well, good, something concrete and I agree with you on this. I’m all for extending and preventing people with mental illnesses from acquiring anything really deadly, like buy ammonia-nitrate to 22 revolvers. And…I don’t think there could really be gov’t abuse of this. Establishing such criteria nationally would of prevented the Virginia Tech shooting, or at least inhibited the shooters ability to acquire fire arms (maybe). I think there would be a big debate over what constitutes the criteria: just seeing a therapist? Physiologist? Institutionalization?. And any ruling could be challenged could in a gun courts even though they were be part of the “State”, it makes logical sense to the degree that withholding drivers licenses would to people incompetent to drive. I know there are some socialists who would oppose this but this is quite practical with little political implications.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Those issues are beyond the scope of Gupta’s article and more in line with this one (but not perfectly so): http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=6072

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 12:21 am

But of course you raised it above. Pham: “Does this right extend to everyone with an internet connection and a mental illness? Surely not.”

It’s an important discussion and something I believe socialists can contribute too.

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PatrickSMcNally April 17, 2013 at 6:47 pm

It’s hard to identify any concise point which this piece is making. I can agree that the Left in the USA should not be getting caught up with great fears of an impending ban on guns. That is nowhere on the horizon. I could even go further and say that most of the guns owned by black people today are more frequently used in fratricidal conflicts which have no relevance to fighting the Ku Klux Klan such it once was in the 1920s. Instead, black-on-black violence is the more frequent usage of guns within most black neighborhoods. It’s a real social probelm which has to be recognized.

But at the same time, it’s pointless to be lobbying the capitalist state to restrict gun usage in more than some small technical ways. It’s one thing to support a minimum wage law or some other type of bourgeois reform. But investing major energies into a gun-control campaign would necessarily have major implications. What type of really big campaign could someone outline that would entail large numbers of purported Leftists marching in the streets in support of pro-active gun-control measures? If a real proposition came up about specific gun-holder requirements then I might very well think “That sounds like a good idea!” But only in a casual way. What more does this author have to offer?

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 12:34 am

[Actually Socialist Organizer hasn’t taken a formal position on this. This is my position but I know it corresponds to a few in the group that agree. Some don’t. They can speak their minds if they want. Most haven’t considered it yet. We’re free to speak our mind without always representing our group.]

Policy decisions are in question. The biggest one, was defeated today, including background checks. I’m no happy about that aspect of the defeat. The magazine issue was a farce as was the attempt to ban assault rifles. Of course banning types of weapons while already legally established under the word ‘regulation’ in the 2nd amendment as determined by the 1933 “Machine Gun Act” which banned fully automatic weapons from citizens. But talk to any anti-gun activist they will tell you after a while, the goal is remove all automatic weapons (leaving people with revolvers and bolt action rifles).

More to the point, actual *confiscation* by banning such weapons was on the books in Chicago, DC and now in NYC. So the Bill of Rights is quite under attack, Pham. The *current* legislation, while not at all confiscatory (despite the lies told by the NRA representative on TV) can certainly set the stage for this politically. None of this is being enacted in a vacuum that doesn’t look ahead.

Patrick, yes, what you state is likely quite true. It’s also true that gangs and criminals that pray on the members of the Black community likely do not acquire those guns legally. They do so within the same market that provides their real product they are interested in, drugs. They often come in through the same channels. So banning the average non-criminal person in the Black community the right to own a gun would only leave them totally at the mercy of the armed gangs.

The way to deal with crime has to be through community organizing and not for tougher gun laws which wouldn’t work, hasn’t worked and will never work. Socialists should participate in community organizations that seek to expel drug dealers…along with their illegal guns…from their communities. This requires a full on perspective of anti-racist work and programs that deal with the most oppressed sector of the working class.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 12:41 am

I think when we talk about gun control in America we have to look closely at what demographic is wanting less gun restrictions.

It is by far the most reactionary, far right segment of our society. This scares me.

Sure if we had all these cases of militant workers defending themselves from bloodthirsty capitalists, or minorities protecting themselves from being lynched. If this were the background of our conversation then I would be against guns control too.

We should be asking guns for who to do what?

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Kim April 18, 2013 at 2:24 am

How about women protecting themselves from the sex-based violence of men? It happens everyday. It happens to most women at some point in their lives, including myself and most of the women I love. You bet I have a loaded gun. Levels the playing field by a lot.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 8:50 am

The statistics I have seen show that women are the most likely to support stronger gun control laws.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 9:00 am

Besides in a society where everybody has a gun the man doing sexual assault is just as likely to have a gun. Maybe more so since guns are specifically marketed to macho men.

http://www.care2.com/causes/white-masculinitys-ties-to-rape-and-gun-culture.html

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 10:51 am

The overwhelming majority of rapes are done without guns. Or weapons. Most women support gun control…except those who have armed themselves to prevent attacks from happening…again.

It’s an upsurd position, Danny. Put it clearly, ok? Do women (or men) have aright to arm themselves to protect them or families? Yes or no?

The idea that these are individual solutions avoids the whole issue of rights and self-defense. We function as individuals in this society and do a lot of things, even as socialists, from both individual and small-group self-interest. Danny…my question to you is why do you place more faith in the cops or our “justice” system to protect individuals. Do you lock your door at night? Of course. Wouldn’t you do *anything* to protect yourself? your friends and family?

This is why the liberal arguments expressed here are the real ‘fantasy’ positions. The U.S. is an extremely violent society. This stems from the underlying history of class and racial conflict. No other country, Norway, England, Germany has anything like this. It is a very unfortunate case of American exceptionalism. Calls for more gun control are basically calls to have more faith in the imperialist gov’t. You really need to think about your reactions here.

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Richard Estes April 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm

My understanding is that it is much more likely that my young son will find a gun in my house and seriously injure, if not kill, himself or someone else than it is that I will need to use it for self-protection, assuming that I would be able to do so.

For that reason, I don’t have one. But this gets rather far afield. The gun control measures currently being discussed don’t prevent anyone from owning a gun for self-protection, and, to the extent that people argue to the contrary, or oppose them on this basis, they are pretty much echoing the intrasigent NRA line which requires us to accept the risk of people who shouldn’t have weapons having ones, like assault rifles, that are extremely dangerous because of their capacity to fire a lot of rounds very quickly.

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Richard, this is partially accurate. My own experience is that when my son was young I also didn’t have handguns around. I still don’t. I’ve always had a shot gun and rifle, but with locks. To be honest my rifle is something of an antique, a bolt action one from Switzerland, circa 1950s. It’s in no way capable of home defense whatsoever. The shotgun, a lot better. I could of opted for a cheap A-15 assualt like rifle, but I didn’t. Personal preference. And that is one part of this discussion. A semi-auto carbine would work as well as a shot gun once trained how to use it. And it’s a lot of fun target shooting as well. Can you think of a reason why I can’t be allowed to purchase or acquire one?

Here is a wike synopsis of the current defeated gun legislstion:

The proposed congressional actions included:

Require background checks for all gun sales, including those by private individuals
Pass a new, stronger ban on “assault weapons”
Limit magazines to 10 rounds
Ban the possession of armor-piercing bullets
Provide financing for improved mental health coverage, particularly for young people
Provide funding for schools to develop emergency response plans

The executive actions included:

Improve the data used for the background check system for gun sales
Direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence [57]
Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers
Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime

Besides the controversial issue of supporting law enforcement the banning of “assault weapons” (btw…this is a very fake category…no one in the industry or familiar with weapons ever uses this term. It’s a weasel word invented by liberal democratic Dianne Fienstein to cover what ever scares the shit out of her at any particular time.) and limits on magazines some of this is supportable.

So this is really what we are talking about. Banning is just that: banning weapons. And this is the not so slippery slope to disarmament. And this should be opposed by the left.

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John Leslie April 19, 2013 at 6:18 am

Richard, any responsible gun owner has a safe – I have two. If you can afford to buy a gun, you can afford a safe. Of couse, there are idiots who leave loaded guns laying around but that’s an /educational/ problem. Anyone who owns a firearm should exercise some basic common sense and also learn basic safety practices.

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Pham Binh April 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm

“The U.S. is an extremely violent society.”

And yet you oppose limits on how many bullets magazines can contain. The U.S. is a violent society, therefore we should oppose gun control legislation? Bizarre, unless the goal is to maximize the carnage of an extremely violent society.

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Aaron Aarons April 30, 2013 at 1:40 pm

The left should be concentrating on the far greater violence, including the violence of hunger and disease, imposed by the U.S.-led capitalist ruling class on the peoples of the world, including on the poorer and specially-oppressed sections of the population inside the U.S.. Our main intervention in the debate on guns should be to expose pro-ruling-class, anti-oppressed-group proposals and arguments made by all sides of the debate.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I have never seen any polling that shows that most women support gun control. This is the kind of stuff I have seen:

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/04/guns-gender-gap-polls.php

Although if you have data that shows differently, I would be very interested in seeing it.

As for protecting ourselves against an imperial government, I think this this is an important point. But we have to have perspective. The US govt is the most well funded dangerous military in the history of the world. I doubt you can really buy enough round of ammunition to protect yourself from drones, tanks, missiles, bombs, etc.

If you continue your analogy of since you lock your door, you should be able to buy a gun. Where does that logic end? Should we be able to each have a tank? Should we each have access to our own drones? Atomic missiles. Is this what you are suggesting?

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Danny, I was only repeating what was noted above. And in event, it’s totally irrelevant what a polls says anyway. This is about individual rights. I don’ want a bunch of pacifists telling me I can’t defend myself with the means I feel necessary. I don’t like the idea of the “majority” of women who may or may not support some sort of gun control telling rape victims to take a hike. I don’t like a family in a high crime area being told by those that live else-ware they can’t, are not allowed or otherwise forbidden to defend themselves with an assault rifle or semi-automic hand gun. And THIS is what the legislation was going to be aimed out, if not now, then later.

Additionally this is one (of several) reason the socialist left will never grow in a working class communities when it presents such uneducated counter-cultural arguments. You might as well argue “why can’t we all get along”.

I accept rules on types of weapons. BTW…a tank is not illegal in case you wanted to know. Seriously. There are lots of rich hobbyists who own them. Strange, I know. But you can’t have a fully armed one, can’t have machine guns on it and you need a special license.

All we are arguing about, I hope, is what *kind* of weapons are allowed and then the regulation or banning there of. I’m for free speech absolutely. But not for yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater., either. I think the focus on M-16 type guns is, as I replied to Pham: dumb, not-serious and a distraction from real types of regs (such as the mental health background check I think we all agree on so far here).

Gone from the discussion is the degeneracy of American society that guns, at worse, are only a reflection of, not the cause for this degeneracy. The common refrain in the 1960s and 1970s by the ruling class (unified without dissent), was more “law and order”. Trying to address the symptoms of crime (not to mention the racism inherent there in) and not why people commit such crimes to begin with. Something I notice is reflected here by the pro-gun control advocates.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Sorry to keep beating a dead horse here. I know we just disagree and we probably arent going to see eye to eye on this.

But if we are going to make it about individual rights, then I it is still just a murky. What about my right to not have to worry that my kids getting shot at their elementary school, or that I can go to a movie theater or shopping mall without having to worry who might potentially start shooting up the place.

“Rights” are funny things because they can be argued in many directions. I don’t have a right to pollute, I don’t have a right exploit people. I think unless there is a good reason why we should call owning a gun a right. There is no reason to just assume it is.

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Aaron Aarons April 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Danny writes:

What about my right to not have to worry that my kids getting shot at their elementary school, or that I can go to a movie theater or shopping mall without having to worry who might potentially start shooting up the place.

You don’t “have to worry” about those things any more than you “have to worry” about your kids being struck by lightening in the schoolyard or, more likely, being killed or injured in a traffic accident on the way to or from school, or to or from a movie theater. If you can even afford the effort to worry about the things you mentioned, you have a lot fewer real worries than most people in the world have. Either that, or you let the ruling-class media focus your attention on issues that make you less likely to demand things like health care and housing — demands much more threatening to them than the demand for gun control.

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Danny April 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

That seems like a lot of ad hominen attacks…all of the sudden I am either priveledged or a sucker to the ruling class because I have a kid in a public elementary school and I am worried about his safety….give me a break

Danny April 18, 2013 at 12:55 am

Another quick point, the idea of guns as self defense against crime argument seems very individualistic to me.

In the conservative mind, the home is seen as a castle, with the father as the king. In this fantasy it makes sense that the father has the responsibility to have the biggest home, the fanciest stuff, the most macho cars. Each home becomes almost a tiny feudal estate and so of course they also have the duty to defend it against intruders. And so these McMansions almost have to engage in an arms race to make sure their castle is best defended.

Generally I think the leftist approach to crime should be more community driven. What are the social causes of crime? How can we build communities of solidarity where people don’t fee like they need to be armed to the teeth to live safely in.

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Kim April 18, 2013 at 2:21 am

“Thus, the left should connect the dots by framing gun restrictions as part of the effort to limit police powers, abuses and surveillance. Unlike the right, the left does not believe the state of nature is a war of all against all. Central to the left project is demilitarizing society, and by using this as the umbrella, gun control can provide an opening to shackle the state instead of the people.”

I’m not following this at all. So, are we to believe that gun control laws will be aimed at the police and other state entities? No, gun control laws will be aimed at individuals. Anyone who thinks the state will pass laws that limit its own powers of violence and control are fooling themselves.

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John Leslie April 18, 2013 at 6:17 am

As a Marxist and gun owner, I have to say I’m not convinced by the liberal pro gun control arguments being advanced by Pham and Arun. To be clear, I don’t harbor ultraleft or Guevarist illusions about going up into the Poconos and starting a guerrilla foco. Social change, IMO, comes primarily through mass struggle. Armed struggle is a tactic.

However, I am stunned by the blind faith in the bourgeois state expressed here. I oppose any attempt to restrict the democratic rights of working class people and their right to self defense. (The second amendment, like the first amendment, was won through struggle in the early years of the US.) During the civil rights movement the Black community had to defend itself from reactionaries- exercising their second amendment rights. Robert Williams in Monroe, the Deacons of Defense, etc all used force or the threat of force to defend themselves. This is because nonviolence wasn’t working as a strategy. Personally, doing voter registration in south Texas, I carried a pistol at all times. It’s not a question of being “adventurist” but of common sense.

White and Black Americans have experienced US bourgeois “democracy” in very different ways. For most Black people , bourgeois democracy is a sham and their experience is really more like living under a fascist or semi-fascist state. Mass incarceration, police brutality and murder by cop are commonplace. So why is the notion of disarming the oppressed and exploited something that seems acceptable to some so-called leftists. I happen to agree with Dave W. that the ultimate intent the liberal anti-gun movement is just this- disarming people.

Does this mean that some reasonable gun laws are unacceptable? No, of course not. But it seems to me that more attention to mental health care and attacking the roots of crime (unemployment and lack of educational opportunities) might do just as much to solve the problem. Pham seem to think that it’s a free for all. Hardly. Have you ever bought a firearm? Every time I have bought a gun, and es I own a few, I have had to pass a background check.

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Richard Estes April 18, 2013 at 12:51 pm

“However, I am stunned by the blind faith in the bourgeois state expressed here. I oppose any attempt to restrict the democratic rights of working class people and their right to self defense. (The second amendment, like the first amendment, was won through struggle in the early years of the US.)”

The bourgeois state is perfectly fine with unrestricted access to almost any kind of gun except those used by the US military. The gun manufacturers make a lot of money (like arms manufacturers), the police justify increased expenditures, surveillance (like stop and frisk in NYC) and police violence (after all, cops argue, anyone could be armed, and they must make split second decisions or risk being injured or killed) because of it and the state imposes more and more draconian sentencing laws as a purported response. Beyond this, there is an ever growing private sector of surveillance and security interwoven with the state that facilitates even more repression and capital accumulation.

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Pham Binh April 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm

If you want to skip background checks, go to gun shows or use the net. Those are the two loopholes the recently defeated legislation would have closed. I’ll stand by my free-for-all comment until those exceptions are gone.

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John Leslie April 19, 2013 at 5:45 am

Wrong. Any professional dealer who sells at gun shows must conduct a background check. In some states, individuals can sell guns directly to another individual without a check. I’m familiar with PA laws, so this is based on Pennslvania. Individuals can sell long guns (rifles, shotguns) to other individuals. Handguns must be sold with a backgound check – no exceptions. Some folks rent table space at shows to sell guns. This does not make them professional dealers. (It might be useful to actually know the guns laws and not just repeat MOVEON talking points.)

I have no problem with requiring checks for all sales of long guns. (Though must shoootings are done with pistols.) Illegal handguns are a problem. These get out there either through theft from homes or through straw purchasers who sell them to criminals. One law that the NRA has resisted in PA is one requiring stolen guns to be reported to cops.

Frankly, “theft” is often a cover for straw purchasers. Reporting would expose who is selling guns to criminals. Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals isn’t a problem for me but these new laws mostly penalize law-abiding gun owners. Mag size limits and talk of “military style assault weapons” are liberal anti-gun code words designed to stigmatize legal gun owners and create the sort of knee-jerk liberal reactions we are seeing here. If you think any of these new laws will keep criminals from getting guns, you must think the war on drugs is a rousing success.

Maybe part of it is that I was raised in the country and have been shooting recreationally since I was 11. I don’t fear guns – they are just a thing.

All this said, making blanket statements that defenders of the second amendment (Pham didn’t say this) are mostly right wing reactionaries is problematic. I bet if you talked to most of the blue collar workers protesting the right-to-work law in Lansing, you would find that a large number of them own guns, have never committeed a crime and more than likely hunt. (Certainly a large number in my union own guns and probably voted for Obummer)

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 11:19 am

I just wan to say that while I’m very hard on the positions expressed by Arun and others that reflect the same basic view, I’m glad North Star had the courage to actually run this article and develop a free-wheeling discussion on it. This is actually quite rare from what I can tell around this particular, highly emotional, issue.

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Richard Estes April 18, 2013 at 12:36 pm

“White and Black Americans have experienced US bourgeois “democracy” in very different ways. For most Black people , bourgeois democracy is a sham and their experience is really more like living under a fascist or semi-fascist state. Mass incarceration, police brutality and murder by cop are commonplace. So why is the notion of disarming the oppressed and exploited something that seems acceptable to some so-called leftists. I happen to agree with Dave W. that the ultimate intent the liberal anti-gun movement is just this- disarming people.”

Comments such as this seem to be based upon an assumption that people will someday bring out their weapons and attack their oppressors. But, as I have said before, poor communities and communities of color, like the rest of the US, already have plenty of weapons. As the number and variety of them has proliferated, police repression has intensified, along with gang violence. Perhaps, we need to look elsewhere for a means by which people in these communities can protect themselves because the relationship between the state, poor communities and communities of color and the availability of weapons doesn’t seem to have any connection at all with the extent to which they are subjected to police violence and surveillance. In any event, no one has talked about “disarming” them.

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Richard Estes April 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm

“Perhaps, we need to look elsewhere for a means by which people in these communities can protect themselves because the relationship between the state, poor communities and communities of color and the availability of weapons doesn’t seem to have any connection at all with the extent to which they are subjected to police violence and surveillance.”

To clarify: except to the extent that the state is able to manufacture justifications for increased repression, as mentioned in my comment to John Leslie above.

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John Leslie April 19, 2013 at 6:06 am

“Comments such as this seem to be based upon an assumption that people will someday bring out their weapons and attack their oppressors.”

Again, wrong, read what I wrote. I support the individual and collective right to self defense.

What I was citing was the real world experience of Robert Williams and the Deacons of Defense. Read Williams’ book, “Negroes with Guns” Thinking that oppressed communities should just call 911 and wait for police protection flies in the face of reality. Troops were sent to Little Rock, not to protect the Black community, but after the community armed itself in self-defense.

If you look at the Boston busing struggle in the 70s, the police stood by while racist mobs attacked students and the community. Organizing self defense groups was not only necessary but quite sensible. Incidentally, the organizational base of the racist ROAR group was the Democratic Party.

Do you think the right is not capable of organizing some sort of pogrom today? I guess the violent potential of the tea klux klan is all imaginary? My point is that we can’t rely on cops to protect us. Look at Greece (or any historic fascist movement) where the cops provide part of the social base of the fascists.

“In any event, no one has talked about “disarming” them.”

This is not true. The goal of the anti-gun liberals is exactly that. I just see no reason for socialists to tail after them.

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm

No, because you are uneducated about the actual impact of large round capacity magazines (for handguns or rifles) and they simply *make no difference*. One thing that is common to every one of these massacres: Tucson, Auroa, Sandy Hook, etc) is that all the shooters practiced over and over again in the use of their weapons. They practiced changing out magazines.

Pham, you and others here are totally influenced by the anti-gun folks who are also uneducated about this. You are really reflecting a scared person who thinks this is all about “assault weapons” and magazine capacity and pistol grips. The magazine can be changed out 1.5 seconds. So if a person has a 10 round or a thirty round magazine, it really doesn’t make a difference despite the fear driven ignorance of liberals. You are supporting legislation that would not likely prevent a damn thing or influence the number of deaths.

The danger here is that you are being irresponsible. There is real deaths out there in far larger quantities in the US as a result of our degenerating society. It is not because law abiding folks or gun owners have weapons of various kinds *and have used them repeatedly to defend themselves*…none are EVER reported I might add in the media…and you are not addressing the vast number of killings that go one (with less than 1% ever done by an semi-automatic assault rifle with a 30 round magazine). This is really quite a distraction from the real quantity of weapon murders in the US. Why are you so afraid of this one kind of weapon which this piece of legislation even failed to seriously address?

16,000 people are murdered every year in the US. Most with firearms, most with *handguns*. The legislation in question *avoids* this issue.

I’m all for bringing in gun shows and individual sales into a violent crime and metnal illness database. I’ve said this before. But that was only part of the legislation. I was addressing what I consider the stupidity of the assault rifle and magazine ban. I mean…did the stupid liberals in Congress actually want to get something passed they would of NOT had a ‘comprehensive’ bill but one that dealt specifically with the real issue of sales to violent offenders and ex-mental health institutional inmates. But they didn’t and you arguing over how many bullets someone owns!

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Aaron Aarons April 29, 2013 at 2:10 am

“It is not because law abiding folks […]”

I find it hard to believe that a leftist would use the term “law abiding” as an expression of approval of a person or persons, but that seems to be what David Walters is doing here.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Also an overwhelming majority of people 89% suppport more gun control according to this poll:

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/01/28/strong-majority-of-americans-nra-members-back-gun-control

It isn’t the people that are fighting gun control regulations. It is the bourgeois government and the gun lobby. So trying to make this issue into the “people vs an imperialist government” argument seems completely detached from reality.

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Danny…this is BS. “Most guns” are not use for either making a revolution (no one on this list argues it is) or to commit crimes. This is, please forgive me, the scared white liberal argument for gun control or banning. 99.9% of all guns are not used at all. Like mine, they sit in a closet, case or under the bed gathering dust, taken out a few times a year to be cleaned and used at a range, or, if you live in California or Pennsylvania, hunting.

It is not “the real point” no matter how many times you like to say it and how it appeals to you. The revolution thing is a straw-man argument. This is about the rights of people to own the weapon they choose to defend themselves legally from criminals, to hunt, or otherwise totally legit reasons. The fact that criminals can get guns, shows how useless gun bans are generally (which is why I’m not too terribly afraid of this nonsense). If total confiscatory legislation passes (no one is arguing for that I think) on any type of weapon, then I can’t own a banned weapon but it will do zero to prevent those that are criminal from getting a hold of one.

We noted elsewhere that machine guns have been banned since 1933. A machine gun is any fully automatic weapon from a Tommy Gun you see in the movies to an army Browning machine gun used to shoot down planes. I’m not for changing this at all (because you can’t or shouldn’t use machine guns to hunt with and you can’t use them really to protect yourself). But you know what? Criminals don’t really give a shit and THEY get them anyway. So the murder by machine gun or AK-47 in neighborhoods during drive by shootings happens exactly how then? Think about it.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I guess I don’t understand your point.

If 99.9% of all guns are not used at all. Why are we even discussing this?

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David Walters April 18, 2013 at 3:42 pm

You stated where guns are being “used.” Perhaps stating it the way I did was confusing. Of course guns sit “unused” 99% of time unless they are being carried, shot, whatever. Most gun “use” however is committing crime. They used in hunting and target shooting. Most guns…and I’m talking the overwhelming majority are used *for* that and home protection.

Reading what you wrote “We have to think what are guns being used for in this country right now. And they are not being used to arm revolutionaries. Instead, they are being used to kill minorities in poor neighborhoods, children in schools, etc.” seems to indicate you believe all they are used for is crime. You think that is the correct counter-position when it is not. It is not even close.

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David Berger April 19, 2013 at 8:33 am

Anyone want to comment on the “manhunt” going on in Boston right now? It would, pardon my worldliness, pertain to the issue of guns, the Left, Radical Islam, the cops, etc.

Just sayin’.

David Berger

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Pham Binh April 19, 2013 at 11:28 am

Hard to comment when most of the relevant facts aren’t in. I suspect they were using automatic weapons, which are, of course, illegal. Here’s the comment from the front lines in Syria: https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/325202610124619776/photo/1

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Joe Vaughan April 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm

What can you say about a spectacle so appallingly unnecessary that it very nearly effaces the cruel and pointless horror of the bombing itself–so lovingly caressed in replay after replay of the awful scene.

All those American flags looking, as a French relative of mine once observed, like the bloody ribs of a freshly butchered steer. All those grinning imbeciles chanting “USA” and fawning over the “courageous” police for daring, in their thousands, to capture one half-dead and exhausted teenager–killer though he probably is–to be tortured into confessing who knows what conspiracies against the mental virginity of the American moron!

How they licked their lips when they talked about the trail of blood leading to the fugitive’s hiding place!

For the next fifteen minutes, our fuehrerless fascism has a new Van der Lubbe.

But however long this series remains a hit, I suppose that in the long run the whole story will disappear into the background while the sinister reality of our politics continues to unfold in plain view without comment, report, or effective opposition.

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Joe Vaughan April 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I have to add, regarding gun control, that it would neither have helped nor hindered the Marathon bombing. The brothers–if they actually did what they are accused of doing–used handguns which they could have obtained easily under any conceivable regimen of gun control.

Pressure-cooker and nail control might be something else.

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Arthur April 22, 2013 at 10:09 am

The above post is seriously deranged. Apocalyptic talk about fascist darkness, despair as “the sinister reality of our politics continues to unfold in plain view without comment, report, or effective opposition” hatred of “the American moron” has been passed off as militant leftism for far too long.

Re-establishing a genuine left requires clear demarcation from fruitcakes.

I said it more briefly with just “WTF!”. A more substantive engagement would only undermine the point that a sharp line needs to be drawn against mental illness masquerading as militantcy.

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Aaron Aarons April 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Arthur Dent writes: “Re-establishing a genuine left requires clear demarcation from fruitcakes.”

Most of us who comment here, regardless of our differences, would regard those who see imperialism as a force for “democracy” or “liberation”, or who think the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 (with the aid and support of the Gulf monarchies, no less) in order to establish democracy there, as seriously delusional, though, unlike actual fruitcakes, hard to swallow.

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Joe Vaughan April 30, 2013 at 8:29 pm

You do not represent the “genuine left” and speak for nobody at all. You have no right to speak as if you did.

I’m sorry I called your bluff when it comes to the history of fascism, but you what you wrote on that subject was clearly wrong, to say the least.

No doubt your meltdown here is a reaction to that.

In any case, you obviously fail to understand what I wrote here. This reflects on you, not me–right down to the use of that corn-fed, meaningless right-wing slur “fruitcake.”

What’s crazy is your footling attempt to intimidate.

In this, to be sure, you resemble Louis Proyect at his worst–for example, when he threatens bodily harm against one of his cherished “thousands of enemies” [his phrase], as he did in his blog this week against some professor who interrupted him at a conference. You resemble Clay Claiborne when he declares all his opponents to be baby-killers or shops around photographs of Occupy comrades he dislikes in an effort to run them out of the movement.

If it were only you, it wouldn’t matter because you are not unusually significant. But this kind of crap has a long history in the milieu surrounding The North Star, especially but not exclusively among Trotskyites.

Who are all the while piously singing psalms about “constructive engagement” and the rest of that hypocritical cant.

That is truly “fruity.” It is also unacceptable politically.

No left-wing movement, if it truly embraces this kind of thing, will ever be anything more than a third-rate mutual admiration society for losers.

Some people may be at home in such a movement, but the masses will only laugh at it if they pay it any attention at all. And they will be right, no matter how many fatwas you and your long-winded buddies pronounce–and whether or not you exercise your right to keep and bear arms while doing so.

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Aaron Aarons April 29, 2013 at 1:23 pm

1) Using your personal, totally unverifiable, knowledge of somebody named ‘Tony’ as a central prop for your argument makes the value of that argument depend not on its logic or verifiable facts cited but on your trustworthiness and objectivity as an observer. In other words, it might, or might not, be convincing to people who know you personally, but not to anybody else.

2) “But Dorner’s rampage also bolstered support for the police, and you won’t build a movement by celebrating mass murder.”

Regarding the first part of that sentence, what’s your evidence. As to the second part, WTF are you talking about?

3) “Trying to use the state apparatus to constrict the state is tricky, […]”

And what does support for gun control by the state have to do with constricting the state?

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David Walters April 30, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Danny, while I don’t think you either of things you believe Aaron is implying, I had a kid in public school not too long ago and recently, on the local community campus, a bunch of youth armed with a variety of weapons, including an assault rifle, ran past him and he hear shots fired. One student got plugged in the ass with a 9mm from a pistol. It made all the papers (this was 1 year ago) and that was that. I don’t “worry” about this and neither should you. The chances of this happening to YOUR child or any other child, depending on where you live, is very, very small.

I simply don’t ‘worry’ as this is not normal activities where my son went to school. I was more worried about him driving home since THAT is in fact a far more scarier proposition of something happening to him than getting shot by a person with a .223 assault rifle. And this when my son actually saw something like this almost happening (they were targeting one specific student who had issues with the kids with the guns in his neighborhood).

The point in this whole discussions is that most who have started advocating for gun control have failed, miserably, to give any sort of class analysis or, present an argument than doesn’t, as your does, stem from emotion and fear. The default position is to support the Democratic Party’s (our class enemy MAIN political weapon, less anyone forget) law-and-order stance on guns.

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Danny April 30, 2013 at 6:20 pm

My position stems from emotion and fear. Oh really I wasn’t aware of that. Thanks for clueing me in to my own thought process.

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David Walters April 30, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Danny please, show a wee bit of political acumen here.

You wrote “What about my right to not have to worry that my kids getting shot at their elementary school, or that I can go to a movie theater or shopping mall without having to worry who might potentially start shooting up the place. ”

I didn’t…you did. You are *totally* relfecting the current fear and dread permeating American society and pushed by the media. I’m sure you woke up every day before these events wondering if today is the day. Please…

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Danny April 30, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Sorry my political acumen isn’t up too par. I will try harder to see things your way.

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Danny April 30, 2013 at 8:39 pm

OK. I will quite being sarcastic. What is bothering me about all your arguments, is the assumption that anybody that supports more gun control only does so because they are too stupid to realize that they are just being obamabots.

I could just as easily say the same for you. You only are pro-guns because you are secretly republican. I mean the powers that be actually are fine with us having lots of guns. There is a huge pro gun lobby, maybe you are the one that is just being sucked into the propanda.

My point is can’t you take my opinion at face value. I don’t like guns and I haven’t for a long time. I don’t see the point in having so easy access to them. I don’t feel like it is minorities, and women and the lower classes asking for more guns. On the contrary to me it seems it is the powerful gun lobbies and white males that are fanatically pro gun.

Is it not possible that I arrived at this conclusion by thinking instead of just being a stupid zombie that is in love Democrats.

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David Walters April 30, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Danny, yes, your absolutely correct. If you look at all the initial discussions, including your own, they almost all *looked* lke they came from a sort of gut reaction to what happened in Newtown. There was almost no politics expressed. It looked like the fear was talking and the solutions being offered dovetailed with all the liberal ones. That is how I and others saw it. We could be wrong but that is certainly how we felt I’m sure.

However…in this sense you and many others, the author of the blog entry itself included, in fact represented the prevailing public opinion even if such opinion was, in our opinion, misguided. So I, and I think others though I can’t speak for them, were trying to separate out the prevailing liberal sentiment so we could have a discussion among socialists. If in fact, like many of my liberal friends, this discussion was along those lines, personally, I would of taken a very different tact. I think being faced with socialists taking what I consider, IMHO, very non-socialist arguments, some of us had to take a few steps backward. I think this lead to be a bit of the hyperbole, at least on my part.

I can be a very good discussion. Dave Parks, who wrote here as well, is active on the yahoo socialist discussion list where this is an ongoing…discussion. Not even a debate. Interestingly, it’s divided between gun-owning American socialists and anti- and non-gun owning British comrades. So a discussion of culture came up that was interesting.

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Danny April 30, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Thanks for engaging with me as a rational human being, I will try to return the favor.

Yes. I can imagine there are lots of legitimate, socially acceptable reasons to own guns, and since I have never owned a gun and never really plan to those reasons might seem harder for me to grasp than for somebody that has had guns a part of their life and culture for a long time, and just because guns isn’t my hobby doesnt mean I should deny it from you.

And I definately agree that the gun debate is generally a proxy for a larger cultural debate that is going on in this country, and what side you come down on has alot to do with what culture you more easily identify with. This explains why British comrades see this issue so differently since they probably dont identify with any US culture very much.

My thinking is basically that (and I think the data backs this up) if we have stricter gun regulations we will have fewer people dying from gun related deaths. Maybe since I am not that inclined to use a gun anyway this seems like a very small price to pay in order to improve our safety, even if it is just a little bit.

As for the class component of it, I still have to stand solidly by my initial thinking. The minorities, the LGTB community, the women, all the marginalized groups that I can think of are not asking for more guns. The people that do are the white, male, ex-military, ex-cop demographic. So if there is a class component to this argument at all I am inclined to think it goes in the other direction from what you are implying.

All that being said, I think what is more important is that we as socialists come together and fight what is really oppressing us, the capitalist, imperialist, neoliberal system that sucks our lives away, and in this sense, I agree the gun debate is a distraction from what is really important.

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David Walters April 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Joe, it all comes down to the details. I haven’t heard one person (I’d have to re-read all this) who isn’t for gun regulation of some sort. I’m for that part of the Democratic Party/Obama sponsored legislation that would of brought gun show sales into the current state criminal data base and adding former mental health institutional inmates to such a data base. But I’m only for this if there is a possibility of redress so that, unlike the no-fly list, people can learn why they are not allowed to purchase a legal fire arm and to be able to appeal it.

As someone pointed out, everyone accepts the fact that since 1933 machine guns have been made illegal. Not even the NRA is for changing this law (at least I haven’t heard they are). One CAN purchases one but one has to have a Federal Tax Stamp and file the appropriate paper work. So some common sense restrictions make sense. What we are arguing about, for the most part, is what makes sense.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Really I have nothing to say about Australia. I barely know where to find it on the globe.

In America, gun ownership is practically a free-for-all, which is why Gupta (and I following him) see those FB comments as nutty. No one in the U.S. is questioning or thinking of repealing the Second Amendment and yet comrade David W. of Socialist Organiser and the Marxist Internet Archive is sounding the alarm in defense of said amendment.

That America’s far left can’t even seriously address the issues as they stand and the actual policy proposals that are on the table is an indication of how just how deep the Neverland malaise really is.

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Luke Elliott April 18, 2013 at 11:28 am

I had the intention of weighing in more on this conversation, but it got too splintered and unwieldy for me. Since this is mostly a group of folks interested in left strategy, let’s go there: *strategy*. As Binh said way back at the top of this thread: “[The ultra-left] really believe[s] their AR-15 or glock is protecting them from a state armed with B2 bombers and Abrams tanks.”

Honestly not much more needs to be said than that. Forget if you’re a socialist, an anarchist, a social democrat, whatever. The guns in which this country is currently awash are KILLING real live human beings (in the hood, in school shootings, in accidents etc) tragically and needlessly, and those same guns will NEVER, EVER matter in any kind of revolutionary situation. Period. Revolutionaries opposing gun control in the current context for *any* supposedly revolutionary purpose is not only unethical – it’s betrays a fundamental lack of strategic thinking.

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Aaron Aarons April 29, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Pham Binh believes that refusing to let the ruling class and bourgeois public opinion define the terms of political debate is a sign of a ‘malaise’, not a strength. Given everything else he has posted, I’m not surprised.

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Danny April 18, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Exactly.

We have to think what are guns being used for in this country right now. And they are not being used to arm revolutionaries. Instead, they are being used to kill minorities in poor neighborhoods, children in schools, etc.

That is the real point. Not some abstract idea of a future revolution that plays out something like a Rambo movie.

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Joe Vaughan April 30, 2013 at 9:13 pm

The United States is “awash with guns” and subject to a ghastly, if declining, rate of murders using said guns. This can be exaggerated, but the flood of weapons here is a characteristically United-States-of-American evil, one that serves, among other things, to justify the current grotesque overarming of the government, the police, corporations, and wealthy individuals.

Its true that the state apparatus appears willing to go to any length to deprive the masses of effective control over their lives, and would certainly exploit general gun control as a means of doing so if it could.

But, as Binh points out, there is zero chance of gun prohibition here anyway–we are really just looking at moderating some of the worst excesses of the current gun frenzy.

We shouldn’t let the errors of the Weathermen/Red Brigades/Baader-Meinhof period turn us against the concept of armed struggle–especially in times of civil war–but the argument that the right here and now has more to lose in this fight than the left does certainly has merit.

Maybe the best analogy is with Prohibition. The fact is that when Prohibition was repealed, the worst excesses of the alcoholic eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries–from cheap gin to people selling drinks on the street on payday from barrels set up outside factory gates–did not reappear in anything like their former strength. And those excesses had done more harm to the working classes than to anyone else–just as “gun violence” does now.

If the mass of arms washing around at present can be brought under any sort of control, perhaps that is the best thing: the more this happens, the more credibly the left can fight the grotesque over-armament of state and corporate authorities that was so much in evidence in Boston recently.

It is hardly a question of revoking the Second Amendment–perhaps only one of getting a crisis situation under control. Whatever the motivations of the liberal establishment in pushing gun control, the left may have the opportunity to make use of the situation in its own way. If this is so, gun control may turn out to be a good thing.

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Aaron Aarons April 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

This was a response to Pham Binh’s statement:

That America’s far left can’t even seriously address the issues as they stand and the actual policy proposals that are on the table is an indication of how just how deep the Neverland malaise really is.

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