Watch out, Kim Kardashian, Second Amendment advocates have you in their sights.
Kardashian found herself under heavy fire on Monday, after tweeting a link to a gun-control essay she’d written.
“Raising awareness on gun violence,” the tweet read, linking to an essay that began, “Friday, June 2, is National Gun Violence Awareness Day and I’ll be wearing orange to show my support for stricter gun control laws in the United States.”
The essay continued, “It’s been 18 years since Columbine, 10 years since Virginia Tech, four years since since Newtown and we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Orlando nightclub shooting. In almost 20 years, our country has made very little progress in enacting laws that would help protect innocent Americans from people who should not have access to firearms. Right now, there are more guns owned by civilians in this country than in any other country in the world. In February of this year, President Trump actually signed a bill revoking a regulation recommended by President Obama that would have added 75,000 names of people with registered mental illnesses to a national background check database. This is crazy!”
Though the reality TV star added in her essay, “I’m not against guns and I’m not against people owning guns,” Kardashian’s message promoting the essay led to some itchy tweeting fingers, which let fly with a few choice responses.
“OK Kimmy have your security guards give up their guns first!” shot back one detractor, who added, “I keep my constitutional right thank you very much.”
“I’m getting my concealed carry permit today,” chimed in another gun-rights advocate. “I will protect myself and loved ones!”
“Sorry Kim, but criminals don’t follow gun laws,” offered another.
“Were you promoting this before your jewelry heist? Thanks,” snarked another responder.
Another response referring to Kardashian’s jewelry heist read, “France has Gun control why you get screwed there?”
“Criminals are called criminals because they break the law, so gun LAWS wont help,” another social-media patriot offered.
“I am keeping up my support for the right to bear arms 4 ever,” wrote another firearms fan.
Clearly, there are few restrictions about shooting one’s mouth off on the internet.
Kim Kardashian vs Taylor Swift and 17 Other Bitter Celebrity Feuds of 2016 (Photos)
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
Camila Cabello vs. Fifth Harmony
Fans of the girl group Fifth Harmony were shocked when the group announced on Twitter that they had been informed through Cabello's manager that she would be leaving the group to focus on her solo career. This led to public a back-and-forth between the two parties over how exactly the split went down.
Also Read:Fifth Harmony Takes Fans Inside Drama With Camila Cabello
- Getty Images
Lady Gaga vs. Madonna
Madonna had previously accused Lady Gaga of ripping off "Express Yourself" in her 2011 single "Born This Way," and the feud between the pop stars was reignited in 2016 when Gaga said in a Beats 1 interview that "[Madonna]’s a nice lady, and she’s had a fantastic huge career ... [but] what I do is different. I’m not just rehearsing over and over again to put on a show."
Also Read:Lady Gaga Says She’s Not Like Madonna: ‘I Write All My Own Music’ (Video)
- Getty Images
Noah Galvin vs. Colton Haynes
"The Real O'Neals" star Noah Galvin first came out swinging with an unfiltered interview in which he called Haynes' coming out "f—ing p—y bullshit," which the former "Arrow" star later said was "absolutely uncalled for." Swift criticism led Galvin to issue an apology just a few hours later.
- Getty Images
Dwayne Johnson vs. Vin Diesel
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson went off on some of his male "Fast 8" co-stars on Instagram, calling them "candy asses" and unprofessional, leading TMZ to report that he was referring to co-star and producer Vin Diesel.
- Getty Images
Calvin Harris vs. Taylor Swift
Harris and Swift's split seemed amicable at first, but then reports began to surface claiming that Swift ghostwrote his summer hit, "This Is What You Came For." Harris clearly believed Swift's reps were behind the leak, tweeting that it was a "hurtful" attempt by her and her team to make him look bad following their break-up.
Also Read:Calvin Harris Calls Out Taylor Swift Over Songwriting Drama
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
Skai Jackson vs. Azealia Banks
Disney Channel star Skai Jackson won praise from social media when she shut down Twitter troll Azealia Banks by telling the rapper to "simmer down a little" after one of her many race-focused rants.
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
Demi Lovato vs. Taylor Swift
A bevy of stars came out in defense of Kesha in her dispute with Sony and music producer Dr. Luke, but Demi Lovato wasn't satisfied by Taylor Swift's choice to donate money to help cover the singer's legal fees. "Take something to Capitol Hill or actually speak out about something and then I'll be impressed," she wrote.
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
- Getty Images
Rewind 2016: From Kanye West’s rants to Piers Morgan’s wardrobe shaming, the year’s biggest celebrity beefs
View In Gallery
That rifle on the wall of the labourer’s cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.
— George Orwell1
As can be expected, in the aftermath of the horrific mass murder committed in Las Vegas by Stephen Paddock, the issue of “gun control” and “gun violence” comes to the fore again. Reprising some of the points I made in an essay on the subject after the Sandy Hook shooting, I want to argue against the impulse to use this event to eliminate what the marxist and socialist left has historically recognized as an important right.
Let’s start with the basic difference in principle: Some people consider the citizen’s right to possess firearms a fundamental political right.
The political principle at stake is simple: to deny the state the monopoly of armed force, and, obversely, to empower the citizenry, to distribute the power of armed force among the people. The “sub-political” concerns—hunting, collecting, individual self-defense—are valid in themselves, but they are not as important to the gun rights question as the political concern about the distribution of power in a polity.
This is not a right-wing position. Only in the ridiculous political discourse of the United States, where Barack Obama is a marxist, can citizens’ right to gun ownership be considered a purely right-wing demand. The notion that an armed populace should have a measure of power of resistance to the heavily armed power of the state is, if anything, a populist principle, and has always been part of the revolutionary democratic traditions of the left. Per George, above, and Karl, here: “The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition… Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”
That’s because left socialists who hold a marxist analysis of capitalist political economy have a particular understanding of the state—including our American capitalist state; for them, it’s an apparatus whose main purpose is to protect class rule and its accompanying injustices, and to project compliance-inducing aggression on behalf of the American elite and its favored allies — locally, nationally, and internationally. They understand that any mitigations of these injustices and aggressions are not the products of the liberal state’s inherent neutrality and altruism. They are the hard-won, always-precarious, fruits of social movements that scare the liberal capitalist state into forgoing particular wars, advancing particular minority and civil rights, establishing remunerative social welfare policies, etc.
From a left-socialist perspective, then, the concentration of wealth and the concentration of armed power in the hands of a few, are both bad ideas—and the one has everything to do with the other. Thus, though far from revolutionary, insofar as it supports this principle—explicitly denying the state the monopoly of armed force—the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is one of the most radical legal statutes in the world.
If you hold this position, you will consider whatever regulations on gun ownership are necessary (because some will be) with circumspection, because those “regulations” are limitations on a right, and rights, though never absolute, are to be valued. You won’t seek, overtly or surreptitiously, to eliminate that right entirely, and your discourse will reflect all of that. If you understand gun ownership as a political right, then, for you, if there weren’t a Second Amendment or something like it, there should be.
Some people, on the other hand, including most self-identified liberals, and, in the United States today, most self-identified socialists, do not consider the right to possess firearms a fundamental political right. In fact, they consider it some kind of peculiarity, and, as represented by the Second Amendment, an embarrassing anachronism.
That’s because these liberals and leftists are working with a different understanding of the state. For liberals, of course, the state—our American capitalist state—is a neutral force that mediates social conflicts fairly, and actually does, or at least sincerely tries to, look out for everyone’s lives and well-being equally. And, on this issue alone, many left-socialists simply forget the core understanding of the state as an instrument of class rule enunciated above, and fall back on the traditional liberal view. Though they righteously protest rampant police brutality against minorities and the poor, the mass-incarceration state, the increasing restriction of rights in the name of surveillance and security, and the thoroughgoing purchase of the American political system by a corrupt oligarchy that oversees it all, when it comes to this issue—well, it’s fine for that state to have a monopoly of armed force.
They must have this position, musn’t they, or they would consider it a little problematic to advocate for laws that rescind an established right and create new crimes, and will be enforced by teams of armed agents of the state sent to disarm and/or imprison the 50 million or so people (30% of adults) who have done and will do no harm to any other human being. Or perhaps I have missed the gun-control proposals that include disarming the police and the repressive state apparatus.
Those who hold this position, and reject gun ownership as a political right, don’t give a damn about how restricted that non-right is, or whether it is ignored or eliminated altogether. They would just as soon be done with it.
I think denying the importance of, or even refusing to understand, the radical and populist principle underlying gun rights, and sneering at people who do, symptomizes a politics of paternalistic statism—not (actually the opposite of) a politics of revolutionary liberation. But let’s at least have this discussion honestly. If you really want to repeal the Second Amendment and force everybody to turn in every weapon that they own, say so, as many in the mainstream press have (here, here, here).
‘Cause pussy-footing around with “I am not against the Second Amendment. I do not want to take your hunting rifles and your shotguns, and your antique muskets,” isn’t fooling anybody. When your discourse reeks with intellectual and moral disdain for gun-rights and gun-rights advocates, and implicitly rejects gun ownership as a fundamental political right, it shows. And it certainly shows when you say outright that you’d love to confiscate all guns, no matter how you try to waffle on that later. As in Dianne Feinstein, one of the wealthiest Senators, saying: “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them…. Mr. and Mrs. American turn ‘em all in. I would have done it.” That was after she had obtained a concealed carry permit for herself because she felt a ”sense of helplessness.” Or Andrew Cuomo: “Confiscation could be an option. Mandatory sale to the state could be an option.” Of course, one could counter that nobody should believe a word of anything these politicians say, anyway. Exactly.
Despite what’s implied in the ever-present disdain, gun rights advocates are not, ipso facto, stupid (or violent, or crazy), and certainly not too stupid to see where these folks are heading. So let’s stop gaslighting gun-rights supporters as paranoid when they accurately understand what they hear. Those who hold that gun ownership is a fundamental political right correctly perceive, and are right to resist, the intended threat of its incremental elimination in gun-control laws that will have little to no practical effect, other than to demand more acts of compliance and submission to the armed authority of the state.
The ur-example of such proposals is found in the hoopla about “military-style assault weapons.”
“Assault weapon” is a term invented by the gun industry to conflate civilian and military weapons for marketing purposes, to sell products that look all scary to guys and gals who like to imagine themselves as some kind of Rambo warrior. Anti-gun-rights politicians, who like to imagine themselves as the edited, pacifistic, version of Ghandi or MLK (whose home was an “arsenal”) use that confusion for their own agenda. And “style” is, well, just that.
It’s clear to me, from many conversations, that a lot of people do not understand that a “semi-automatic” weapon only “shoots one bullet per trigger pull,” and does not “fire continuously as long as you hold the trigger,” as an “automatic” weapon does. Automatic weapons are already illegal (with few exceptions), and semi-automatic rifles work no differently than most handguns. (The “automatic” feature of semi-automatic rifles and handguns is the automatic ejection of the spent cartridge and chambering of the next round.)
Many people also think “military-style” refers to some element that imparts enhanced functionality, rather than to design elements like “thumbhole stocks” or “a pistol grip that extends beneath the action,” which do nothing to increase the lethality of the weapon. These confusions have been deliberately cultivated by the sensationalist media, I think. In an article titled, “I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise”: Leah Libresco writes: “We looked at what interventions might have saved [the people killed by guns every year], and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.”
So, when proposals to ban “assault weapons” come up, those who support gun rights and know something about the objects in question see a pretext for incremental elimination of gun rights. The coverage of Stephen Paddock’s “military-style assault” weapons has demonstrated that those weapons are not automatic, and that he had to use specific attachments to make them function as if they were. Those accessories—bump stocks and gat cranks—do make weapons effectively automatic, and many gun-rights supporters (myself included) would be amenable to banning them. But let’s see if anyone will put forward a clean proposal to do so, or whether it will be attached to another “assault weapons” ban.
Can we recognize that, when you ban guns, you are not just eliminating a right, you are creating a criminal offense – in fact a whole set of new crimes? How many months or years will you have to be confined by the armed guards of the state for having a rifle with a pistol grip or a 10-round magazine? How many of those fifty million gun owners are you going to lock up, after raiding their homes?
One has to be kind of obtuse not to understand that a War on Guns, no matter how liberally inspired, will end up like all other such campaigns. It will create crime and pre-crime, and, as Kevin Carson says, “take the level of police statism, lawlessness and general social pathology up a notch in the same way Prohibition and the Drug War have done.”
Can we really give up the right to gun ownership without giving up other rights? Can we pretend not to know that any new, stricter regime of “gun control” enforced by the American capitalist state will result in a greater curtailment of many rights, in more surveillance, in more criminalization of dissident radicalism, directed fiercely and selectively against the opponents of racism and imperialism?
Indeed, there’s the tiny little fact that no one is really proposing to ban guns at all. Is there one gun-control proposal being put forward that makes the teensiest move toward diminishing the use of guns, including military-style assault weapons, by the police? Is there one that addresses, in the weensiest way, the continuing, massive militarization of the police that has been taking place in this country?That will take away one gun, one bullet, one armed personnel carrier, one drone, or one dollar from the bloated internal security apparatus (let’s not even mention the foreign war machine) of the American nouveau police state? From its corporate militia comrades?
No. What all gun-control proposals seek to do, and all they seek to do, is to reduce and eventually eliminate the right of ordinary citizens to possess firearms. These proposals treat the armed power of the state with, at best, benign indifference, and really as a force that can be trusted to mediate conflicts fairly and promote just outcomes in ways that the citizens themselves cannot be trusted to do.
The anti-gun-rights position in general rests on this premise. I think it’s wrong-headed, and I do not see how one can deny that it is elitist and authoritarian. It’s a concept of the state that leftists should be working to extirpate it from people’s minds, not helping to perpetuate in the name of ensuring their safety.
The net effect of eliminating the right of citizens to possess firearms will be to increase the power of the armed capitalist state. It will not be a more pacific, but a more authoritarian society, one in which the whole panoply of armed police we’ve already come to accept as part of the social landscape will be even more ubiquitous, while citizens’ compliance and submission will be more thoroughly assured. As Patrick Higgins puts it: “The formula for gun control seems pretty obvious to me. Less [sic] guns for the people who are most likely to need them, more guns for cops and soldiers and those sympathetic to them.” If you’re good with that, then go for it. I am not.
As Higgins implies, cops and soldiers will not be the only ones left holding guns. I know people with kids in the elite New York City private school where Barron Trump was a student. A few years back, during seventh-grade bar/bat mitzvah season—which, in these social circles, is like a months-long Hollywood after-party for thirteen-year-olds—their son was invited to his classmate’s party. Not the bar mitzvah where the parents flew a bunch of parents and kids to Paris for their son’s coming of age. No, the bat mitzvah held in Rockefeller Center. Ceremony in the Rainbow Room. Party in the skating rink. Closed to the public. On a Saturday night. At the perimeter of the promenade, just inside the ring of limos, stood a bevy of armed guards with those really fully automatic weapons.
Here’s the thing, and everybody knows it: Whatever strictest possible gun-control regime is instituted by favored liberal and moderate politicians, the family who threw that party will still have all the guns that it wants at its disposal. Donald Trump (who always had one in New York City), Diane Feinstein, and their ilk will still have their carry permits. Goldman Sachs will have all the weapons it wants for its private army, which will still be working as an allied brigade of the supposedly public branch of the ruling class’s armed forces. There will be a system of waivers, fees, and private security armies for anyone in the .01%. Keeping in mind the incredible growing socio-economic inequality in this country – which, of course, the push for strict gun control has nothing to do with—forty-nine million nine-hundred thousand ninety-nine hundred or so Americans who have never done a wrong thing will be disarmed by force, but every one of this class will have all the guns s/he wants at his or her disposal.
It’s too bad that we Americans, with liberals and progressives much too complicit, have accepted—along with the growth of obscene social inequality—the incremental loss of many of our fundamental rights (the right to privacy against warrantless surveillance, the right of judicial due process before being summarily executed by our elected king, etc.). If some fifty million gun owners want to stand up militantly for one fundamental right at this point, good for them. If, in the ridiculous American political context, a lot of them self-identify as right-wing, well, bad on them, and let’s by all means tell them they should be standing up for a lot of other rights, including their own right to a decent socio-economic life.
Rather than trash people for defending a right they think is important; maybe liberals and progressives should consider how they have continually undermined the building of a populist left, by steering discontent into conventional political support for their favored Lord High Executioners, and teaching servility and compliance in the face of right after right, and social benefit after social benefit, being stolen by those same elected autocrats.
I guarantee one thing: You’re not going to make anybody less racist or more progressive by taking away his or her gun—and there’s nothing “left” about trying to.
The fundamental problem with right wing populist militancy is not the guns it may brandish, but the foolish and self-destructive mindset that underlies it. The problem with left-wing populist militancy is that there isn’t any. What passes for the left in this country is forbidden from imagining such a thing by its fundamental fear of breaking up either the Democratic Party Blue Tribe or the American liberal capitalist state, which it imagines can be turned back into a Good Daddy, if we just impeach the evil president and elect the good one.
I suspect that a lot of the urbane liberal revulsion to guns has to do with the picture in their minds of who has them – you know, the wrong sort of people, right-wing “wingnuts,” whose brains are addled by moonshine and Fox News. There is no question that a lot of people with ridiculous right-wing political and economic ideas are among the loudest defenders of gun rights. But, you know, there’s this other empowering, infinitely more dangerous right, one that more than fifty million people use to authorize a whole host of truly nutty actions, including the truly nutty killing of hundreds of thousands of people That’s the right to vote. I am horrified about how the great majority of voters – conservative and liberal, wingnut and Serious – use that right to authorize massively homicidal policies. Still, my understanding of the emancipatory democratic political tradition precludes any thought that depriving any of them of that right—even those whose brains are addled by Jamba Juice and MSNBC—would be an appropriate way to change the policies I abhor.
Rights empower. Power is dangerous. Guns—certainly the personal firearms that are in question—carry a limited but real measure of inherent power, and therefore danger, that everyone should respect. Indeed, it is because guns are dangerous that the right to own one is important. Once everyone gets their hands on those rights/powers, they may use them – or, gee, think about them – in all kinds of ways I would find objectionable and damaging. They also will find out that those rights/powers are not in themselves effective of their liberation. The task is not to deprive people of fundamental rights, but to persuade them to think about and use them in different and more effective ways.
Yes, there’s a silly positive fetishism about guns that sees them as intrinsically liberating objects, and liberals and leftists easily recognize and critique that attitude. But there’s also a silly negative fetishism, a noli me tangere attitude, that studiously ignores the fact, and its implications, that armed force is a fundamental element of the political state in which we all live, on which we depend, and from which some of us benefit more than others. That attitude is part, I think, of the casual “imaginary pacifism” that crops up repeatedly as a constituent of American liberal ideology.
It’s problematic, I think, that those who rely and will call upon the armed agents of the state to use deadly force on their behalf when necessary (because they are in a social position where they don’t think they’ll be shot themselves for doing so), express nothing but disdain for those who are willing to take that responsibility on themselves. “Unlike you, who wants for some silly reason to own one, I wouldn’t touch a gun. I’ll just call my paid servant the policeman to come and shoot my assailant for me. My hands stay clean of gunshot residue and other stains; s/he wields the horrid gun and the moral responsibility, and quandary, of using deadly force.”
Guns are not the problems or solutions of history. They are not, per se, going to free a polity from oppression or generate unrestrained social violence. Their overall positive or negative effect is determined by the political and social context in which they are used, and the character of the agents who use them. I understand that the idea that every gun owner showing up on Pennsylvania Avenue tomorrow could result in serious, systemic change is ridiculous—maybe even as ridiculous as the idea that voting for the next Democratic presidential candidate could do so. I understand that, for there to be any prospect of the change of the sort I would like, there is no shortcut around building a mass political movement. I am talking about political principles that are fundamental to a movement in the long run, not magic solutions in the short run.
Let’s dispense with the straw man. Do you really think you’re going to defeat the US Army with your puny little rifles? No, and not just because I have understood all along that any “military-style” civilian rifle is no match for an actual military weapon. I also understand that, in the US or any modern state, any plausible regime of gun rights will leave the state with a supremacy of armed force, even if not a monopoly. Still, the state’s lack of a monopoly on that does not count for nothing.
Let’s not dispense with concrete thinking about political conflict. In the process of building a mass movement that undermines the authority and legitimacy of the state, and the morale of its armed agents, there will be many discrete moments of confrontation, presumably getting progressively more militant and threatening to the status quo. A modicum of armed power among the citizenry may not equalize, but can noticeably recalibrate, the correlation of forces. If there is some armed resistance to the armed forces of the state, its political leaders and police and military agents will have different, more difficult, political costs to calculate, especially in a state which claims popular legitimacy. Even if the state constantly wins such battles, it may suffer politically debilitating losses.
This is exactly what we saw in the eruptions of armed resistance in the Civil Rights era, not so long ago. Who “won” the Newark and Detroit and Los Angeles riots uprisings?
Sure, as long as the young working-class men and women driving the tanks and shooting the really fully automatic weapons on its behalf keep doing so, the Imperial High Command may be able to crush everything from sporadic uprisings to a massive popular rebellion. But it will be at great cost to the state’s legitimacy. And, human beings that they are, the willingness of those men and women to keep doing that on behalf of their masters—their defection calculus—will be affected not just by political and moral appeals (Do you really want to shoot your brothers and sisters who are fighting for their healthcare and pensions?), but also by the real possibility that they might get some holes in their shirts doing so. The key moment in such situations is not the defeat, but the defection, of the armed forces of the state. An armed populace can play a very different role in that than an unarmed one.
What would happen if, say, a neighborhood in Detroit decided to stand armed to prevent any foreclosures? I don’t know, and nobody does. But it would make for a hell of a different and difficult calculus for the banksters and their agents. Militant, radical and revolutionary movements are filled with hundreds of unpredictable moments of decision, which can become game-changing tipping points. Unpredictable, but not entirely unforeseeable.
Understanding the dynamic of radical and revolutionary change, not repeating platitudes about how omnipotent is the state and how unchangeable is society, is really thinking historically.
But what about these horrible mass shootings?
First of all, let’s recognize that overall gun homicides as well as non-fatal firearms crime have declined since 1993, even as gun ownership has increased. (Surprised? As Pew Research put is “Public Unaware”):
Then let’s recognize that incidents like the Las Vegas mass shooting make for a small portion of the gun deaths in the United States—80% of which are from handguns and two-thirds of which are suicides. As many have pointed out, these mass shootings are a lousy index of the social problem of gun violence in the United States. But they do grab one’s attention.
The only way you can make yourself feel that you’ve substantially eliminated the damage guns do in such situations is by outlawing all guns, handguns included, and believing that will actually mean that guns will not be available. Which many people are willing to do, because they ascribe no value to the right that would be lost. Horrible predatory abductions, like that committed by Ariel Castro, who imprisoned three women in his basement for years (one for 11 years!), might be reduced if we allowed the police to do random warrantless searches of homes. Which we might do, if we ascribed no value to the right of privacy. Again, it all depends on what you think is a fundamental political right.
I’ve been witnessing these horrible mass murders since I was a kid. I remember when Charles Whitman, after stabbing his mother and wife to death in the heart, packed up an M1 carbine, a sawed-off shotgun, one bolt-action hunting and one pump rifle, one Luger and one 25-caliber pistol, one.357 Magnum revolver, 700+ rounds of ammunition, Dexedrine, Excedrin, toilet paper, deodorant, and other sundries, and went up on the University of Texas tower. From there, he killed 12 people and wounded 32 over two hours, until two cops and an armed civilian got to the top of the building and shot him. It terrified me at the time.
Were the guns the problem there?
This is not a flippant question. Clearly, the world would be a better place if Charles Whitman had never had a gun that day. Does saying that mean we are impelled to ban guns, and to effectively eliminate a fundamental political right, criminalizing fifty million people who have done nothing wrong? I do not think so. Clearly, armed civilians helped minimize and end the carnage. Does saying that mean we are compelled to recognize how wonderful guns are and how great it would be for everyone to be packing all the time? I do not think so. For me, whatever the role of guns in exacerbating and ending the harm caused in incidents like this, what such incidents really demonstrate is that guns are neither the problem nor the answer, precisely to incidents like this, and that incidents like this are not what’s at stake in the problematic of “gun control.”
The primary causal factor in an incident like this is something much more powerful than a gun; it’s, for lack of a better term, a state of mind. We have all been horrified that there have been too many mass killings by young (and now old!) men in opportunistic venues, with guns. But there have been mass killings with other weapons—86 people were killed in Nice with a truck. Should the central focus of our concern be the weapon used? Should we be talking about “truck violence” after Nice? Should we not be asking the same questions, with the same central focus, in all situations like this?And that focus, I think, should not be on the weapons used.
The fundamental problem we have in incidents like these is that, once someone is in the state of mind—it can be a psychological dementia and/or a political/religious conviction—where he (it’s usually a “he”) is impelled to do such a thing, he is going to do it, with one weapon or another, and you’re going to have horror and grief. Yes, the ability of such a person to get his hand on a gun—illegally or illegally, bolt action or semi-automatic, with or without a “thumbhole stock,” he really won’t care—exacerbates the damage he can do, but it, any more than the big truck, is not the cause of the problem.
Focusing energy constantly and obsessively on the weapon used does exactly nothing to address, and, I would argue, distracts from addressing, the much harder and much more importantquestions regarding what produces such states of mind. It precisely treats the fundamental cause of the act – whether that cause be psychological, or political, or some combination of the two – as less important than the tool that was available. We have to look at what causes that state of mind.
This is a very difficult problem. It’s somewhat easier to understand when it’s a political conviction. In other cases, I do think that the ubiquitous cultural representation of armed violence as a quick, effective, and attractive solution for all kinds of personal and social problems is pernicious. It steers someone in such a state of mind to go for the gun. I’m sure Stephen Paddock was in the SWAT team of his mind.
Talking about guns displaces talking about causes of the rampant psychotic rage that is infecting so many men, of which the Las Vegas shooting is probably an example, and about the gigantic pustule of imperialist violence and pathology—retail and wholesale, perpetrated by lone-wolves, psychotics and clear-headed warriors, occupation forces and jihadi proxy armies, special ops teams, air power, and police forces—of which actions like the Nice truck attack are but one suppurating lesion. It also displaces talking about the possible relation between those types of events.
If you want to address the fundamental problem in these kinds of incidents, then you’d better look somewhere else, at something that can explain the state of mind that drives them. Charles Whitman, who was medicating himself with Valium and Dexedrine, had, the autopsy revealed, an aggressive brain tumor that would have killed him within a year. Before the shootings, he had visited a psychiatrist, who noted: “This massive, muscular youth seemed to be oozing with hostility … He readily admits having overwhelming periods of hostility with a very minimum of provocation. Repeated inquiries … were not too successful with the exception of his vivid reference to ‘thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people’.”
So, fair question or not: Were the guns the problem there?
Does anyone doubt we will find that Stephen Paddock was devolving into a clinically paranoid suicidal-homicidal state of mind?
Which is more powerful, a gun or a state of mind? Not a rhetorical question.
I don’t own a gun. I’m not defending my gun. I’m defending my right. I don’t have a lawyer, either, but I insist on the right to have one. And for the same reason: It gives me some countervailing power.
I think there should be fewer guns. I think we should have a more pacific society, one in which violence isn’t as alluring as apple pie, and we don’t have street parties to celebrate assassinations. I definitely think that the ubiquitous American cultural representation of armed violence as a quick, effective, and attractive solution for all kinds of personal and social problems is ridiculous and pernicious. The answer to that is to do a lot of determined political and cultural work, not to pass a law, and call in the armed police, the courts, and the penal system to enforce it on millions of people who have done nothing wrong.
There will be gun regulation, and there is, a lot of it. And, often, in those toddling towns where the regulation is “toughest,” gun violence is highest. No reasonable polity would allow individuals to own tanks, or Stingers, or 50-caliber machine guns (or, pace Karl, cannons), and I would be good with banning those bump stocks and gat cranks. I can’t go on about the dangers of states of mind, and then object to any notion of a background check. I do object, however, to those proposals that are silly (“military-style”) and whose main purpose is to train citizens into more thorough compliance, to those that reject the fundamental right of gun ownership, and to those that will criminalize fifty-million people.
Let’s have a discussion on the left about reasonable gun regulations that firmly and sincerely recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental political right, which deserves a place of honor on our wall of historical achievements.
As Ida B. Wells put it, in the cauldron of the Klan’s lynching fever in1892, learning and teaching a valuable lesson (that Orwell would later echo):
Of the many inhuman outrages of this present year, the only case where the proposed lynching did not occur, was where the men armed themselves … and prevented it. The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.
The lesson this teaches and which every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.
(Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases)
Ida Wells: another “wingnut.”
Above all, let’s not, because of a fearful reaction to horrific events, abandon our indispensable understanding of the capitalist state and jump on gun-control proposals that are not going to stop those horrors, and will play into an elite agenda of complete citizen disempowerment and loss of hard-won rights. That is exactly what we’ve been doing for the past sixteen years, and it is past time to say, “No more!”
As I said, I don’t own any guns. Haven’t felt the need for it. Though I might now have to consider packing heat, to fend off those of my liberal friends who will come gunning for me after reading this.