Why the Left-wing Needs a Gun Culture

From Diversity of Tactics:  https://diversityoftactics.org/2017/01/21/why-the-left-wing-needs-a-gun-culture/

by Lorenzo Raymond
January 21, 2017

We become depressed when we look around and see 1100 white supremacist militia groups, and some of our names at the top [of their kill lists]! You say ‘Oh my god, they got 1100 right-wing militia groups—how many left-wing ones we got?’  ‘Well, we’re working on our journal…’  I got nothing against journals, but it’s lopsided!’” 

Cornell West, Left Forum 2014 keynote address

“When you are attacked by a rabid dog you don’t run or throw away the walking stick you have in your hand.” 

– Gloria Richardson, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer, Cambridge, Maryland, July, 1964 ¹

We live in a historical moment where everything seems upside down. A proto-fascist seemingly despised by the political establishment has ridden into the White House. That same establishment is now squirmingly trying to accommodate itself to that which it formerly despised. Social media—once thought of as the domain of lefty social justice warriors—turned out to be the far-right’s pathway to power. And while the reactionary candidate praised “the common man,” the liberal candidate gave secret speeches to Wall Street.

Now is the time to reconsider long-held preconceptions, as they embody precisely the thinking which led us to this point—this point where hate crimes against minorities are growing, and economic and ecological hopes are rapidly shrinking. At a juncture where liberals’ wholesale denunciation of “violence” and “gun culture” are revealed to have done nothing to reduce either one, the Left needs to disentangle the issue of oppressive force from that of necessary self-defense against oppressive force.

Brutality against minorities is escalating in the aftermath of the election, and we can only imagine what level it will reach as the Trump administration entrenches itself. Reports of attacks are too numerous to recount here, but the recent murders of a famous Black athlete (Joe McKnight) a young Black musician (Will Sims) and a 15-year old Black boy (James Means) are the most notable manifestations of the racist terror which is growing across the country. As the federal exoneration of George Zimmerman demonstrates, a state crackdown on such murders has never been in the cards, and will be even more remote under the Trump regime.

Reports from the BBC and other major news outlets show that gun ownership in the Black community has begun to grow in recent years. A Pew survey shows at least 54 percent of African-Americans have a favorable view of firearms, up from just 29 percent in 2012. The last poll was taken in 2014—in the years since then, a Southern Christian Leadership Council official has publicly called for armed self-defense, and Black Twitter, in the face of the Charleston massacre, has trended the hashtag #WeWillShootBack—so today the figures are likely higher.

Is the growing black gun movement succumbing to blind emotion and sowing the seeds of destruction? A look at progressive African-American history would suggest not. Although many sectors of the Left prefer to ignore it, there is now a small bookcase of academic studies with names like This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible. The importance of these studies is far from academic, however. They redefine our understanding of the most important American social movement of the past fifty years.

One of the first arenas of that struggle was the campaign to expose lynching in Mississippi, specifically the 1954 murder of Emmett Till. The key organizer of that campaign, TRM Howard, not only carried guns for his own protection, but made sure that there were armed guards at all times around campaign spokespeople like Mamie Till. After the rise of Martin Luther King, nonviolence became the image of civil rights, but this nominally pacifist movement never renounced its right to bear arms. When the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came to the Deep South to organize, they encountered a vigorous Black gun culture among those who were prepared to campaign for equality. Fannie Lou Hamer, legendary founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), told one interviewer that, “I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom and the first cracker even look like he wants to throw some dynamite on my porch won’t write his mama again.” Prior to the MFDP’s work, voter suppression of African-Americans was the rule in Mississippi, but after its ascendance in the late 1960s, Blacks had full ballot access and the Klan was in retreat. The Mississippi movement represents the most effective organizing of the post-war Left; Their policy on armed self-defense can teach us a great deal, particularly as the whole country begins to feel more and more like the Jim Crow South.

But aren’t guns inherently oppressive, reactionary and patriarchal? This idea has found currency in the years since the end of the civil rights movement, but the years since the civil rights movement haven’t been especially good for the Left. From Jimmy Carter to Obama—not to mention from Reagan to Trump—the US has steadily slid to the Right in all but the most superficial ways. In place of working-class activists like Fannie Lou Hamer, we’re now led by pseudo-working-class celebrities like Michael Moore, who cemented the gun control consensus with his sensationalized documentary Bowling for Columbine. Just as Moore denounces the Democratic Party in three year cycles but always comes back to them at election time, his film admitted that there are more important factors contributing to violence than guns, but finally dumped the whole problem at the feet of the NRA. It is revealing that the very same Hollywood establishment that gave Moore an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine proceeded to boo him at the ceremony for opposing the Iraq War. For them, gun control has nothing to do with genuine peace, but everything to do with an orderly and centralized capitalist empire.

It’s inevitable that liberals’ perception of guns is formed hegemonically through the mainstream news media, despite the Left’s claim to be skeptical of it. While such outlets often tell us that guns kill 33,000 people per year in the US, we’re seldom reminded that alcohol kills over 80,000, and prescription drugs kill a devastating 120,000 each year. This may have something to do with the fact that pharmaceutical companies give corporate media over $5 billion per year in advertising, alcohol companies spend $2 billion on the same, and gun manufacturers comparatively nothing. The conventional liberal wisdom is that gun advocates make up for this in lobbying dollars, but shockingly, prescription opioid manufacturers alone spend eight times more courting politicians than the NRA does. Perhaps the gun lobby would like to spend more, but as The New York Times once acknowledged, “guns are a relatively small business in the United States.”

Some liberals sincerely believe that gun control will bring us closer to a humane society, of course, but there’s little in the history of gun regulation anywhere in the world to support that theory. Hillary Clinton and other Democrats often hold up Australia’s compulsory gun buyback as a model, but decades after the confiscations, Australian society is not any kinder: The country maintains a level of economic inequality comparable to the US, and has a growing prison population. As in the US, a disproportionate number of these prisoners are immigrants and ethnic minorities. Recently video leaked out of Australian guards torturing a 14 year-old Aboriginal boy. Contrary to prominent liberals’ implications, an anti-gun culture like Australia’s just doesn’t inspire much in the way of anti-racist, anti-nationalist, or anti-capitalist culture and policy. Likewise there is no evidence that gun culture precludes a progressive society—the pioneering open-carry state of Vermont has elected Bernie Sanders to the US congress for twenty years. The autonomist Kurds of Northern Syria, “the most revolutionary women’s rights movement in the world,” according to The Independent, are explicitly armed.

The Left’s gag reflex at the Second Amendment is a Pavlovian one, conditioned by mainstream liberals’ association of gun rights with conservatism. But the unilateral disarmament of the American Left is a recent development. Eugene Debs, reputed to be the hero of Bernie Sanders, responded to the 1914 Ludlow Massacre by urging labor activists to acquire “enough Gatling and machine guns to match the equipment of Rockefeller’s private army of assassins…The constitution of the United States guarantees to you the right to bear arms, as it does to every other citizen…” Howard Zinn wrote that “Thousands of dollars were sent for arms and ammunition,” to the Colorado miners from union halls across the country. The post-World War I era collapsed the labor movement across the board, but when it roared back in the early 1930s, it was ushered in by armed miners in campaigns like the Harlan County War (Urban unions hired mobsters to do armed defense against strikebreakers in this period, most likely because gun control laws prevented them from doing it themselves). It was this militant labor resistance that created the New Deal.

Continue reading at:  https://diversityoftactics.org/2017/01/21/why-the-left-wing-needs-a-gun-culture/

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