FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Gun Rights: From the Black Panthers to the NRA

by PATRICK HIGGINS

Just as misplaced debates about civilian gun control were emerging in the wake of the massacre in Aurora, a billboard was raised in Idaho by a libertarian organization placing the face of the Aurora shooting suspect beside that of President Obama. The text surrounding James Holmes’s reads: “KILLS 12 IN A MOVIE THEATER WITH AN ASSAULT RIFLE. EVERYONE FREAKS OUT.” The text surrounding Obama’s reads: “KILLS THOUSANDS WITH HIS FOREIGN POLICY. WINS NOBEL PEACE PRIZE.”

The reaction of the Village Voice—“extremely offensive,” one headline states—to the billboard is exemplary of the chronic softness of liberalism on issues of war. In the media overall, this softness has led to the current emphasis on civilian gun control, which is an emphasis that is now actively removing the spotlight from the violence of the state while increasing fear of the general public. Surely the Village Voice that hosted the late, great Alexander Cockburn would never have so unforgivably favored etiquette over truth.

Roger Ebert’s New York Times op-ed piece promoting civilian gun control pulls the same trick, expressing nothing short of absolute horror at the idea of firearms “in public hands.” A few lines down from there, Ebert strikes an especially gross note by telling a gun owner it would be better for him to move than to own a gun—as if the transition to safer neighborhoods were an option to which everybody has easy access.

The comparison to Obama is important to make. If Americans want to ask about violence in their society every time a shooting like the one in Aurora occurs, they must be prepared to take a principled stand regarding violence. And that means actual violence, not violence as it is staged in films. It is useful to consider individual violence in relation to state violence (whether perpetrated by drones in Pakistan or police officers in Anaheim). That is, if one overlooks, or is indifferent towards, or drafts apologia for the latter—the worse offender by leagues and leaps—one might not be in the best position to lament or even meaningfully analyze the latter.

It is clear that Americans are anti-war. It is not at this stage clear that that stance has anything to do with the violence war wreaks upon foreign civilian populations. Nor is it clear that Americans are at this stage prepared to form a mass movement against war. Billboards such as the one in Idaho certainly make for a start in the kind of awareness-spreading necessary for a mass movement.

Admittedly, the discussion of civilian gun control is difficult to have, because prominent articles like Ebert’s don’t mention specifics. All we get are loose clichés about how our gun laws are insane. But it’s still safe to say that focusing on this issue misses the point. Mother Jones magazine is now predictably obsessing over civilian gun laws, but it did publish a good article in the aftermath of the weak sentencing of Oscar Grant’s policeman killer, titled “Mehserle’s Sentence in Perspective.” The article specifically posited the harshness of civilian gun control laws as absurd in contrast to the sentence that was handed to Johannes Mehserle, the man in blue who put a bullet in a handcuffed man’s back.

It is true that the argument made by the NRA about guns being a safeguard against tyranny is mostly rhetorical—but that’s only because that U.S. government has so many weapons, and has expressed such a profound willingness to employ them, that the general public would never fare anything close to favorably in a showdown. Somehow, this reality fails to make me feel more comfortable about the idea of civilian gun control.

I’ve met many liberals who like to parade their virtue by spending countless minutes condemning (in the same fashion that Hillary Clinton, professional condemner of Syria and Iran, condemns), say, the Ron Paul Newsletters from the 1990’s. Then they will, at a later date, advocate something like gun control, never worrying that the entity to be tasked with the controlling–with kicking off a “War on Guns,” so to speak–is essentially the very entity tasked with the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.

Of course, these kinds of wars tend to go over better for some groups than others. The gun control movement in North America preceded the founding of the United States; its express purpose was to keep guns out of the hands of blacks potentially interested in using firearms to defend themselves. When the movement did develop in the U.S., it followed in exactly that tradition, especially when slaves like Nat Turner decided that slavery just wasn’t going to do anymore and proceeded to lay bloody waste to slave masters. [I]

The modern day gun rights movement was not pioneered by the NRA—although I admit it wouldn’t matter to me if it had been—but by the Black Panthers, whose co-founder, Huey Newton, found genuine protective value in the Second Amendment at a street-level moment when some cops would likely not have otherwise hesitated to beat him to death. [II]

The formula for gun control seems pretty obvious to me. Less guns for the people who are most likely to need them, more guns for cops and soldiers and those sympathetic to them. This doesn’t help.

Notes.

[I] Clayton E. Cramer. “The Racist Roots of Gun Control.” (1995)

[II] Adam Winkler. “The Secret History of Guns.”  (2011)

Patrick Higgins is a writer and activist. His e-mail is higginspat@hotmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail