FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control

by KEVIN CARSON

From its very beginning, gun control — the attempt to regulate the possession of means of self-defense by the ordinary populace — has been closely associated with class rule and the class state.

In early modern England, regulation of firearm ownership was closely intertwined with the struggle by the landed classes and capitalist agriculture to restrict the laboring classes’ access to independent subsistence from the land. This included enclosure of common woodland, fen and waste — in which landless and land-poor peasants had previously hunted small game — for sheep pasturage or arable land. It also included exclusion of the common people from forests via the Game Laws and restriction of hunting to the gentry.

Under the slaveocracy of the American south, firearm ownership was prohibited by Black Codes that regulated free blacks. And after Emancipation, whenever the old landed gentry managed to successfully assert its power against the Reconstruction regime, former slaves were disarmed by house-to-house patrols, either under the Black Codes or by such irregular bodies as the Klan.

The same was true of the Civil Rights struggle a century later, after World War II. In areas where armed self-defense efforts by civil rights activists were widespread, they significantly improved the balance of power against the Klan and other racist vigilante movements. Numerous armed self-defense groups — e.g. the Deacons for Defense and Justice, whose members used rifles and shotguns to repel attacks by white vigilantes in Louisiana in the 1960s — helped equalize the correlation of forces between civil rights activists and racists in many small towns throughout the south.

Especially notable was Robert Williams, who in 1957 organized an armed defense of the Monroe, NC NAACP chapter president’s home against a Klan raid and sent the vigilantes fleeing for their lives. Williams’s book Negroes With Guns later inspired Huey Newton, a founder of the Black Panthers Party.

Speaking of the Black Panthers, no discussion of the origins of modern American gun control would be complete without recognizing their role in inspiring the modern right-wing gun control agenda.

Foreshadowing current groups like Copwatch and Cop Block, the Panthers in 1966 organized armed patrols of Oakland streets with rifles and shotguns, stopping to witness police interactions with local residents and provide information and offers of legal assistance when necessary.

In 1967 Republican state assemblyman Don Mulford of Oakland, a vocal enemy of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the Black Panthers, responded with a bill to prohibit publicly carrying firearms in California. The BPP’s Bobby Seale protested the bill by leading a Panther detachment, armed with .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns and .45-caliber pistols, up the steps of the statehouse (“All right, brothers, we’re going inside”), through its doors, and into the public viewing area. There Seale read a statement denouncing Mulford’s bill as an attempt “at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror and repression of black people,” and warning that “the time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.”

Mulford’s gun control bill was signed into law three months later by Governor Ronald Reagan.

Irregular workers’ militias and armed defense formations played a significant role in labor history, both in the US and abroad. During the Copper Wars at the turn of the 20th century, the governors of several Rocky Mountain states instituted martial law — including door-to-door confiscation of firearms from workers’ homes and striker encampments. In some cases, as with the West Virginia Coal Wars and the Homestead strike, workers fought pitched battles against Pinkertons, state militia and sheriffs’ deputies.

In Spain it was largely owing to workers’ militias, organized under the auspices of the CNT trade union federation and the parties of the Left, that Franco’s July 1936 coup attempt failed. In the areas of southern and eastern Spain where Franco’s forces failed to carry the day, workers’ militias often played a decisive role. In some areas armed workers drove Franco’s troops back into their barracks after pitched battles and burned them alive inside.

From its beginnings the state has been an executive committee of the economic ruling class and an instrument of armed force by the owners of the means of production, enabling them to extract surplus labor from the rest of us. I can’t imagine why anyone would expect the state’s gun control policies to display any less of a class character than other areas of policy.

Regardless of the “liberal” or “progressive” rhetoric used to defend gun control, you can safely bet it will come down harder on the cottagers than on the gentry, harder on the workers than on the Pinkertons, and harder on the Black Panthers than on murdering cops.

 

 

More articles by:

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail