Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)

Photo by Mesa Tactical | CC BY 2.0

The grisly numbers tell the tale: More guns per capita than any other country in the world; 13,000 homicides per year, (a rate 25 times higher than the average of 22 other high-income countries); 96 gun-deaths per day; mass shootings (four of more) almost every day of the year. Between February 8 to Feb. 15, 2018 (the date of the Parkland, Florida shooting), there were four other multiple homicides, leaving fourteen dead and nine injured. Parkland marked an unusual, but not an exceptionally violent week.

Babies, concert goers and high school students have been killed in recent mass shootings, but the grip of the NRA and the gun manufacturers on Republican politicians remains firm. In fact, the NRA, gun manufacturers and Republican politicians are hard to distinguish. The gun industry gives millions every year to the NRA in the form of grants and millions more in the form of advertising in NRA publications. In some cases, a percentage of the sale price of guns and ammo goes directly to the NRA. Politicians receive a similar kickback. In the course of their careers, Sen. John McCain has received nearly $8 million from the NRA; Sen. Richard Burr, $7 million; Sen. Roy Blunt, $4.5 million, Marco Rubio, $3.5 million, etc. All of them together, with compliant Republican presidents, have succeeded in creating a Supreme Court willing to change the plain meaning of the Second Amendment from sanctioning a “well armed militia,” to endorsing a nearly universal right to be armed.

The fourth horseman of this apocalypse is of course the gun owner himself. I use the reflexive pronoun advisedly: The average gun owner, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, is a male, white, rural, high school educated, Republican and from the South, Midwest or West, (excluding urban California). Almost 30% of them own more than five guns. 87% say gun ownership is a central part of their sense of themselves. And though they are far more likely to die by gun violence than non-gun owners, 67% of them say they own a gun for protection. For these hardcore gun owner and advocates, governed by fear and identity, gun control in any form is a non-starter.

But here is a proposal to change the debate and shift the dynamics of the argument: Arm the left. If Democrats, especially progressive Democrats, as well as the leaders of all major liberal and progressive political and media organizations encouraged their followers to get armed, Republicans and other so-called “gun-rights” advocates would change their tune. Supposing Black Lives Matter, ACLU, Emily’s List, NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, PETA, The American Library Association, Planned Parenthood, Democratic Socialists of America, the American Communist Party, MoveOn.Org, Southern Poverty Law Center, Mother Jones Magazine, Pacifica Radio, Alternet, Earth First!, Michael Moore, Paul Krugman, Stephen Colbert and Natalie Portman all advocated the immediate arming of everybody on the left, including the right to openly carry a loaded weapon, and to bring them to political protests?

If that happened, there would be a quick call for gun control from the right. It happened before. In 1967, a coalition of California Republicans and Democrats, responding to “copwatching” by armed members of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, passed the Mulfrod Act (named after a Republican Assemblyman), banning the public carrying of loaded guns. Governor Ronald Reagan quickly signed the bill into law. He justified his signature by stating that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” Reagan’s position changed soon afterwards. Even after getting shot in 1981, he opposed any new restrictions on handgun ownership and wanted to abolish the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

Nothing would so focus the attention of President Trump today and other leading Republicans than the sight of thousands of marching, well-armed Blacks, Latinos, women and other progressives. Imagine an armed rally of tens of thousands on the Mall in Washington, through the streets of Palm Beach, or outside Trump Tower in New York City. Can’t imagine it? Me either – and that’s because strict gun control measures would be passed long before the first rally organizer applied for a permit. Want to stop guns? Arm the left. Even just try.

Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor Emeritus of Art History at Northwestern University and the author of Gauguin’s Skirt (Thames and Hudson, 1997), The Abu Ghraib Effect (Reaktion, 2007), The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights (Reaktion, 2015) and many other books. He is also co-founder of the environmental justice non-profit,  Anthropocene Alliance. He and the artist Sue Coe and now preparing for publication part two of their series for Rotland Press, American Fascism Now.