How should socialists think about guns?
Gun control is a hot button issue in America — people of all ages have strong opinions on it, presidential candidates are being asked about it, and newspapers are constantly publishing articles about it.
Last year, after the horrific Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, “March For Our Lives” emerged: middle school, high school and college students demanded an end to gun violence, often calling for reform on gun laws. The recent tragedies in El Paso and Dayton have once again injected the gun debate into the hearts and minds of people around the world. Liberals argue that we need stricter gun reform, which usually includes banning assault rifles and further regulating who can have a gun. Most conservatives vehemently oppose gun control, citing personal liberty and the Second Amendment as reasons to keep guns.
Surprisingly, for a group that loves to argue and is famously known for being opinionated, the socialist left hasn’t taken a clear stance on it. Socialist groups in America have not made ending gun violence a priority or weighed in on whether or not we should have gun restrictions. The issue of gun control is certainly one we need to address. I believe that while regulations on who can have a gun are necessary, trusting the state and instituting bans on guns will hurt the left’s goals in the long run.
It’s no question that guns are dangerous. They are one of the few items specifically designed for death. As we saw in the recent El Paso Walmart shooting and the Charleston church shooting, they have been weapons of white supremacy. They are often used to threaten women in abusive relationships or as a means of intimidation by the far right.
In our society, it’s important that we regulate who has access to guns. We must take measures ensuring that they will not be used for harm. If someone has a history of violence or abuse, a severe mental illness, or openly spews race hatred, they should not have access to a gun. Mental illness has become a core part of the gun debate in America. People have cited mental illness as the reason for gun violence since many of the assailants have struggled with mental health. However, blanketly blaming mental health issues as the reason for mass shootings is ableist and misguided. Millions of people with mental health issues thrive as productive members of society. Calls for increased mental health services, while perhaps well-intentioned, should not be framed in the context of gun violence, but rather as something that is a right for all people who need it no matter the circumstances. That said, I think it is reasonable to suggest that those whose illness can cause them to become violent should not have access to a gun.
There is a difference between restricting who can own a gun and whether or not certain guns can be bought or sold. While I support regulations on who can buy a gun, I do not agree with banning any type of guns from the public altogether. Guns are not a God-given right for all of peoplekind. The Second Amendment does not mean gun laws can never be changed. If there was a way to completely ban and destroy all guns for both the working class and the state, I would support it. My issue with banning types of guns is the inequality it creates between the state and the working class.
Historically, violence has been used to suppress leftist movements. In the 1910s and 1920s, strikes were broken by police using firearms and labor activists were threatened with guns. During the Civil Rights era, the FBI surveillance program COINTELPRO resulted in Black Panther leader Fred Hampton being shot in his own home by law enforcement. Unfortunately, as the leftist movement in this country continues to grow in power and claim victories, we should expect harsher retaliation. I believe it will one day come to state-sponsored violence toward us as it has in the past.
As a socialist, my ultimate goal is for a redistribution of wealth in this country: for the working class to seize power from the ruling class. It is hard to imagine a scenario where this transition is peaceful. We will not vote in socialism. The bourgeoisie will not give us their fortune or collective control over their companies or private property simply because we ask them — we must give them no other option. The moment they realize their power is at risk, they will brutally and violently fight back against any efforts to dethrone them. If history repeats itself as it so often does, the military and police will do physically defend the ruling class at our expense.
Therefore, allowing the state to take away our weapons puts us at a disadvantage. It prevents us from adequately fighting back and defending ourselves. For our movement to be successful, and for us to make revolutionary change, we must be able to fight back against the immense power of both the bourgeoisie and the state.
This is in no way a call to take up arms. I am not advocating we form militias or inflict senseless, unprovoked violence toward our class enemies. I am also not encouraging a war of any kind. I understand the immense human cost associated with that. Ideally, the transition of power from the capitalist class to the working class, and from capitalism to socialism, will be completely peaceful — I just don’t see that being a realistic case. As we move forward as the Left, we should continue to prepare ourselves for further retaliation.
It’s clear that something must change when it comes to gun laws. Too many innocent people have died as a result of senseless gun violence. We must increase mental health services, not just as a repellent to gun violence but because it is something greatly lacking in our country. Having stricter regulations on who can own a gun will also reduce gun violence. But, banning guns from public use will make it much harder to defend ourselves when we see inevitable violent retaliation to a leftward shift of society. Ultimately, our goal should be a peaceful, free and just world. However, we must be mindful that our enemies will try like hell to stop us from getting there.
Alex Pellitteri is a student at CUNY Hunter College in New York City and a member of both DSA and YDSA.