I talked to more than a dozen lefties who want the government to stay away from their guns.
Image: Tom Pennington / Stringer via Getty
In the wake of the shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and hundreds injured, the pro-gun right has been making its usual arguments against gun control: The Second Amendment gives us the right to access guns of any kind; we need guns to fight against government tyranny; gun control won't actually prevent mass shootings; heart disease kills more Americans annually than guns; murder is illegal, and that doesn't prevent it from happening all the time.
Less attention is paid to the leftists who oppose gun control. But they're out there. The Black Panthers famously advocated using guns for self-defense, and white fears about black people with guns helped inspire gun control. Today, Dallas's Huey P. Newton Gun Club continues that legacy.
The idea of guns granting power to the oppressed isn't unique to black power groups. "Gun control means disarming the revolutionary masses and oppressed classes," a leftist named William Gillis told me in an email. Gillis, one of the 15 anti–gun control leftists I talked to by phone and email for this story, called gun control "the worst possible idea in history." He also sent me this meme:
Not all anti-gun control arguments are this fanatical, but many stem from a fundamental mistrust of the US government. Alex Turner, a 24-year-old retail manager from Kentucky, believes that we can't trust Trump to not tweet out a declaration of war or the Democratic Party to hold a fair primary, so why should we trust the government to regulate firearms? (Of the anti-gun control leftists I corresponded with, most of them were men who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and either sat out the general election or begrudgingly voted for Hillary Clinton.)
The people I spoke to don't necessarily think people like Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock should be able to obtain weapons that can cause mass casualties but are leery of the government expanding its power. Michaelantonio Jones, a 27-year-old healthcare worker from Memphis, told me he doesn't believe that "banning all guns or tinkering around the edges" is the way to remedy our nation's gun problem.
"As a black leftist male from and in the south who's a gun owner, I find the conversations on gun control in liberal and left circles oftentimes deeply ill-informed," Jones explained. "I'll be frank, I'm not comfortable with giving the state (the US proper)—which was founded on, by, and sustained through genocide, slavery, and theft—a total monopoly on violence. I believe that for folks that look like me, surrendering effective means of self defense and trusting that system is suicide. Also, let's not forget that gun control in the late twentieth century in the States has basically been an effort to disarm people of color."
Others agreed that the state shouldn't have a "monopoly" on violence. "Law enforcement officers as a whole kill way more people in a year than mass shooters or spree killers do," Paul de Revere, a 32-year-old freelancer from Florida, wrote to me. "Until they disarm, citizens (particularly poor ones of color living in blighted, over-patrolled and/or surveilled communities) shouldn't either."
Those arguments contain a somewhat ironic echo of the ethos of right-wing militias, who often say that they need guns in order to protect themselves from the federal government. In either case, the Second Amendment is seen as a bulwark against tyranny, and gun ownership is considered a symbol of freedom.
Others rejected the idea that successful gun-control legislation can be enacted in the United States like it has been in Australia or Canada. Ben, a 33-year-old writer from Brooklyn who asked not be identified by his last name because he's "still in the closet" about his pro-gun beliefs, told me he didn't think there was "utility" in passing stricter gun control laws.
"I don't think an Australian model would work here. Too many variables," he explained. "I'm wary of playing games with the bill of rights. Our liberties have never been in such peril. The Second Amendment is the only amendment that has a multibillion-dollar industry behind it. It is the most safe."
When I spoke to George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate politics professor at Drexel University, he told me that he's not trying "to defend the right to have automatic weapons or something like that," but instead he wants to push back "against a certain [liberal] narrative around gun control [that] gets put forward as a solution [to violence in America] without sort of attention to the nuts and bolts of how that would play out."
Like others who are skeptical of gun control, Ciccariello-Maher says he doesn't think it would work in the first place. "My sense is that if you are not able to commit suicide by gun you might commit suicide in a different way," he told me.
Ruganzu Howard, a 37-year-old ex-cop from Seattle, explained it in even simpler terms: "Many people have opinions on guns and absurd notions of 'common sense' gun laws. There is a reason this shit ain't been figured out/resolved. It's not the evil GOP, or NRA, it's because Americans want fucking guns."
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