FOR THE QC
In the wake of a mass school shooting, gun control may not only seem like a good idea, but also the only sensible course of action to take. The more difficult it is to access assault rifles and other dangerous weapons, the more difficult it is to carry out mass shootings. This seems like a logical conclusion to reach — after all, we don’t want any civilians inside the United States gunning down innocent people with the weapons we use to do the same abroad.
But we should be careful before advocating for any type of disarmament of the population. Who will gun control target and how?
We should also think critically about not only the demands we are making, but about how these demands will be implemented and who they will affect.
For example, there have been few demands for background checks which specifically restrict arms to anyone with a history of domestic abuse, even though gun violence is intimately related to domestic abuse. As Michael Martin reports on “All Things Considered,” in at least 54-percent of mass shootings, the perpetrator has also shot an intimate partner or relative. However, there have been many calls for background checks which deny or restrict gun access to people with mental illnesses. Not only does this have heavy implications for how people with mental illnesses will be treated, but it is also doubtful how effective it will be in curbing gun violence anyway. The American Mental Health Counselors Association report that only 3 to 5-percent of violent acts, including but not limited to firearm violence, can be linked back to mental illness. Mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of violence, including firearm violence, than perpetuators. If anything, it seems like this type of legislation would only increase stigma, discrimination, and perhaps even violence faced by the mentally ill by contributing to the stereotype of the mentally ill people as being inherently violent.
So it’s clear that we should be careful about what we demand. But let’s examine a different scenario, one where the primary demand is simply the restriction of specific firearms. How would, for example, a ban on assault weapons be carried out? Who would it target and how? We know that legislation would either restrict or completely stop the sale of assault weapons or, perhaps, even require that existing legally owned assault weapons be turned in. Whatever the policies aim to do, a person carrying or speculated to be carrying an assault weapon would be, to some degree, criminalized. But this criminalization already exists.
People of color are already routinely killed by the police for either carrying weapons or being suspected of carrying weapons. It’s worth noting that the state-sanctioned murders of Philando Castile, who was legally carrying a gun, and Tamir Rice, who was a child suspected of carrying a gun, both took place in open-carry states. Legislation which further criminalizes the possession of weapons would only put populations terrorized by state violence further at risk. This is a risk which should not be ignored or minimized.
We should also pay careful attention to the history of gun control. One of the key components of the infamous “Black Codes” involved the disarming of African-Americans in a bid to not only protect white supremacy, but also to further disempower African-Americans.
Even the modern gun control movement in California was spearheaded by the Mulford Act, the brainchild of conservative Republican Dan Mulford, who proposed the act in an effort to disarm the Black Panther Party. (One of the many reasons the Party open-carried was to monitor the police). Both of these acts are clearly racist, but they also point to a sense of fear. The ruling classes were clearly afraid of people using guns as a tool for liberation. These types of weapons must have had some liberatory or progressive value, at least at the time. Perhaps this is no longer the case. Perhaps the world we live in is absolutely removed from the world fifty years ago, but this is still something worth thinking about.