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Posts Tagged ‘gun control’

Supporting a Long Shot or Moving Hillary to the Left?

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on June 20, 2015

Here’s the story behind and a case for Bernie Sanders, from The Observer:

(Illustration: Josh Gosfield/New York Observer)

(Illustration: Josh Gosfield/New York Observer)


Berniemania! Why Is Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders So Popular?

Brooklyn-born, Vermont-fueled, Bernie Sanders promises a revolution if he’s somehow elected president next year. Does Hillary have to watch her back?

By Ross Barkan | 06/16/15 OBSERVER/NEWS

Brattleboro, VT.—Of all the people buzzing at the start of the Strolling of the Heifers parade on a recent Saturday morning—the clowns, the teen stilt-walker, the theater kids in witch’s garb—the 73-year-old grandpa in khakis and Adidas sneakers did not seem like the most probable candidate for a selfie.

But even tweens more used to fawning over Ariana Grande can barrel toward Sen. Bernie Sanders to beg for a picture.

“Can we get a selfie?” members of a marching band, holding trumpets and saxophones, squealed.

“I think we can!” the Vermont senator replied.

“Oh my God. You guys. Mr. Sanders, Mr. Sanders…”

A dozen marchers clenched their smartphones. Mr. Sanders grinned. He was running for president and having a pretty good time with it.

Yet Mr. Sanders, with his slight stoop and cloud of white hair flaring off his ruddy scalp, sometimes suffers on the stump. Later that day in a rec hall across the border in Keene, N.H., packed with about 700 people, some wearing homemade T-shirts Magic Markered with “Bernie 2016,” he lamented the plight of a young teacher he had just met. “Obviously in our society we desperately need teachers,” Mr. Sanders said to his audience. “And her crime for wanting to get a master’s degree was that she is now $200,000 in debt and paying interest rates between 6 and 9 percent. … All of this stuff is crazy stuff.” If the country does not reform its environmental policies, he said a grim fate awaits: “more drought, more famine, more rising sea levels, more floods, more ocean acidification, more extreme weather disturbances, more disease and more human suffering.”

This is not morning in America but mourning in America—and the crowd loved it.

Toward the end of the rally, the Brooklyn-born liberal icon leaned into the microphone and quieted his distinctive voice, which sounds like Larry David playing George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld. “Let me tell you a secret,” said Mr. Sanders, who hopes his audience helps him pull off what would be the biggest upset in modern political history.

Even Mr. Sanders’ supporters concede that his odds of toppling front-runner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, let alone winning in November 2016, are long. But with a progressive favorite, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, declining to run, a void on the left opened and Mr. Sanders filled it. Taken piece-by-piece, his campaign platform—a higher minimum wage, more vacation days, mandated sick pay, free public colleges—polls well enough to sand some of the radical edge off him, or at least pack more town halls in Iowa and New Hampshire. The magic behind the early Sanders surge is not so mysterious: what he says, invariably, is popular with the Democratic base at a time when many feel fatigued by promises of hope and change.

Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, violates most laws of American politics. He proudly calls himself a socialist, a label vilified by Republicans and avoided by most Democrats. He is not outwardly charming; he rarely glad-hands and his speeches are often mirthless. Like a modern day Jonathan Edwards, who found Eugene V. Debs rather than Jesus Christ, he thunders about the dying middle class and oligarchies eroding democracy. Cross him, like one camera-holding man who yapped at him in Keene to take a position on the Edward Snowden affair, and earn a stern rebuke. Why wouldn’t he answer the man’s question? “Because you’re rude, and you’re shouting out things and I don’t really like that,” Mr. Sanders groused.

Despite a thorny approach to retail campaigning, Mr. Sanders’ quest for the White House is on an upswing. Last week, a Wisconsin Democratic Party straw poll showed Mr. Sanders trailing Ms. Clinton only 49 to 41 percent among delegates. On Observer.com, Brent Budowsky wrote, “There is a very real prospect that Mr. Bernie Sanders wins an outright victory in the Iowa caucus.” Donations are flooding in; he raised $1.5 million in the 24-hour period after he announced his candidacy in early May. He has since raised cash from more than 100,000 individual donors.

Berniemania already seems to be nudging Ms. Clinton to the left: she has toughened her tone toward Wall Street, called for criminal justice reform and avoided taking a stance on a controversial free-trade agreement many liberals abhor.

A strong second-place finish by Mr. Sanders in either early primary state will mean momentum, which will mean money. “His kind of candidacy can live off the land for quite a while,” said Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004. “With Bernie, there’s always a core liberal wing, there’s grassroots activists to give him enough money for the next plane ticket.” It’s also not clear how much grassroots love there is for the former first lady, either—a recent CNN poll showed half of voters view her unfavorably, while 46 percent have a favorable view.

The challenge will come when the primary graduates to mega-states like New York and California—and revolutionary zeal meets sobering reality. Team Sanders admits winning beyond Iowa and New Hampshire will prove a significant hurdle.

“We have to compete everywhere for delegates. We can’t cede ground to Hillary Clinton,” said Tad Devine, a top Sanders adviser who counseled Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry four years later.

Some veterans of tough elections are taking notice. “To me, the story so far is not how far ahead Secretary Clinton is, but the fact being perhaps that even though she is the best known political figure in America, there are still 40 percent or more Democrats polled who are looking for another candidate,” said former Sen. Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat who ran for president in the 1984 and 1988—and is now supporting Martin O’Malley, the ex-Maryland governor. “That’s the story.”

That candidate may not be Bernard Sanders of 1525 East 26th Street, Brooklyn. But he is promising a revolution, and if the raucous rallies are any indication, the beginning, at least, will be televised.

Before Mr. Sanders was a presidential contender, senator, congressman and mayor, he was really only known for one thing: running fast.

“He was one of the best half-milers in the city. He was always at the front of the pack,” said Walter Block, a high school classmate who went on to become a leading libertarian economist.

Born on September 8, 1941, Mr. Sanders grew up in Flatbush. His father was a struggling paint salesman.

At James Madison High School, the tall, trim Mr. Sanders was a good, though ordinary, student. He wrote for the student newspaper, the Highway Reporter, but friends don’t recall him having political inclinations—just a general leftward tilt, common among the many working-class Jews who lived in the neighborhood.

“We were apolitical with a dash of lefty pinko,” Mr. Block said. “It was sort of in the air.”

Unlike another James Madison alumnus, Sen. Charles Schumer, who would graduate about a decade later, Mr. Sanders wasn’t an elite enough student to go to college out of town. Like many classmates, he went to nearby Brooklyn College, where tuition was free. But he was miserable.

Mr. Sanders did not get along with his father and felt stifled in Brooklyn, Steve Slavin, a classmate in high school and college, recalled. He griped about professors and read what he wanted to, rather than what was required. During his freshman year, his mother died at the age of 46.

“Before final exams, that semester, he came back from the library with eight or 10 books that had nothing to do with his courses,” Mr. Slavin recounted. “I said, ‘What are you doing? We have finals.’ He said, ‘But these books look really good.’ ”

One book that caught his eye was a history of 19th century Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld, a leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. Altgeld in 1899 sounds like Mr. Sanders more than 100 years later: “We have the anomalous spectacle of abundant food products, on the one hand, and hungry men without bread, on the other; abundant fabrics, on the one hand, and industrious, frugal men going half-clad, on the other.” After a year of tragedy and ennui, Mr. Sanders transferred to the University of Chicago, a hotbed of activism.

“When I was a kid growing up, I think my instincts always were for the underdog. I didn’t like big kids pushing around little kids,” Mr. Sanders told the Observer in a brief interview in Keene. “I think I got my politics mostly at the University of Chicago, not only in classrooms but probably more off campus where I was involved in the civil rights movement and peace movement.”

It’s safe to say that Mr. Sanders has never wavered, over the last half century, in his withering critiques of capitalism, poor race relations or the influence of money on democracy. While some leftists of that era, including Mr. Schumer and Ms. Clinton, shuffled to the center (and back), Mr. Sanders, who was elected to the Senate in 2006, held firm.

This is part of his appeal.

“When a real Democrat and fake Democrat run for office, the real Democrat will win every time. Hillary is Republican-lite,” said Alan Eldredge, a 62-year-old Sanders fan from Northfield, Mass., who attended the Keene event. “Socialist no longer has the stigma that it used to. Only people over 60 have any feeling of evil about it.”

In the 1970s, Mr. Sanders was a perennial fringe candidate on the Liberty Union Party line, though his political career was going nowhere until he ditched the minor party and ran as an independent for mayor of Burlington in 1981. He won by 10 votes, but grew popular. In 1990, he won Vermont’s at-large House seat on his second try.

Though known for his gruffness—he’s unafraid to shout down constituents in public if he disagrees with them—one former Sanders aide revealed a soft side of his former boss. The biggest misconception is that “he doesn’t really have a sense of humor,” said Anthony Pollina, a Vermont state senator who advised Mr. Sanders for six years in the 1990s.

My kids were young at the time,” recalled Mr. Pollina, “and they would spend time in the office, so we would all be working on policy stuff and they’d be coloring on the floor or that kind of a thing. And Bernie … has always been tolerant of kids and family.” (Mr. Sanders is married with one child and three step children and seven grandchildren). “Bernie’s not a small-talk kind of guy,” continued Mr. Pollina. “But when you get to know him, he’s a lot of fun.”

Mr. Pollina described a congressman willing to trek to the most rural corners of the state to chat at the kitchen table with a struggling constituent. He remembers Mr. Sanders visiting dairy farmer Bob Judd near the Canadian border. “On the way back, we sat in the car together and Bernie just talked a long time about what Bob Judd had been through in his life and how important it was for people like Bob to get their fair share … He would look out the window and just talk about how we were going through God’s country.” Mr. Pollina paused. “And I think that that connection that he had to those people and to that land must have helped define him.”

Bernie Sanders with human and bovine constituents at the Strolling of the Heifers parade. (Photo courtesy of BenrieSanders.com)

Bernie Sanders with human and bovine constituents at the Strolling of the Heifers parade. (Photo courtesy of BenrieSanders.com)


For a long time, Mr. Sanders’ unbridled liberalism was out of vogue. The Clintons, slashing the welfare rolls and deregulating Wall Street, ruled the booming 1990s. The Soviet Union collapsed; some socialists had lost a lodestar, though Mr. Sanders firmly insisted it was the democratic socialism of the Scandinavian countries, and not the authoritarianism of Russia, that he extolled.
A Sanders supporter in Keene underscored this point, gently chastising a reporter for asking whether an avowed socialist could win over voters nationwide.

“He’s a democratic socialist, like another celebrated Jewish socialist—Jesus,” he said.

Mr. Sanders’ campaign platform is manna from heaven for the American left. His 12-point platform includes growing the trade union movement, creating worker-owned cooperatives and opposing free-trade agreements.

Some of his proposals, like making all public colleges free, may have unintended consequences.

“You put a lot of stress on the public system, to say you’re going to take away the tuition base. You can’t ensure government funding to make up for it,” said Sharyn O’Halloran, an economist at Columbia University’s School of Public Affairs. “If I’m sitting here trying to allocate scare resources to benefit society, the economy, I have to allocate them in the most efficient way … if I give a rich kid a free education, I haven’t improved social welfare.”

Still, with The College Board reporting college tuition far outpacing inflation and the average cost of a private four-year college exceeding $31,000 per year, the promise of free tuition may entice parents and younger voters.

In a CNBC interview in May, Mr. Sanders called for turning back the American tax code 60 years, when the top marginal tax rate was 92 percent (today, it’s about 40 percent), which raised plenty of eyebrows in business and academic circles.

“Why would I go in and expand a business when I have to pay away 90 percent in taxes?” asked Mark Clark, an associate professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business. International trade, the decline of organized labor and a host of other issue have changed America dramatically since the 1950s, he said. “It’s a different world.”

Mr. Sanders had a different answer to why the rich should pay more: “Because they love this country and they want to see future generations do well,” he said, hustling to his Ford Fusion.

The zeitgeist has boomeranged to Mr. Sanders. The 2008 economic collapse brought the issue of income inequality to the forefront, enabling Democrats and even some Republicans to rail against the excesses of Wall Street without being accused of class warfare. Ms. Warren’s ascendance, coupled with a 2015 Associated Press-Gfk poll reporting that 68 percent of respondents said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes, shows that Mr. Sanders won his popularity in a rather remarkable way, at least by the standards of modern politics: by not changing at all.

What type of presidential candidate Mr. Sanders ultimately turns out to be is still an open question. Archetypes include former Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who drew campus crowds for his uncompromising libertarianism but won few delegates. There is Howard Dean who became a liberal hero after challenging John Kerry on an anti-war platform in 2004. And there is even Mr. Hart, who nearly dethroned Walter Mondale in 1984 before succumbing to scandal three years later.

The challenge for Mr. Sanders will be twofold: competing on the ground with the Clinton machine while trying to prove that a 73-year-old lefty—he would be the oldest president ever elected—can defeat top-tier Republicans, including 44-year-old Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and 47-year-old Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He would also be America’s first Jewish president; NPR host Diane Rehm recently “offended” Mr. Sanders, who briefly lived on a kibbutz, when she repeated the falsehood that he had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

“One of his problems is not just getting traction against Hillary but overcoming a lot of people’s basic assumption that he’s unelectable in a general election,” said Mr. Trippi. “The problem still is: Are there enough Iowa Democrats prepared to risk losing the presidency, even if they like his positions?”

Mr. Sanders is not simply an activist politician though. Back when he chaired the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, he helped pass a $16 billion bill to overhaul the Department of Veteran Affairs, which was co-sponsored in the House by Republican Congressman Harold Rogers.

There are thorns on Mr. Sanders’ liberal rose, too. On gun control, he is well to the right of Ms. Clinton and most Democrats. Vermont’s guns laws, as he himself pointed out, are virtually nonexistent. As a congressman, he voted against the Brady Act and another law which shielded gun manufacturers from lawsuits when their firearms are used illegally.

“Guns in cities like Los Angeles or New York or Detroit are not the same thing as they are in Vermont or New Hampshire,” Mr. Sanders told reporters in June. “What we need is a balanced gun policy, which makes sure … guns do not get into the hands of people who should not have them.”

That stance could appeal to firearms fans in the Midwest and South. A 2014 Pew poll found that 52 percent of Americans support gun rights compared with 46 percent who back gun control. But if Mr. Sanders gains enough traction for the Clinton camp to take him more seriously, it’s easy to imagine that liberals will be reminded, on TV and elsewhere, of his tolerance of firearms.

But don’t expect Mr. Sanders to return fire. “The day he would have to get into a negative exchange with Hillary Clinton is the day the campaign is over,” Mr. Devine, his campaign strategist, pointed out.

Clintonworld, so far, remains confident. She won New Hampshire in 2008, after all. The machine plows ahead—but they welcome the “conversation” he brings to the race.

“I think he’ll energize issues and help the Democratic nominee and I expect that will be Hillary,” Hilary Rosen, a Democratic consultant and Clinton backer, said.

Still, after a one-term African-American senator with a funny name rose from nowhere to whip Hillary Clinton, the Sanders faithful are suddenly asking, And why not Bernie? What seems more far-fetched: Barack Hussein Obama, around 2007, becoming leader of the Free World or a socialist Jew (a member of Congress for 24 years and former mayor, to boot) becoming president in 2016? (Never mind Mr. Obama was telegenic and three decades younger.)

And what was that secret, anyway?

“Let me tell you,” Mr. Sanders said, bending down into his lectern in Keene. “We’re going to win New Hampshire.”

This story appeared in the June 24 print edition of The New York Observer.

sanders_president_2016
AGENDA FOR AMERICA
12 STEPS FORWARD

1. Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure
We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. It has been estimated that the cost of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, a war we should never have waged, will total $3 trillion by the time the last veteran receives needed care. A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. We need to invest in infrastructure, not more war.

2. Reversing Climate Change
The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change and make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other forms of sustainable energy. Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good paying jobs.

3. Creating Worker Co-ops
We need to develop new economic models to increase job creation and productivity. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries, we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives. Study after study shows that when workers have an ownership stake in the businesses they work for, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down and employees are much more satisfied with their jobs.

4. Growing the Trade Union Movement
Union workers who are able to collectively bargain for higher wages and benefits earn substantially more than non-union workers. Today, corporate opposition to union organizing makes it extremely difficult for workers to join a union. We need legislation which makes it clear that when a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union, they can form a union.

5. Raising the Minimum Wage
The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.

6. Pay Equity for Women Workers
Women workers today earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts make. We need pay equity in our country — equal pay for equal work.

7. Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers
Since 2001 we have lost more than 60,000 factories in this country, and more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. We must end our disastrous trade policies (NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, etc.) which enable corporate America to shut down plants in this country and move to China and other low-wage countries. We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.

8. Making College Affordable for All
In today’s highly competitive global economy, millions of Americans are unable to afford the higher education they need in order to get good-paying jobs. Further, with both parents now often at work, most working-class families can’t locate the high-quality and affordable child care they need for their kids. Quality education in America, from child care to higher education, must be affordable for all. Without a high-quality and affordable educational system, we will be unable to compete globally and our standard of living will continue to decline.

9. Taking on Wall Street
The function of banking is to facilitate the flow of capital into productive and job-creating activities. Financial institutions cannot be an island unto themselves, standing as huge profit centers outside of the real economy. Today, six huge Wall Street financial institutions have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product – over $9.8 trillion. These institutions underwrite more than half the mortgages in this country and more than two-thirds of the credit cards. The greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of major Wall Street firms plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. They are too powerful to be reformed. They must be broken up.

10. Health Care as a Right for All
The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege. Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.

11. Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans
Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.

12. Real Tax Reform
At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay. It is not acceptable that major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries. It is absurd that we lose over $100 billion a year in revenue because corporations and the wealthy stash their cash in offshore tax havens around the world. The time is long overdue for real tax reform.

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Maybe it’s…

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on June 3, 2014


This is a brilliant video by Cheryl Wheeler, called “If It Were Up To Me.” To go along with the video, here’s a reprint from CounterPunch called “Left Gun Nuts.” As is sometimes the case, what goes around as rightwing comes around as leftwing…

MAY 29, 2014
Opposition to Gun Control Comes from Many on the Left Also. Here’s Why They’re Wrong
LEFT GUN NUTS
by ANDREW CULP and DARWIN BOND-GRAHAM

In the aftermath of the Isla Vista massacre, we can expect the far Right to vehemently oppose any renewed call for gun control. They will tout the supposedly Constitutional right of Americans to keep and bear arms. The Right will summon up the specter of a tyrannical government waiting to oppress us but for our wood stocks and blued steel. We will be told yet again that gun control leaves citizens to the mercy of criminals who simply ignore the law. And we’ll hear about how guns are as American as apple pie, John Wayne, and sports. The gun lobby, its main financial backers being the firearms manufacturing industry, and its most vociferous lobbyists, the 5 million members of the NRA (only about two percent of the U.S. population), are going to mobilize in the media, the halls of Congress, and California’s state capital Sacramento to kill any bill that might restrict the ability of people like Elliot Rodger from getting their hands on a gun.

But there is another quarter from which we are already hearing rote objections to gun control: the Left. All sorts of Lefties—anarchists, socialists, Black and Latino nationalists, and even quite a few Democratic Party-voting liberals—cling to guns just as tightly as the far Right. They use surprisingly similar language to justify their objections to gun control proposals. They either sit on the sidelines after each new massacre and wring their hands about the daily slaughter, or worse still, they actively oppose gun control. Here are a few reasons why some on the Left oppose gun control and reasons why they are wrong.

The people need to defend themselves against the government.

The more radical variant of this argument is that “the people” need guns to wage an eventual revolution and liberate themselves from the shackles of the state and corporate America.

Gun control need not dampen the spirit of those still hoping for a revolution, even if such a revolution is highly unlikely to happen in our lifetimes. What stands in the way of such leftist dreams are the vast majority of current gun owners. Over-represented among current gun owners are white reactionary men, the types who regularly expresses their desire to shoot on sight the “Muslim socialist” president of the United States, and who “muster” along the U.S.-Mexico boarder with their weaponry to defend the nation against “alien” immigrants. As it stands, toxic gun culture would coopt any new American revolution with a lethal cocktail of supercharged masculinity, racism, and provincialism fantasized about in post-apocalyptic scenes. If the United States ever comes to another civil war, the first thing to die under a barrage of lead will be our hope for a more just and democratic society; guns would empower warlords with petty political agendas, not egalitarian-minded freedom fighters.

The most likely cultural shift away from reactionary gun ownership will not happen in cooperation with the Right and their politics, but against it. Gun control is the best place to start. Disarming the Right will do more to advance goals toward a revolutionary democratic transformation of America than trying to beat the Right-wingers (and the U.S. government!) in an arms race.

Of course Left insurrectionists who advocate the right to bear arms are more focused on the U.S. Government as the singular impediment to their variant of utopia. This dream is sadly a classic example of radical posturing done in the name of some distant hypothetical moment, and it ignores the actual harm that guns cause each and every day. In the real world, guns kill upwards of 30,000 Americans every year, virtually all of these deaths serving absolutely no political purpose in the fight for a more democratic society. Most of these deaths are just tragic accidents or suicides, many of which would not end in death if guns were not in the mix. Left fantasies about armed struggle are the same half-baked ideas as those held by the secessionist Right. What varies for Leftists is the template of decolonial struggles; yet a leftist revolution in the United States would not kick out a small minority of foreign occupiers, as happened in India and Vietnam, but would be a fight amongst settler colonialists for political authority. This is why the worn “Zapatistas defense” touted by the radical left is a bad analogy for the United States context – the Zapatistas started a peasant rebellion that kicked outsiders off their landbase, a task for which wooden cutouts of guns turned out to be more effective than the real thing.

The cops should be disarmed, not the people.

Yes, the police should be disarmed. Police violence is intolerable and oppressive, particularly for communities of color. But here, quite a few Leftists extend their critique against police brutality to claim that “the people” can defend themselves against the police with guns. The Black Panthers’ armed patrols shadowing police in the 1960s is the most common example trotted out to demonstrate how armed communities defended themselves against unaccountable cops. Groups like the Deacons for Defense, or revolutionaries like Malcolm X and Robert Williams are also also mentioned as proof that guns help the democratic Left fight the power, and that without guns we will be increasingly victimized by the police.

But guns hardly keep away the police or help communities fight back against the cops. In fact, the proliferation of guns in America has provided an excuse for police to further intrude in our lives. The police use the ubiquity of guns in America to justify their brutality, seen especially clearly in the extrajudicial killings they commit. It is difficult to see how arming communities translates into a reduced police presence. Furthermore, carrying a weapon certainly would not have assisted victims of recent lethal police violence, and would have instead have worked in the favor of officers under official review.

American police militarizing themselves with tanks, drones, SWAT teams, and mass surveillance systems say that they have to do so because the American public has access to super deadly types of guns and ammunition. Aggressive new police policies treat nearly everyone as a gun owner (armed or not), leading to the pervasive use of SWAT raids, ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ no-knock warrant searches, invasive automobile searches, stop and frisk, excessive use of force, and the implementation of ever-more powerful surveillance systems. In sum, an armed citizenry only encourages the police to arm themselves more heavily.

It is true that radicals, especially African American revolutionaries, have used guns to symbolically protest power in America and call out the hypocrisy of white supremacy and lax gun laws that selectively apply to dominant social groups. Yet the power of armed protest is only enhanced by laws that restrict ownership of assault rifles, special ammunition, and even handguns, and should not be confused for revolutionary violence, of which there are scant encouraging examples of in recent United States history.

Finally, it is necessary to note that America’s most oppressed communities are already flooded with guns, especially pistols and assault weapons designed for close quarter combat. The ready availability of these weapons has in no way empowered these communities to fight back against the cops, at least not in any obvious way. The prevalence of firearms has instead magnified America’s radicalized inequality, poverty, and structural violence to produce an epidemic level of shootings among youth of color in places like Chicago, Oakland, Detroit, and Newark. Guns hurt working-class communities of color. The gun industry, weakly regulated as it is, has long prospered off the illegal market for firearms in inner cities.

Should we also ban knives and cars and bombs and bleach and acid?

Some pro-gun Lefties sideline the obvious merits of gun control and argue that supposedly “deeper” systemic issues should be our true focus.

With the Isla Vista massacre, we are already hearing that guns are not inherently linked to violent modes of masculinity, and that guns are only dangerous in the hands of someone as misogynist or “crazy” as Elliot Rodger. Pro-gun Lefties say Rodger would have killed and maimed anyway—indeed he did kill at least three people with a knife and wounded others by plowing into them with his car. We are asked then, sardonically, should the Left also ban knives and cars?

First off, no, of course we should not ban knives and cars. Knives and cars are really useful, and are unlike assault weapons and pistols, whose sole purpose is to kill other human beings. But regulating knives and cars is not a bad idea – that is why both are highly regulated. Just about everything is regulated, and usually to our benefit. Breakfast cereals, infant formula, dog and cat food, cleaning supplies, household appliances, furniture, cell phones, house paint, lipstick, toothpaste, and thousands of other consumer products are regulated and controlled because safety is a low priority for manufacturers, and experience shows that government intervention and oversight over capitalist enterprise saves lives. Experience also shows that regulation works, at least until regulatory agencies are captured by the industries they are supposed to watch over.

Successful examples of regulation abound though: we tackled the tobacco companies and saved millions of lives by purposefully reducing their ability to market and sell cigarettes. We regulate drugs, cosmetics, and foods, which prevents countless deaths. Far from representing “state power” over our lives, federal regulations often represent democratic rejection of the capitalist profit motive for the public good. Regulations of consumer products, especially health and safety and environmental regulations were born out of social movements fighting back against exploitation.

Cars are a great example of how regulation reduces harm while creating a more equal society. Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, catalytic converters, unleaded gasoline, seat belts, airbags, and other “car control” measures benefit public health and the environment. The automobile industry is highly regulated, thank goodness. The gun industry, in contrast, has some of the weakest regulations in America, and not by accident. The corporations that manufacture most of the guns and the gun dealers who profit from the American arms trade have successfully fought against meaningful regulation. We should regulate guns at least as much as we regulate cars.

As for the crux the matter: guns are an embodiment of patriarchal values. Perhaps antique gun collectors treat them as relics and farmers use them as tools. The majority of guns are however owned to aggressively threaten, control, and hurt people; and more often than not, women bear the brunt of that aggression. This is a country where men still exert power over women in virtually every context, causing street harassment, acquaintance rape, family and partner abuse, employment discrimination, and assaults on women’s health. The NRA says that all women would be safer if they carried a pistol in their purse, but we know that guns cannot be the solution to the very problem that they create: a climate of fear, anxiety, and violence essential to society’s devaluation of women.

Looking at the realities behind the fictions of vigilante justice shared by the Left and Right, guns are the common denominator. Over two thirds of all homicides in the United States in 2010 were caused by a firearm; and of them, only about five percent were ruled to be justified. Stepping back from the Isla Vista massacre and looking more broadly at gun violence we might note that many victims of firearm homicides are poor and marginalized urban and rural Americans. African American men are particularly susceptible to dying by gun. So what is the deeper problem here? Inequality? Structural racism and poverty?

Of course gun control will not eliminate America’s patriarchal power structure, or pacify the culture of violence, or undo racism. But gun control can do one thing very effectively: reduce the lethality of violent acts that stem from patriarchy, racism, and inequality. Instead of dying in a hail of bullets, victims will be survivors and can more effectively fight back. Indeed, in our present political context, gun control is fighting back against patriarchy and other forms of oppression.

The government should not have a legitimate monopoly on the use of force.

Some Lefties oppose gun control on the grounds that the state’s violence is illegitimate, and they argue that it is a question of power – that “the people” should never cede power to the state.

Of course government violence is never legitimate, even if it is popular and sanctioned by many of its citizens. Wars, executions, and structural violence such as starving children or denying million basic healthcare are but a sliver of the illegitimate violence for which the American government is responsible. But is opposing gun control an effective way to challenge the violence of the American state? Does anyone honestly think that the abstract notion of gun rights is what keeps alive dreams of an armed struggle toward democratic emancipation, or imparts those who own guns with some mystical quality of “autonomy” or “power”? In what world does gun ownership delegitimize or even reduce the state’s use of violence? And how would such a place be less authoritarian and violent? The relationship between guns and American government at the present moment is clear: our lax gun laws buttress state violence.

The political economy of guns shows how weapons manufacturing is an important part of American corporate and political power. This is because the military industrial complex serves as an engine for the national economy. The firearms industry employs few workers, but it is part of a larger arms manufacturing sector responsible for over 1 million jobs. As “defense” manufacturers, the gun industry’s political interests lie in arming the police at home and fighting imperialist wars abroad. The same gun companies that benefit from the American government’s hunger for small arms and ammo, which it sprays both here and in foreign lands, benefit doubly from the lack of laws restricting gun ownership. On the other side of the equation, the American military has reciprocally benefitted from popular gun ownership. The NRA, after all, was considered a boon to the U.S. military in its early history, as it provided the Army with enlistees already familiar with firearms. Just prior to World War I, the NRA even partnered with the federal government to give guns to the population and to sponsor shooting contests.

On a structural level, the federal budget is often decided through “guns versus butter” tradeoffs whereby every dollar of military spending is taken from the mouths of the needy. The Reagan administration, for instance, slashed child food programs, Medicaid, family welfare, food stamps, and low-income energy assistance to feed the military industrial complex. Confronting the gun industry on the national stage could be part of a larger strategy of opposing the war industry as a whole, which produces nothing of consumable value and whose political interests directly oppose the Left. Only then can the Left shift the terrain of struggle away from apocalyptic fantasies of armed insurrection to areas where it has historically drawn strength, such as cultural politics.

Andrew Culp is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric Studies at Whitman College. He specializes in cultural-communicative theories of power, the politics of emerging media, and gendered responses to urbanization. In his current project, Escape, he explores the apathy, distraction, and cultural exhaustion born from the 24/7 demands of an ‘always-on’ media-driven society. http://www.andrewculp.org

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist and investigative journalist. He is a contributing editor to Counterpunch. His writing appears in the East Bay Express, Village Voice, LA Weekly and other newspapers. He blogs about the political economy of California at http://darwinbondgraham.wordpress.com/.

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