In the wake of yet another mass shooting, our society is once again abuzz with talk of guns, gun control, and how we can prevent these events from happening in the future. These discussions, especially when they occur online or on cable news, are nauseatingly over-simplified and all nuance is extracted from the conversation in favor of absurd false dichotomies and partisan rhetoric. This puts leftists in odd positions. I’ve seen my fellow comrades fall prey to these false dichotomies as well, and some of the rhetoric I hear coming from the left is indistinguishable from rhetoric coming from the far right. That’s a big problem. If we are going to defend gun ownership for the working class and for marginalized communities, we need to do it in a way that clearly differentiates us from both the liberal center and the reactionary right. Therefore, I am going to spend time going through the nuance and complexity of these issues in hopes of clarifying what a principled leftist stand could look like. Not everyone listening is going to agree with everything I say, and that is fine. But by introducing nuance into this discussion, and attempting to parse out the complexities involved, I hope to at least move the ball forward on what should be a uniquely revolutionary left wing perspective on guns, mass shootings, and how we should think about them.
First and foremost, we need to be extremely clear on what causes mass shootings in our society. When we fail to give a structural, materialist, and radical critique of the *causes* of such events, we help facilitate and perpetuate the shallowness of liberal and conservative analysis. For example, when someone says that music, film and video games are responsible for violence in our society, they are conflating causes and effects and therefore they are offering up a weak, highly confused, obscurantist surface level analysis, and we, as revolutionary leftists, have a responsibility to push back against it. Mass shootings, like violence in music, movies and games, are all *manifestations* of a violent culture. They are all *effects* of a violent and alienating system, not *causes*. When people blame these things for gun violence, they are blaming symptoms for causing other symptoms; and that obscures the fact that all of the violence in our popular culture are effects, not causes, of a much deeper disease in our society and collective psyche. We live in a liberal capitalist society that is rooted in bourgeois individualism; this society atomizes us into individual consumers and workers, and in the process it strips us of any sense of collective belonging or community. This deeply alienates us from ourselves, our community, and our environment because it is absolutely antithetical to our nature as social apes. We evolved for hundreds of thousands of years in tight-knit tribes or villages; it is wired into our DNA to be embedded inside strong, resilient communities that share the burden of life, that have one another’s backs, that take care of the weakest members of the collective, and that form deep bonds not only between families and friends, but between all members of the community. So it is absurdly ironic that defenders of this system so often rely on arguments about capitalism being exclusively conducive to human nature while things like socialism and anarchism are framed as being against our human nature. There are very few claims as empirically incorrect as this claim. Regardless of what your views on human nature are, if they are at all rooted in science and anthropology, as they should be, the notion that free market capitalism is conducive to our nature as human beings is patently laughable. Nothing is more alien to us, as social apes who evolved as we did, than the sort of societies and social relations that arise out of capitalist economies; Karl Marx was making this argument over a century and half ago. Nothing is natural about slums, about homelessness, about infinite growth, about our relationship to nature, about commodity fetishism, about wage labor, and about consumerism.
These things are as incompatible to our nature as one can possibly imagine. So when we begin to see huge patterns of anti-social, sociopathic mass violence like we have seen in this country in the form of mass shootings, what we are seeing is the human psyche cracking under the pressures of a society that is deeply sick and thoroughly irreconcilable with an anthropological conception of what makes human beings flourish. This psychological splintering and social alienation is then funneled through violent and abusive right-wing ideologies, and what comes out the other side is something we’ve all seen a million times in this society: indiscriminate male violence. We should never stop making this point, and we should direct conversations about what causes mass shootings in this direction anytime we get the chance to.
Beyond the evolutionary analysis, we have to look at our country and its history. This is a country literally founded on genocide and slavery and colonialism. This is a country mired in mass violence, from its bloody roots to the furthest extensions of its macabre branches. Not only was the United States established in bloodshed, it actively and presently perpetuates itself through brutal violence, both at home and abroad. From cops murdering black children, to drones blowing up wedding parties, to nuclear bombs dropped on the heads of innocent Japanese toddlers and mothers, to murderous coups funded and orchestrated by the CIA all over the world, to the very economic system which lies at its core and pushes people to sleep in gutters and under bridges, this country is dripping from head to toe, and out of every pore, with the blood of innocent human beings. Is it any wonder that it so routinely vomits up mass shooters? Of course not. Any so-called analysis which wants to focus on something as fucking absurd as video games to explain this shit is fucking embarrassing, and we should ridicule it mercilessly every goddamn time we hear it, or anything like it, propped up as if it were some sort of deep, penetrating insight. The reason that liberals and conservatives wont, and perhaps literally cant, see the deeper causes at play is because their very ideologies are manifestations of the same base system that gives rise to the violence in the first place. To point the finger at the deeper, structural diseases of our society would be to point the finger at themselves and the system they prop up. So they will never do it. It’s our responsibility to make sure we do.
Now, let’s turn from the problems to the solutions. How should we as leftists think about and frame possible solutions to these issues? Well, clearly, we want to create a new society that, at least in the ways I described above, is the complete opposite of the society we have now. But in the meantime people are dying, and we have to figure out ways to address it inside the horrific confines of the system we are currently forced to live and operate in. First and foremost, we have to distance ourselves from right wing rhetoric in as clear and stark a way as possible. So even when we are defending our rights to own guns, we have to constantly be showing how reactionaries get it wrong, and a big part of that is ruthlessly attacking the NRA constantly. The NRA is not some grassroots movement dedicated to protecting all of our rights to gun ownership. It is a thoroughly reactionary organization, organized and funded by arms manufacturers, with the primary goal of keeping profits as high as possible for gun companies. As an organization, they are dedicated to upholding whiteness and reactionary politics aimed at marginalizing poor people and people of color. The NRA is a perfect manifestation of reactionary politics and capitalist depravity. They literally profit off of bloodshed and chaos. The more scared you are, the more racist you are, the more you feel as if your country is being taken over by “Others”, the more likely you are to buy guns. And that is why the NRA is dedicated to keeping our society as chaotic and steeped in the blood of innocent children as possible. Just look at their primary solution to the problem of school shootings, which Trump has been parroting like a good little stooge every chance he gets: arming teachers. Now, I could go on for days talking about how teachers are underpaid and overworked, how disgusting it is that the solution from the right is to have teachers pick up yet another burden, and how arming teachers and installing metal detectors only blur the ever-thinning line between school and prison; but the main point here is that the NRA, and the gun companies who are behind it, would profit off this. Teachers being armed would mean more guns being sold, and that’s the bottom line. That is why Trump is so obsessed with this talking point, and that is why every time the NRA talks about possible solutions to mass shootings, it always involves more guns being in more hands. It’s all about profit, baby. Pure, unadulterated, blood-soaked profit. Never stop screaming this fact at the top of your lungs. Fuck the NRA.
Let’s turn now to liberals. What are the solutions being thrown around in the liberal and centrist circles of the country? Well, the conversation in liberal circles is certainly more sophisticated than the conversations in reactionary circles, but that’s a damn low bar. The liberal solutions are exactly what we would expect them to be: lets make more laws! Now, in my opinion, this isn’t all bad. I think we make a big mistake as leftists if we refuse to entertain any sort of policy reforms that could save lives. I am a father of two children, and an uncle to 4 nieces and nephews; all of whom I love dearly and most of whom are school aged. The other day, my 7 year old nephew was crying before school, and my sister heard him so she went over and asked him what was wrong, and what he said brought tears to my eyes. He said: “I am scared to go to school mommy. Im so scared to die.” Now if that doesn’t break your fucking heart, you either don’t have any kids in your life or you don’t have a pulse. As sick and depraved as our society is, when little innocent children are forced to think like this, its truly gone beyond the pale. And Ill say it right now: the right for any of our children to live and get a safe education trumps the right for some 19 year old asshole white supremacist to get a fucking gun. If that strikes you as controversial, I don’t know what to tell you. But Ill go to war to make sure my kids are safe. Having said that, though, I am also a gun owner and someone who believes that as long as fascists have guns, as long as pigs have guns, as long as every dumbass with a MAGA hat has guns, I’m going to have guns and Im going to defend my family and my community by any means necessary. And I will fight any law that tries to take that right away from me. On one of our most recent episodes of Revolutionary Left Radio, I talked to the anarchist organizer and longtime armed antifascist Scott Crow about community armed self-defense and about gun control laws. Scott said something really important; he said: “When it comes to laws we must always remember that they are reactionary, bureaucratic, arbitrary, and selectively enforced”, and I couldn’t agree with that more. So if we are going to make any laws surrounding any aspect of gun control, we have to keep this firmly in mind. And as long as we are talking about laws, we have to also remember that broad laws aimed at eradicating social ills are almost always used as pretexts to invade, attack, and occupy vulnerable and marginalized communities. If certain guns get banned, the US government has shown that it’s not going to focus its energy on right-wing militias and fascist groups, they will focus their energies on minority communities and left wing movements that actually challenge the status quo and the hierarchies of class, gender, and race that hold it in place. You cannot legislate away social problems like this; the root causes are much too deep. That’s not to say no policy reforms can be helpful; I think we can do meaningful things with common sense regulations. But we always have to keep in mind how this government and its agencies operate *in practice* instead of holding onto some ideal of how they could operate in theory. Think of drug laws: cops are not breaking down the doors to suburban homes and corporate board rooms looking for drugs (even though drugs are used at the same general rates across race and class); instead they use drug laws as a pretext to infiltrate and attack poor and working class communities; especially poor and working communities of color, to get black and brown folks into prison so that they can then profit off their labor and keep these communities thoroughly occupied and in check. Gun laws will be used the EXACT same way. And we should never stop reminding liberals of this.
So, with all of this in our minds, what should we as leftists do? Should we oppose any and all gun control laws, and align ourselves with the likes of Trump and the NRA? Hell no. Should we push for sweeping laws aimed at taking guns out of the hands of poor and working people, leaving pigs, fascists, and the US government at an even larger advantage? Hell no.
We should articulate a position wholly different from both. We should support certain reforms and we should oppose others. We should stake out ground that challenges narratives on both the right and the center. This means constantly deepening the analysis with regards to what causes these problems. This means drawing clear distinctions between ourselves as revolutionary leftists and all other positions. And yes, this means putting forward a different set of possible reforms while always embedding those policy proposals in a deeper context which asserts that the only real solution to mass shootings, and the underlying social ills that give rise to them so routinely, is a radically different society.
So here are some policy reforms that I came up with that would meet the requirements of everything I just said. Now, these are not perfect, and I am totally open to constructive criticism regarding them. The goal here is simply to get us started thinking and talking about what a left wing approach to these problems should look like. Because as long as we have to live in this horrific system, we should take clear, concrete positions that help reduce the amount of suffering it causes. So here they are:
1) Anyone with a documented history of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, or any sort of abuse towards women or children, will be prevented from owning weapons. This must be applied evenly across race and class. Most mass shooters have some of this in their background. (Closing loop holes that allow people to by-pass background checks is essential to this)
2) Expanding healthcare to a Medicare For All structure, on the way to a nationalized universal healthcare system, with robust sectors dedicated to mental health treatment regardless of one’s income. The effects of alienation on people often manifest as mental illness. I am NOT saying that mass shootings are caused by mental illness. But as someone who has suffered enormously from anxiety, and has been hospitalized for clinical depression, I don’t think its controversial to suggest that alienation causes a lot psychological problems for many of us, and a healthcare system which understands this and is accessible can only be beneficial.
3) Anyone under the age of 25 who purchases a gun should be forced to partake in formal training conducted by vetted guides trained in identifying people who are at risk for violent behavior. This would give necessary training to young people, and create another protection against young men who want to shoot up schools. Many mass shootings, especially school shootings, are conducted by white men in their late teens and early 20s and loads of evidence in neuroscience suggest that the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain which regulates impulse control and is involved with weighing long term consequences against short term actions, among many other things, does not fully develop until around age 25. So this has scientific foundations and empirical legitimacy; it’s not merely arbitrary.
4) Penalties for parents whose children use their weapons to assault and murder other people. Parents should be held to a very high standard regarding keeping their guns out of their children’s hands. As a parent who owns high powered weaponry, it is a primary concern for me to not only educate my children on guns, but to make damn sure they don’t have access to them.
5) Implementing harsh penalties against the FBI and specific FBI agents who are alerted about a possible threat but refuse to investigate, if that threat goes on to kill innocent people. The FBI was alerted about this latest killer, and there was plenty of evidence to support the claim. Yet they did nothing. The FBI should be held accountable for their failures. This does not mean the FBI can harass or infringe on anyone’s rights. It simply means they will be held accountable when they fail to do their job. Even though our long term goal is to abolish the FBI, in the meantime this sort of policy would have the fortunate side effect of making them take right wing extremism far more seriously than they do, since the vast majority of mass shootings in this country are carried out by right-wing, white men.
6) Anyone involved in Far Right wing groups which advocate for the forced removal of other human beings from society and/or which advocates for any form of genocide, will not be allowed to purchase a gun. Moreover, Nazi and White Supremacist groups should be officially and formally labeled as terrorist organizations akin to ISIS. The far right is the only political formation in our society over the past half century which routinely and consistently throws up mass shooters. This makes them a unique segment of the population worthy of disarming.
7) Disarm the Police. Even though, again, our long term goal is prison abolition and the abolition of police, as long as we are stuck with them, we should equip them only with non-lethal weaponry. They never actually stop mass shootings anyway. During the most recent school shooting, 4 armed police on the scene during the shooting cowered behind barricades outside, while the shooter was inside murdering children and teachers. So if all they do is either kill innocent, unarmed people OR cower behind cover when push comes to shove, then what the fuck do they need guns for?
8) End corporate lobbying by groups like the NRA, and sever the economic and political ties between the NRA and gun manufacturers. Its not right that those who profit off the selling of weapons can have an exaggerated influence on our political system. The NRA is merely the mouthpiece of gun companies meant to keep profits up. They serve no socially beneficial role and have a disproportionate amount of influence in congress. If the NRA refuses to abide by anti-lobbying laws, they are to be dismantled as an organization. If they want to advocate for gun rights, they can do so without economic and political connections to companies who profit off slaughter.
So there it is. This is not meant to be exhaustive, and I am sure there is plenty to critique here. But everything I’ve said in this long monologue should at least be genuinely engaged with, and thought about deeply and critically by all of us. We have to be involved in these crucial social movements, we have to offer concrete solutions to social problems, and we have to offer a vision of a better world to people who are sick of this shit. We cannot stand back and let the reactionaries and liberals dominate the conversation.