My Conflicted Position on Guns

I’ve been thinking a lot about guns lately. We saw shoppers gunned down at Tops in Buffalo last month followed by those 19 elementary school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. This past Memorial Day weekend there were at least 15 other mass shootings around the country killing 9 and wounding over 170. Then last night 4 were killed by a gunman in Tulsa, Oklahoma — yesterday’s mass shooting du jour. I don’t think today’s has occurred yet.

I’m very torn. I frankly fall on both sides of the gun question. I’m not comfortable supporting guns and I’m not comfortable opposing them.

Once again there are calls for gun control: universal background checks, age limits, assault rifle bans, concealed weapon bans, and so on. News reports this week hint at some kind of bipartisan agreement percolating in the Senate. Despite the continuing — and increasing — slaughters, chances that Congress will actually pass legislation are nil. The odds of winning the lottery are probably better.

I don’t like guns. Never have. Doubt I ever will. I’ve never owned one and I don’t plan to. My feelings about guns, however, have been impacted in a big way by the War in Ukraine. I’ve come to realize we may suddenly find ourselves in need of guns — even high-powered assault rifles — at some point in the future with little notice. Ridiculous? The Ukrainians probably thought so too. The other day I saw a 40-ish former investment banker turned soldier being interviewed on TV. He was wounded in the hospital. This isn’t him in the picture, but instead Vladimir Golyadynets saying goodbye to his partner Olga Shmigal. Countless scenes just like it are repeated across Ukraine as men under 60 leave their ordinary lives to go fight the Russian invasion.

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The Second Amendment

I am a supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. It was included in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution by the Founding Fathers. This hadn’t been their plan, but they lacked the necessary pubic support to ratify the new Constitution without a specific declaration on the right to bear arms, the right to freedom of religion, the right to freedom of speech and press, and more.

The Bill of Rights is one of the greatest documents of history. It was then and remains today a victory for working people that we must defend. The devil, I guess, is in the details. How do we defend this right long term and in principle without killing ourselves in the process?

Last week a fellow blogger reprinted an article that had been published in the Militant newspaper in 2013 following the Sandy Hook massacre. I urge everyone to read it. It makes a clear and compelling case for a full and unrestricted defense of the Second Amendment — and it does so from a reasoned, rational and historical perspective. We all probably take the 8-hour day and 40-hour week for granted. The reality is that these were won through the blood and lives of workers who were violently attacked and killed by armed police, troops and thugs trying to prevent these and other reforms. To this day we see occasional violence against strikes and picket lines. We’ll likely see more and worse in the days ahead as workers resist ever-worsening conditions. Sound ridiculous? Look at Ukraine. S**t happens.

The Militant also makes this important distinction with regard to guns and gun rights:

“At the same time, the working-class movement has nothing in common with the gun-rights politics of rightist militia outfits or with vigilante “justice” and so-called Stand Your Ground laws that promote them. But the working-class political battle against such reactionary movements and laws cannot be advanced by calls for government restrictions on any rights of working people.”

And herein lies my quandary: “…cannot be advanced by calls for government restrictions on any rights of working people [emphasis added]”

Are ALL Second Amendment Restrictions Unacceptable?

As much as I agree with the Militant’s position, try as I might, I cannot comfortably follow it fully in practice. I can’t accept the cost of slaughtered school children, grocery shoppers and others that will surely continue into the foreseeable future.

Are all restrictions unacceptable?

Let’s look at the First Amendment, also a critically-vital component of workers’ democratic rights. There are various constraints on our Freedoms of Speech and Press that I think most people accept. These include laws against threatening someone, or libeling or slandering them. It’s illegal to yell “Fire!” in a theater or otherwise induce panic. Laws protect copyrights. Speech over the air is subject to any number of restrictions under FCC regulations covering both content and technology (permitted frequencies and power).

I think it stands to reason that limited guidelines or restrictions can be acceptable under the Second Amendment as well without fundamentally denying the Constitutional right to bear arms. I’m under no illusion that any will stop all mass shootings. Even the elimination of guns altogether wouldn’t stop people from inflicting mass casualties if that’s their intent. Cars, trucks, bombs and knives have all been used.

This is a short list of possible restrictions on guns that seem plausible without seriously undermining the Second Amendment:

  • Age limits make sense, particularly for assault rifles — though I realize there’s nothing magic in someone turning 21. Preliminary news reports indicate the Tulsa shooter last night was between 35 and 40.
  • Waiting periods could reduce shootings where passions of the moment might be at work. CNN reports that the Tulsa shooter bought an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle from a gun store about two hours before the shooting.
  • Public support for universal background checks has been clocked as high as 90%. It strikes me as plain common sense to at least check whether someone has an active restraining order, for instance, or prior gun offenses. On the other hand, a national database of people suffering some form of “mental illness” could be easily abused. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that in 2016 some 11.8 million American adults believed that they had a need for mental health services while 5.5 million had go without — many for no fault of their own. Federal funding for mental health services and private insurance coverage for these services lag way behind need.
  • Gun shows are almost a black market. These shows should be held fully accountable to all regulations governing gun sales conducted by licensed dealers in regular stores.

These are just a few possibilities. There are probably more, but all should be considered carefully to avoid any excessive restriction. I realize some believe any restriction is too much. I think that’s the Militant’s position reflecting a socialist perspective. Rightists and conservatives argue that “Criminals will always find a way to get their hands on a gun” hence they say we need full access to guns with no holds barred. I concede that criminals will get guns if they really want. But do we have to make it so easy?

My Conflicted Position

I’ve wrestled with all this, having strong feeling on both sides.

I oppose any total ban on guns. I also oppose the status quo where it seems anything goes. A troubled youth can buy two AR-15s on his 18th birthday with virtually no questions asked and then kill 19 school children. A man can buy an an AR-15, take possession immediately at the store, and kill 4 people in a medical building just two hours later.

That leaves gun control, which I think is a double-edged sword. It can help in some ways but could come at a high cost down the road.

My decision: I support gun control in principle. It makes me uncomfortable but I’ll live with the cognitive dissonance. I say “in principle” because I may not agree with every provision that might be imposed.

The Need for Workers’ Defense

I mentioned above that workers’ access to arms is essential — for defensive purposes only. I suspect some readers might find this remote or far-fetched. Why do workers need defense? To help explain I offer the following few cases from labor history, most from the days when workers were fighting to establish unions and win major concessions from the bosses.

Things today are not that much different from the past. Union membership today is low, only about 10.3% of workers. At the same time, there’s a pretty wide consensus that trouble brews in the workplace: low pay, inadequate benefits, poor working conditions, etc. The Pew Research Center reports that “58% of U.S. adults say the large reduction over the past several decades in the percentage of workers who are represented by unions has been somewhat or very bad for the country, while 61% say this has been bad for working people.”

We’re seeing drives across the country to unionize in places like Starbucks and Amazon. These are small, isolated actions but they signal things to come. As momentum grows, eventually the employers will decide they don’t like what they see. The history below tells us how they may respond and what we’ll be confronted with.

◼︎1889: Haymarket Square, Chicago

As described in the Encyclopedia Britannica,

“On May 3 [1889] one person was killed and several injured as police intervened to protect strikebreakers and intimidate strikers during a union action at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company that was part of a national campaign to secure an eight-hour workday. To protest police brutality, anarchist labour leaders called a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square. That gathering was pronounced peaceful by Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, who attended as an observer. After Harrison and most of the demonstrators departed, a contingent of police arrived and demanded that the crowd disperse. At that point a bomb was thrown by an individual never positively identified, and police responded with random gunfire. Seven police officers were killed and 60 others wounded before the violence ended; civilian casualties have been estimated at four to eight dead and 30 to 40 injured.”

◼︎1914: The Ludlow Massacre, Trinidad, Colorado

In September 1913, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) led a strike of 10,000 coal miners against the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I). The struggle led to a murderous assault against the miners — the Ludlow Massacre — which is described as follows on the Trinidad, Colorado, website…

“Among their demands were a ten-per-cent pay raise, the enforcement of an eight-hour working day, and the right to live and trade outside the company-owned town. Many of the rights they sought were required by Colorado law but remained unenforced. Labor organizer Mother Jones gave a rousing speech in support of the strike on the steps of the Trinidad Post Office for which she was imprisoned for 20 days…

“Outraged by the workers’ insubordination, CF&I hired “detectives,” working for a private security company called Baldwin-Felts, who began driving around the [workers’] tent colony at night, terrifying, injuring, and sometimes killing the sleeping miners and their families…

“The miners organized armed patrols to ward off the detectives, but they were no match for the ‘Death Special’ — the name Baldwin-Felts agents gave to the car in which they roamed the coalfields at night…

“On April 20, [the Colorado National Guard opened fire against the strikers and their families]… The face-off raged for 14 hours, during which the miners’ tent colony was pelted with machine gun fire from a bluff overlooking the strikers, and then ultimately torched by the state militia. A number of people were killed, among them two women and 11 children who suffocated in a pit they had dug under their tent. Three of the striking leaders, including labour organizer Louis Tikas, were captured and killed by the National Guard.”

Pictured above are miners who had armed themselves as protection against company goons and the National Guard.

◼︎1919: Washington, DC “Race Riot”

In July 1919 white mobs attacked the Black community and Black soldiers in Washington, DC, supposedly in retaliation for an attack on a white woman by a Black man. The violence continued several days. State and federal government officials refused to stop the violence so the Black community was forced to arm itself in defense. When the police found out that arms dealers sold around 500 firearms to the Black community, they shut down legal gun sales, leaving the Black community defenseless. The above political cartoon ran in the Evening Star.

◼︎1934: “Battle of Deputies Run,” Minneapolis

In 1934, truck drivers in Minneapolis launched a series of strikes. These strikes were part of a wave that included Longshoremen in San Francisco and auto workers in Toledo, Ohio. The Minneapolis strikes had a class-conscious leadership that forged an alliance between drivers, office workers, farmers and the unemployed. The strikes were so successful they resulted in the first 11 state over-the-road Teamsters contract — a level of organization and protection workers had never known. This campaign was met with fierce resistance by the bosses that included attacks by the police that killed strikers. Deciding they would have no more of this, workers organized to drive the police off the streets in what has come to be known as the “Battle of Deputies Run.” (See The Proven Power of Labor at my main blog.)

◼︎1937: The Memorial Day Massacre, Chicago

On Memorial Day 1937, striking steelworkers, their families and supporters led a peaceful demonstration in front of Republic Steel in Chicago. The Chicago Police attacked. They clubbed and shot men, women and children, killing 10. summarized as follows:

“In March 1937 the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) signed an agreement with U. S. Steel Corporation, the largest American steelmaker, that warranted an eight-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek. A group of smaller steel companies, the so-called Little Steel group, refused to sign the same agreement. This refusal led to bitter confrontation and violence. On Memorial Day 1937 strikers and their families joined with sympathizers in a demonstration in front of the Republic Steel plant in Chicago. In the violent riots that ensued, 10 strikers were killed and 40 were wounded. The police claimed that they had been attacked by demonstrators with clubs and bricks and that they had to respond with reasonable force to defend themselves and break up the mob. Accounts in newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, fostered paranoia of an imminent communist revolution, describing the strikers as a trained military unit. To the contrary, the strikers argued that the police had started to shoot the peaceful demonstrators with no reason. Their version was validated by the investigation conducted by the La Follette Committee.”

The YouTube video here is footage showing the police attack.

◼︎2000: Police Attack Longshoremen, Charleston, SC

In January 2000, Longshoremen protested when a Danish shipping company announced that it intended to load and unload ships using nonunion workers. Local 1422 of the International Longshoremens Association (ILA) set up picket lines in protest. South Carolina’ Attorney General responded by having 600 state troopers and highway patrolman attack the workers. The YouTube video here shows what transpired.

Assembling these history snapshots makes me want to change my position! But I can’t. Despite the risks, we must do something now to slow down the daily Sandy Hooks, Orlandos, Columbines, Parklands, El Pasos, Buffalos, Uvaldes, Tulsas, and on and on and on.

Title Image is by danilo.alvesd on Unsplash. All other images are Public Domain.
All comments are welcome. I only ask that we remain civil and respectful of one another. If you clicked over from Facebook, please comment here rather than back there.

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