I take a look at the problems with the Parkland sparked gun control movement and hint at a desired alternative to gun control activism.
After literally one of the worst mass shootings in history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in Parkland Florida which killed 17 and wounded 17 more the gun “debate” in the US has had a fire lit under it’s stomach. Polls show more people supporting gun control policies and the conservative Florida Governor has signed into law new and more expansive gun control policies. The NRA has seemingly suffered a major PR defeat with many liberals feeling even more emboldened to call out the agency’s lobbying against gun legislation. This is all thanks to a group of the students from Stoneman Douglas who have come out vocally to express their fear of mass shootings and the need to make sure they never happen again. This is quite understandable given that they were subject to, again, literally one of history’s worst mass shootings.
Many are eager to join the chorus of support for the students saying that we need to listen to them and ostensibly endorsing what they are calling for. Recently a “manifesto” was published in the school’s newspaper outlining the policies that the students supposedly support. This brings us to the first issue of the situation.
Many students of the Stoneman Douglas High School have made their voices heard. Claiming to know all of their thoughts on the issue, or that their views can all be collapsed into a program for more gun control legislation is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. What many people over look about the “manifesto” in the Stoneman Douglas newspaper is that it was written by the newspaper; “That’s why the Eagle Eye has come together and proposed these following changes to gun policy. ” , rather than being a commonly authored declaration of all the students, or something similar. The Parkland students undoubtedly have different opinions from person to person and this is not something that has even been close to recognized by the mainstream media’s rhetoric about them.
The biggest problems with the gun control debate that Parkland has sparked go beyond even this basic failure by liberals, democratic politicians, and the media to recognize that the victims of school shootings are not one homogeneous mass with completely unified points of view as such. I will be identifying some outstanding problems that have not been addressed by the recent Parkland gun debate. I will show how the current rhetoric and activism fails to address them and I will point the way to a radical, ant-racist, anti-oppression gun rights movement rather than a liberal gun control movement which the Parkland debate seems to be emboldening at the moment.
The Parkland movement has conjured up a public discourse about a fake epidemic. People are now under the impression that mass shootings are an extremely common occurrence and that as the March For Our Lives Movement (organisation started by the Parkland movement) says “Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last.” While we can understand why the victims of one of the most brutal school shootings in history might come under the impression that school shootings are a common occurrence (even if we really can’t understand why liberal commentators would) this simply isn’t reality. The amount of mass shootings generally has declined immensely in the last twenty years. The statistics which show this also have a pretty wide ranging threshold for what constitutes a mass shooting, i.e. a shooting of 4, or more people.
As such school shootings are actually extremely rare. This doesn’t mean that the reality of school shootings, especially one as brutal as the one that took place at Stoneman Douglas, is negligible. The fact that children have to live in such an alienated and violent society that mass shootings even happen with any regularity at all is a function of the fact that the kind of society we live in doesn’t provide us with the safe and secure lives we need. It does however, mean that the urgency with which gun control advocates push gun control policies, at least when they appeal to a fake school shooting epidemic, is a manufactured narrative with not much basis in reality.
The Specter of The Mentally Ill
People such as myself with mental illnesses are often used as argumentative tools for liberals when making the gun control case. We are perceived to be unpredictable a-moral crackpots that will snap and go on killing sprees as a result of the most minor offenses. As such in order to keep those damned mentally ill from getting their hands on guns we need universal background checks, mental health screenings, or even as the Parkland “manifesto” proposed to “change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement”. This particularly ill-informed and downright offensive snap proposal from the manifesto states it “will allow us to prevent people who are a danger to themselves or to others from purchasing firearms”. As a mentally ill-person I refuse to be categorized as a potential mass shooter and be denied my democratic right to own a fire-arm as a result of said categorization.
The mentally ill are not murders waiting in the wings. We are people, with moral compasses and conscience. Most of us are good people that are just as horrified by the mass shootings as anyone else. Contrary to the narrative painted by gun control advocates we are typically victims of violent crimes rather than perpetrators of them. The police who the Parkland manifesto want to roll back doctor patient confidentiality to give more access to information have a history of killing mentally ill black women in cold blood as Kimberley Crenshaw points out in this lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DW4HLgYPlA&t=35s
This method of gun control argument is a function of the saneist society we live in where people without mental illnesses have power over people with them. People without mental illnesses aren’t subject to the automatic assumption of being amoral violent terrorists. Highlighting another theme of this article, the lack of attention payed to the role of white supremacy in the mainstream gun debate, Muslim people are also often assumed to be amoral violent terrorists as a result of racist demonetization of people from the middle-east and white supremacist mass shooter Dylan Roof actively refused to mount the mental illness defense in court vigorously denying any mental illness. The manifesto claims some link between the Parkland shooting and mental health, yet authorities have yet to establish a motive for the shooting.
The Specter of The NRA
Another typical fixture of arguments for gun control that has found it’s way into the parkland discourse is the looming threat of the NRA’s deep pockets. The NRA is argued to be a lobbying machine that can buy out all the proper people to defeat gun control legislation at any time. This bogyman ignores a couple realities. The NRA spends less lobbying politicians than tobacco and alcohol companies do (both tobacco and alcohol kill more people annually than guns) and the NRA’s real power has never come from lobbying. It’s real power comes from it’s mass base of thousands of affluent white men who own fire-arms ready to use them to defend white power and the status quo against people of color and anyone who challenges the first two. Recently the NRA ran an add saying that citizens need to be armed against the threat of antifa (the anti-fascist movement) and other activists and that the police need to “do their jobs” and quell these groups.
The fear of the NRA as a block to gun control legislation also assumes that gun control legislation is even desirable in the first place. As I shall soon get to, gun control legislation should not be desirable to anyone who wants to change society for the better.
Every time a mass shooting occurs gun control advocates deride the lack of gun control legislation and action to implement it by law makers. The March For Our Lives organization says “March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar”. If only we had some common sense restrictions rather than this free for all, and soon, these catastrophes wouldn’t happen. This ignores that gun control laws in the United States are not a free for all. Some states have lax restrictions, but others have very tight ones. Gun owners even have apps which tell them which states they are legally allowed to have their guns in. Clearly the gun violence in the US isn’t a result of lack of restrictions since they exist in many states.
There is the liberal mating call about closing “gun show loopholes” which means that individuals can buy weapons fairly easy without having to go through the legal whoops such as background checks, supposedly this specifically occurs at gun shows. In actuality gun-show loopholes are not appropriately named because usually individuals who buy guns without having to go through legal whoops are people who buy guns from others online, out of the back of a truck, or on the street rather than at gun shows. As such there is a large black market in guns in the United States.
The Bright Idea of Police In Schools
“Increase funds for school security” is the last item on the Parkland “manifesto”. It states “We believe that schools should be given sufficient funds for school security and resource officers to protect and secure the entire campus”. It’s interesting to see gun control activists take up the “no gun free zones!” talking point of the right. Right wing, NRA style gun nuts have been calling for police, armed guards, and armed teachers in schools since god knows when. I can’t imagine why anyone involved in the Parkland tragedy would want more police in schools. The FBI and the local sheriffs department repeatedly ignored warnings that the perpetrator of the shooting was planning to carry it out.
Police in schools is not an untested theory/hypothesis. Since the Columbine massacre in the 90s police officers have been planted in schools left and right, schools surveyed in the early 2010s had much more school resource officers then schools surveyed in earlier decades. The result of this experiment has unsurprisingly been abysmal. School resource officers have simply furnished the school to prison pipeline. Children have experienced brutality and arrest in schools for simply being disobedient (as most youths will be at some point in their lives). Unsurprisingly children of color are targeted much more than their white peers. The end result is a racist policy that funnels children of color out of schools and into the criminal justice system for doing nothing more than being normal kids.
The idea of police in schools is horrendous on it’s face because police are not the protectors that gun control advocates think they are. The ideology of policing institutions states that the police are a preventative armed service for the protection of communities and the public. Neither the history nor the contemporary reality of the police bare this out. In America specifically the police started out as slave patrols that would apprehend run-away slaves. The police have always been an institution organized to carry out coercion which forces the general population under the thumb of society’s dominant classes. Inviting them into our schools is making our children even more susceptible than they already are to such an oppressive institution.
Concluding Remarks Towards a Leftist, Anti-Oppression Gun Movement For Public Safety
As I have shown the gun control rhetoric that has been picked up by the Parkland movement and discourse mostly just imports the problems with gun control rhetoric in general. In the case of rhetoric about police in schools liberal gun control activism has picked up the reactionary rhetoric of the pro-gun right it despises. The positive aspect of the Parkland movement is that students themselves have stood up against a reality where they are terrorized in mass acts of violence. They are correct to organize themselves for a world where this sort of thing no longer happens. Unfortunately the Parkland movement has since been diluted by democratic politicians, liberal commentators, and even Stoneman Douglas’ own newspaper.
The energy of communities organizing themselves for a better future should not go into initiatives to disarm the oppressed, which is what “gun control” means in the final instance. The only way to make a world with the absolute least violence possible, where violence really becomes an irregularity rather than a regular facet of our culture is for those oppressed by the existing capitalist society (workers, people of color, women, queer people, the mentally ill, ect.) to organize themselves into a common movement for replacing the existing oppressive capitalist society with a free socialist one, a society without police, without mass violence, without alienation, where people live together in cooperation to meet each others’ needs. Part of this movement can and should be oppressed people arming themselves. In every instance where oppressed people have organized such a counter-cultural movement for an alternative society they have had to take up arms to defend their project of social change from the existing coercive institutions (such as the police) and reactionary groups bent on reversing social progress in favor of the status quo (groups mirrored by the modern day NRA). In the working class revolts starting in the 1840s leading up the Paris commune the Paris state twice attempted to disarm workers as Fredrick Engels notes in his preface to Karl Marx’s The Civil War In France:
“the disarming of the workers was the first commandment for the bourgeois at the helm of the state. Hence, after every revolution won by the workers, a new struggle, ending with the defeat of the workers.”
“Therefore, as soon as the bourgeois republicans in control felt something like firm ground under their feet, their first aim was to disarm the workers. This took place by driving them into the insurrection of June 1848 by direct breach of faith, by open defiance and the attempt to banish the unemployed to a distant province. ”
“During the war the Paris workers had confined themselves to demanding the vigorous prosecution of the fight. But now, when peace had come after the capitulation of Paris, now, Thiers, the new head of government, was compelled to realize that the supremacy of the propertied classes — large landowners and capitalists — was in constant danger so long as the workers of Paris had arms in their hands. His first action was to attempt to disarm them. On March 18, he sent troops of the line with orders to rob the National Guard of the artillery belonging to it, which had been constructed during the siege of Paris and had been paid for by public subscription. The attempt failed; Paris mobilized as one man in defence of the guns, and war between Paris and the French government sitting at Versailles was declared. On March 26 the Paris Commune was elected and on March 28 it was proclaimed.”
Why the Left-wing Needs a Gun Culture
Gun Fight, Adam Winkler