Friday, July 8, 2016

Gun rights probably won't win you the revolution

The murder of two more black men in the United States has prompted the left to once again relitigate its position on gun control. I won't attempt to tackle that broader controversy here, but one narrow claim I do want to take on is the theory that restrictive gun control laws are counterrevolutionary insofar as they prevent the proletariat from arming and defending themselves - against capitalism in general, and killer cops in particular.

Here, my objection is simply tactical: I just don't think that conventional gun rights can give us the ability to defend ourselves from the modern hypermilitarized government of the United States. Not at the level of revolution, and not even at the level of effectively resisting racist police violence. While black folks may successfully defend themselves from the cops on occasion, these will be exceptions to the rule. If such incidents evolve into a meaningful resistance movement, the state will crack down on it, and the state will win.

I've touched on how this would actually play out before. The left would put up a better fight than the militant suburbanite gun-dad right, simply because of demographics, and because black Americans in particular have a lot less to lose - but eventually, any significant resistance against the US government would just devolve into guerrilla warfare, which
relies entirely on transforming every inch of contested territory into a battleground. On using civilian infrastructure and civilians themselves as shields and shelters from superior forces. And on defeating firepower with willpower by protracting the battle as long as possible. It cannot be fought without scorched earth and salted fields. It can’t end without leaving a scarred civilization and a neurotic society in its wake. And more likely than anything, it doesn’t end at all – it simply persists in a horrific stalemate for decades.
It seems perfectly obvious to me that this is how any serious militant self-defense campaign would actually play out. We saw this exact pattern of escalation in Ferguson: as soon as the protests began to pose even a minor threat to police control of the city, the tanks started rolling in - literally - and the opposition was effectively squashed. There was no political will on the ground to fight back against this, and even if there were there is zero chance that the protesters would have succeeded.

More to the point, however: even if you do think that the left in general (and black folks in particular) can build some kind of meaningful resistance against capitalism and racist policing, it seems hilariously unlikely to me that such an effort would actually remain legal. As soon as the state and the police feel threatened, the very first thing that will happen is the government will impose emergency restrictions on our right to self-defense. The terrorist watchlists will expand, the FBI raids will ramp up, legislators will suddenly be fine with passing gun control laws that long seemed politically impossible, etcetera etcetera. The idea that the white supremacist bourgeoisie is going to sit on its hands because we've lawyered them into a corner with our expansive second amendment rights is absolutely absurd.

Some arguments on the left against aggressive gun control laws hold up a lot better - for example, one can insist that people should have a right to self-defense against extrajudicial murder, whether or not that right actually translates into the possibility of a broader and effective resistance movement. Here, I just want to reject the revolutionary argument for trying to use the law to guarantee gun rights, which strikes me as pretty silly for reasons given.