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Progressives Who Oppose Gun Control

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Lyndon Johnson - Father of Gun Control by Visiting DC

I've always been curious how American progressives got on the wrong -- anti-civil liberties -- side of gun control. In my mind this has been a grave strategic error. I have written elsewhere about the extreme difficulty liberals and progressives face in engaging the working class. I have also been highly critical of their tendency to get sucked into "lifestyle" campaigns (anti-smoking, anti-obesity, vegetarianism, etc.) etc., owing to the deep seated class antagonism this engenders in blue collar voters. Contrary to the stereotypes portrayed in the corporate media, class differences -- and class hatred -- are very real in the US. From a working class perspective, the progressive movement is the middle class. They're the teachers, social workers, psychologists, doctors, lawyers and religious leaders who play a fundamental role in setting behavioral standards for the rest of us. Thus when they tell us not to smoke, eat big Macs, or buy guns, we don't see this as political reform. We see it as an extension of their (privileged) class role.

Here in New Zealand, young upwardly mobile professionals manifest the same zeal as their American counterparts for anti-smoking and healthy eating campaigns. However there's no gun control lobby here. It would be unthinkable in a country where only one third of the population lives in cities. Gun ownership and proficiency are fundamental to the Kiwi way of life, especially in provincial areas like New Plymouth.

The History of Progressive Opposition to Gun Control

For a progressive to take a stand against gun control is a pretty lonely place. There's a 1979 book edited by Don Kates entitled Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out. There's also an organization called the Liberal Gun Club (http://www.theliberalgunclub.com/), whose mission is to "provide a voice for gun-owing liberals and moderates in the national conversation on gun rights, gun legalization, firearms safety, and shooting sports."

Then there's Sam Smith's excellent article in the Progressive Review: Why "Progressives Should Stop Pushing for More Gun Control Laws." Among Smith's numerous arguments, three leap out at me: the exacerbation of "cultural conflict" between rural and urban and wealthy and not so well off, the tendency for gun restrictions and prohibition to be interwoven with the drive to restrict other civil liberties, and the need for progressives to stop treating average Americans as though they were "alien creatures." Smith also makes the point that progressives lose elections as much because of their attitudes as their issues.

In January (following Representative Gifford's shooting and renewed calls for gun control), Dan Baum wrote in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-baum/after-tucson-stricter-gun_b_811696.html) that progressives have wasted a generation of progress on health care, women's rights, immigration reform, income fairness and climate change because "we keep messing with people's guns." He feels it's helpful to think of gun control as akin to marijuana prohibition -- all it does is turn otherwise law-abiding people into criminals and create divisiveness and resentment.

And finally there's a blog by vjack at Red State Progressive entitled Ambivalent About Gun Control (http://www.redstateprogressive.com/2011/01/ambivalent-about-gun-control.html). Vjack mainly focuses mainly on differing interpretations of what the 2nd amendment says and what the Constitutional framers intended:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Gun control advocates claim this means Americans only have an "un-infringed" right to keep and bear arms as part of a state Militia. However I tend to agree with vjack, who believes that five years after a bloody revolution our forefathers were probably referring to the right "to hold their government accountable through violence." If we interpret the 2nd Amendment this way, all gun control legislation is unconstitutional.

How Progressives Came to Oppose the 2nd Amendment

None of this explains, of course, how progressives got on the wrong side of this issue. US gun control legislation. US gun manufacturers wrote the first gun control legislation in 1958, in an effort to restrict Americans' access to cheap imports. However, owing to its civil liberties implications, it ran up against stiff Congressional opposition until 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson played the race card and used the unprecedented 1965-1968 inner city riots to pass a watered down version of his original gun control bill. It required gun dealers to register guns and ammunition, banned the mail order and interstate sale of guns, and instituted a lifelong ban on felons (even on non-violent convictions) owning guns.

Using Gun Control to Control African Americans

Progressive "scholarly" research into gun control generally makes two equally salient points: 1) the aim of gun control legislation is to control people (mainly disenfranchised minorities and the poor), not guns and 2) in countries with strict gun control laws, the use of deadly force is restricted to the police and army, as ordinary citizens aren't trusted to play any role (including self-defense) in maintaining law and order. See Dr Lech Beltowski -- How Governments Create Crime.

America's extreme preoccupation with gun control appears directly related to their 200 year history of slavery and the oppressive Jim Crow laws that followed emancipation. As Steve Ekwall writes in the "Racist Origins of US Gun Control" (http://www.blackwallstreet.freeservers.com/gun%20control.htm) and Clayton Cramer in "The Racist Roots of Gun Control" (http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/cramer.racism.html), the targeting of African Americans with early gun control laws is extremely blatant.

In the south, pre-civil war "Slave Codes" prohibited slaves from owing guns. Following emancipation, many southern states still prohibited blacks from owning guns under "Black Codes," on the basis that they weren't citizens and not entitled to Second Amendment rights. After the 1878 adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, which finally acknowledge blacks as citizens, southern states imposed high taxes or banned inexpensive guns, intending to price blacks and poor whites out of the gun market. Ekwall quotes from the 1909 Virginia University Law Review, which describes the need for "prohibitive tax"on the privilege" of selling handguns as a way of disarming "the son of Ham," whose "cowardly practice of "toting' guns has been one of the most fruitful sources of crime". Let a negro board a railroad train with a quart of mean whiskey and a pistol in his grip and the chances are that there will be a murder, or at least a row, before he alights." [Comment, Carrying Concealed Weapons, 15 Va L. Reg. 391, 391-92 (1909); George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal (GMU CR LJ), Vol. 2, No. 1, "Gun Control and Racism," Stefan Tahmassebi, 1991, p. 75]

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http://www.stuartbramhall.com

I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW (which won a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Award) about a 16 year old girl who (more...)
 

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A fellow Kiwi blogger left the following perceptiv... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Friday, Aug 26, 2011 at 6:02:33 PM
Those who delegate to others responsibility for th... by Donald on Friday, Aug 26, 2011 at 8:28:11 PM
politicians... by Donald on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 1:34:16 PM
Having served in the Gulf of Tonkin and knowing wh... by Donald on Friday, Aug 26, 2011 at 8:21:21 PM
Thanks for this, Donald.... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Friday, Aug 26, 2011 at 10:36:48 PM
Donald - I agree with you and always agree wi... by mike buchan on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 4:13:35 AM
After our far east cruise '65-'66 we returned to L... by Donald on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 9:05:10 AM
MIKE---USS Hornet. Fire me a line at Parker_SF@hot... by Donald on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 12:38:01 PM
Mike, when were you aboard, which years. Did you m... by Donald on Wednesday, Aug 31, 2011 at 9:47:49 AM
familiar with guns, as Kev the Farmer points out, ... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 12:14:41 AM
about how brave they are because of their guns, wh... by bogi666 on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 6:51:45 AM
is more convoluted, and humorously, some people fa... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 11:50:17 AM
The Pennsylvania Dissent is widely cited as the ma... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 11:58:28 AM
links:The Human Cost of Gun Control.20th Century D... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 12:47:53 PM
Another reader on my personal blog sent me a defin... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 6:27:02 PM
definition.  Of course, most powerful works o... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 1:27:56 PM
Here in Florida, a couple years ago laws were pass... by Robert James on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 6:33:29 AM
... by Linda Milazzo on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 11:09:49 AM
Dr Bramhall's excellent article very perceptively ... by Michael Rose on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 8:37:07 PM
There MUST be both war and crimes to justify the o... by Donald on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 7:29:39 AM
gun control enabled the British to colonize India.... by bogi666 on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 6:45:06 AM
I'd like to see that. ... by Rob Kall on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 11:01:50 AM
See: http://www.gandhism.net/hisownwords.php"Among... by Pine Buffalo on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 12:56:29 PM
Is society sane enough to have unrestricted gun ow... by Kevin Tully on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 7:59:17 AM
without it this society wouldn't exist. Double egd... by Donald on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 12:25:27 PM
Firearms like any tools become dangerous when used... by Donald on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 9:24:55 AM
and I've hunted my entire life.  i agree that... by Kevin Tully on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 9:44:08 AM
but have been living near San Antonio for a while ... by Donald on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 1:32:36 PM
They're fun to shoot for one!  ... by Joni Greever on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 5:27:22 PM
what is an assault weapon, and what appears to be ... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 5:35:20 PM
I was about to compose a similar short piece in re... by Pine Buffalo on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 6:20:42 PM
I simply punch holes in paper targets or disintegr... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 11:21:05 PM
Although not full-auto, so called assault rifles w... by Donald on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 7:09:48 PM
The author has rightly identified gun control as a... by Pine Buffalo on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 10:42:09 AM
It's a long story, but last year my ex-husband (R)... by Joni Greever on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 5:38:05 PM
And thus raised his hand. Ok, I'm kidding. Bu... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 6:38:16 PM
You say guns have one purpose which would violate ... by Joni Greever on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 6:57:21 PM
Ammo supply is exactly how the firearms problem wi... by Donald on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 6:24:00 AM
is one of those comfy cliches that impart a sense ... by landtorpedo on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 5:40:24 PM
This is easily the best piece I have read in the l... by Jack Heart on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 9:00:04 PM
I like the way you describe the humanitarian eliti... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 10:31:20 PM
Americas history makes globalism a dangerous occup... by Jack Heart on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 9:03:53 PM
Princeton psychologist Mark Hooper did some invest... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 10:36:54 PM
We will have to cordially disagree on the Manchuri... by Pine Buffalo on Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 at 11:32:58 PM
Since you are a doctor of psychiatry you should kn... by Jack Heart on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 12:02:20 AM
If you oppose gun control, you're not a progressiv... by Perry Logan on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 5:23:47 AM
Automobiles have killed a lot more people than gun... by Donald on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 6:48:59 AM
Yeah, they'll represent slavery all right...ours! ... by Joni Greever on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 10:50:10 AM
out, legal drugs cause a lot of harm, and often su... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 1:52:39 PM
Big pharma's now on a campaign to test every stude... by Joni Greever on Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 4:19:21 AM
I too am sorry about your son...and I agree 100% o... by sbaker on Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 8:50:27 AM
because those wearing that label are too often rig... by Pine Buffalo on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 11:20:09 AM
Concur with Pine Buffalo...but there are circumsta... by fusion on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 6:55:40 PM
I see the issues you raise as more nuanced than is... by Pine Buffalo on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 8:39:01 PM
Having been young in 1968, I clearly recall the da... by Pine Buffalo on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 8:47:01 PM
It's hard to misuse a gun when one is bent over a ... by Kevin Tully on Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 7:34:36 AM
I've heard all the arguments against gun ownership... by John Shriver on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 12:48:04 PM
Jared Loughner?  Progressives don't want to t... by Kevin Tully on Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 8:58:34 AM
I still see violence as short-term thinking and, u... by martin weiss on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 6:30:30 PM
...that his favorite part of being president was h... by Joni Greever on Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 4:04:48 AM
... by Joni Greever on Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 4:07:50 AM
... by Joni Greever on Wednesday, Aug 31, 2011 at 9:37:02 PM
On a purely material level, it seems as if civilit... by martin weiss on Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 6:45:33 PM