There are about 30,000 gun related deaths in the U.S. per year, plus a huge number of lesser violations ranging from minor wounds to lasting disabilities. Gun control of diverse sorts could hugely diminish these losses, yet U.S. gun control is ineffectual.
On one side are gun manufacturers plus roughly 40 million U.S. gun owners. On the other side, are 240 million potential victims plus millions of people who have already suffered from the death of a family member or close friend.
Domestic guns have violently killed more U.S. citizens since JFK was murdered then all wars in this century. Thatâ€™s right, more U.S. citizens have died in the last forty years from gun shots administered by other U.S. citizens or by themselves than have been killed in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars, and all other military engagements this century combined. And, for that matter, traffic and work-related fatalities occur at an even greater pace than gun fatalities and could each also be dramatically reduced by simple social policies.
Given that putting guns in the hands of abusers, maniacs, and criminals, and making them fireable by children and other non-owners is socially insane (as are the U.S. transport system and corporate ownership relations), and given that we understand that the prime defender of all this social insanity is the relentless elite pursuit of profit and power, letâ€™s look beyond all that at the activist equation that we ourselves are part of.
In short, year after year how come gun advocates so badly beat gun critics?
There is no need to focus here on the gun companies. They have their agenda and their power and we know about that.
There is no point bemoaning here the cravenness of media or democrats, or judges. We know about that too. Thatâ€™s all business as usual.
The issue I want to highlight is the relative mobilization of people on the two sides. Why does more passion, commitment, and money oppose gun control than supports it?
Of course, in the U.S. we have guns for toys and our country celebrates war as a national pastime. But even given that, in the broad public shouldnâ€™t the pro and anti-gun activism ratio be the reverse of what it is?
How is it possible that paranoia about having all guns outlawed (which no one proposes), plus philosophical and emotional attachment to â€œgun rights,â€ plus whatever else fuels pro-gun passion, trumps fear about being shot to death (which is warranted), plus philosophical and emotional attachment to sane interpersonal relations, plus whatever else fuels anti-gun passion?
Is it really true that gun advocates who hunt care more about easily buying guns able to shoot 40 armor-piercing, body-shredding bullets in seconds, than gun opponents who buried a loved one care about avoiding further gun tragedies?
Can it really be that there is more passion for having unlimited access to guns in homes, than there is passion for having barriers to ownership by criminals and abusers, even when guns in homes are fifty times more likely to kill spouses or children than to have any effect on intruders?
Why do gun advocates muster so much more clout than those advocating gun control? Why does one side rally vigorously, while the other side mostly yawns?
One answer is to this question is that it is just too hard to answer this question. Letâ€™s write a book about the machinations of Time Warner or of Remington or of the National Rifle Association. We can be accurate about all that.
Let me be a blunt about this. I think we need to answer the subjective question about popular passions and motivations far more than we need another six trillion words analyzing what is wrong with war, poverty, racism, or even corporations. And it isnâ€™t because those structural analyses arenâ€™t valuable. Of course they are. It is because figuring out what prevents people who abhor oppressive realities from actually doing something about those oppressive realities would be even more valuable.
Naturally, this isnâ€™t only about â€œgun rights.â€ Consider â€œrightsâ€ to own factories and hire and fire wage slaves. Those who protect rights of capital against infringement have near infinite passion and commitment. Those who worry about consumers and particularly about workers can barely mount a concerted campaign at all. Shouldnâ€™t 250 million people be moved sufficiently by desires for participation, for dignity, for a fair share of output, for fair conditions, for a say over our labors, and even for survival, to muster more passion, volunteerism, and donations than people seeking a third million, or a thirtieth million, or even a third billion?
Returning to the gun example, suppose you are choosing who to vote for, or what group to send a few bucks. You grew up in a family that had target shooting or hunting as a pastime and you now have a couple of guns yourself. You know that many people hate guns but you like them. You feel, as well, that your gun options could conceivably be revoked.
Right wing politicians offer to defend your gun rights and praise your life style preferences. They argue that any regulation is a slippery slope to having no guns at all. You are working class and you have no trouble discerning that these pro-gun organizations and politicians have zero regard for your well being in other respects. But you also know that they donâ€™t diss you personally, and you know that they do offer to protect this one thing you care about.
On the other side, you see that Democrats and also progressives and radicals who donâ€™t like guns, gun culture, or gun preferences, and broadcast it personally and socially. These gun control advocates clearly have attitudes about health care, housing, income distribution, and work conditions more in accord with your interests and welfare, but their manner says that they donâ€™t much like you personally. They say they only want to make guns safe, but you wonder, wouldnâ€™t they really rather just entirely outlaw them?
So why do you decide to ally with the right wing, ultra rich, born with a silver spoon, gouge out every last penny in profits, Bush/Schwarzenegger type, though doing so contradicts your broad interests? Why does single issue gun advocacy override your other values?
And, on the other hand, if you are a member of the far more numerous group of people who hate gun violence â€“ about 80% of the populace in U.S. polls — how come you contribute so much less on behalf of reducing gun violence than gun advocates contribute on behalf of asserting gun rights?
God comes to visit. God says that she is going to have a vote and act on the results. You can have free access to any gun and gun product from now until eternity. Or you can have free health care, dignity in work, pollution controls, excellent and effective schools, and so on. Is this vote, held with this guarantee, in doubt?
Or, suppose that the choice is only that you can have virtually unlimited gun access plus 30,000 gun-related corpses and 100,000 disabilities per year, as now — or you can have serious gun controls that forbid military type weapons, prevent access by criminals and abusers, and block use by non-owners including the 10-20 children who die daily in gun related shootings, and that in that case the 30,000 people per year will survive and prosper. Is even this vote in doubt, with these guarantees?
I think gun control is weak and gun advocacy is strong not because people like guns more than they hate corpses, and not because of any confusions or complications of the actual issues involved, but because gun users believe they can win their agenda regarding guns, and believe that no one can do much of anything about the other things impacting their lives, and believe that the corpses will pile up anyhow, and because gun opponents ironically also ultimately believe corpses are just the way it is, and believe reductions in violence much less enlargements in justice and equity are pretty much impossible, and therefore think that anti-gun activism is not worth much more than lip service to display oneâ€™s moral stance.
In other words, a working class voter who votes Bush or Schwarzenegger because these candidates pose with a rifle and implicitly advocate people being able to own submachine guns, and who ignores the entreaties of democrats and progressives about gun control and also about schooling and health care and all the rest, is really saying — on this one gun issue I can have my way, on the rest of the issues I canâ€™t, so I will choose based on the gun issue. The corpses will pile up regardless.
And similarly, the gun opponent who says I hate the piles of corpses and I favor gun control, but I have no time or energy or money to put behind my gun control advocacy, is saying — whatâ€™s the point? I canâ€™t win anything that really matters, so I might as well not try.
If this picture is accurate, then the overwhelming obstacle to progressive and revolutionary victories as well, is skepticism. Most people donâ€™t take progressive much less revolutionary potentials seriously. We donâ€™t hear about a possible campaign and think to ourselves about the myriad benefits that would accrue from winning it. We think instead, reflexively, immediately, morosely, about the myriad reasons why victory can never be ours. We always see the glass half empty and leaking, rather than half full and expanding.
I not only see this defeatist perspective operating globally all the time, for example in the line up of energy, commitment, and resources for or against gun control, or for or against restraints on capital, or for or against capitalism itself — I encounter it in my own local work, as well.
I do an alternative media web site called ZNet, for Z Magazine. Roughly 300,000 people a week use ZNet. About 150,000 people get free mailings from ZNet a few times a month. This is not NBC or BBC scale, but it is a lot of folks, who, if they acted coherently, could have tremendous effect.
It is my job at ZNet not only to deliver useful information, analysis, vision, and strategy to our users, and not only to try to cohere amongst them some degree of mutual respect and solidarity, but also to provide reason and means for them to collectively marshal energy and resources to good ends, including keeping ZNet going and expanding ZNet and alternative media more generally.
Of course some of these many folks are very peripheral users of ZNet, which is fine. Some arenâ€™t too concerned about alternative media, they have other priorities, which is also fine. But most ZNet users, I think, do care a lot about alternative media, and do regard ZNetâ€™s operations with considerable respect. For many people, ZNet and Zâ€™s other operations may be their primary link to alternative information and vision able to promote the growth of alternative ideas and practices. And yet, like the leftâ€™s relative incapacity to galvanize support for gun control or to rally workers against capital â€“ it is exceptionally difficult to rally ZNetâ€™s users on behalf of ZNet itself, much less alternative media per se.
I suspect the difficulties involved in all these levels of galvanizing involvement or even just attention have to do with a reflex assumption of incapacity. Why should I give my time, energy, or finances, regardless of how much I agree that gun control would be good, or that restraints on corporate owners or even attaining a whole new economy would be good, or that more and better alternative media would be good? My contributions will not yield much, so why bother making them?
Skepticism about prospects and I suspect perhaps also a kind of embarrassment to be seen as naively thinking that one can make a difference curtail even easy, low cost commitment.
Our good will and humane values donâ€™t repeatedly get trounced because we cannot, in fact, win change. Conditions and possibilities are not insurmountably unfavorable. We fail to win, instead, most often because we think we cannot win.
This sad situation must be reversed both in the large, regarding the institutions of our societies, and also compositely regarding our local campaigns and operations, such as gun control and also ZNet and the expansion of alternative media. How do we improve confidence and thereby in turn increase involvement? Or put differently, what have guns got to do with alternative media? These are question worth our time, I believe.