Nivedita Majumdar “The Health of Nations” Jacobin

As socialists we appreciate the violence of capitalism in denying basic necessities like decent housing and schooling to large sections of the population. But do we wait for the overthrow of capitalism and reject interim solutions to remedy those ills?

Even when leftists lend qualified support to gun control, they limit it only to the banning of assault type weaponry. Once again, they’re focused only on mass shootings where shooters tend to use such weaponry. But it’s handguns that are responsible for the overwhelming majority of homicides.

In 2013, 84 percent of black victims were killed with guns, and 73 percent of these were killed with handguns. Trayvon Martin was killed by a 9mm pistol.

The argument, made by some that gun control must be opposed because the criminal justice system is irremediably racist, is untenable. It has been argued that the implementation of laws governing sexual assault and domestic abuse are often racialized. Yet few make the case that the state should therefore no longer criminalize sexual assault.

It is no surprise that blacks themselves do not share the Left’s skepticism on gun control. In repeated polls, more than 70 percent of black respondents support gun control, compared to some 40 percent of Whites. This puts progressives casting gun control as a “white liberal” issue in the awkward position of appearing to know better than black communities themselves what is in their interest.

Given the history of racialized policing, the call for unarmed police, especially for police on patrol, is certainly one progressives should push. Countries like the United Kingdom, Norway, and New Zealand offer successful instances of the practice. Linking this demand to a wider call for gun control is one way to get it into popular consciousness.

The students marching across the country clearly see the link between the political influence of the National Rifles Association (NRA) and mass killings.

Political protests typically erupt against an immediate offending entity — it could be a police precinct or a health care company. But just as these entities are manifestation of larger social forces, so is the NRA.

While socialists may lose sight of the NRA in their focus on root causes, the NRA knows how to recognize the enemy. In a speech after the Parkland shooting, the NRA CEO, Wayne LaPierre repeatedly issued warnings of a tidal wave of socialists and a “socialist agenda” of stripping firearms from citizens.

Confronted with a failure of the state in providing them basic safety, students took to the streets. They may not be protesting institutional racism or capitalism but they grew up in an era when the country saw more of those protests then it did in the prior four decades.

Compared to their parents, the generation is much more liberal on questions of oppression and discrimination, and there is every reason to believe these protests will radicalize many of them. Instead of bemoaning the media attention accorded to the protesters, progressive critics should come out in wholehearted support.

Whatever the successes of such resistance in prior regimes, because of today’s capitalist state’s overwhelming superiority in the _scale_ of violence it can perpetrate, ideas of armed resistance are both untethered to ground realities and actively counterproductive.

Imagine the state response if Occupy or Black Lives Matter included the idea of armed defense or resistance. And also imagine what it would have done for the future of organizing.

There’s a reason the carceral state is happy to promote the proliferation of arms among its citizenry. It knows that such proliferation poses no threat to its rule. But there’s a deeper more insidious logic at play beyond pandering to gun manufacturers.

**Timothy Shenk: **What is the carceral state?

Elizabeth Hinton: Historians and social scientists all have different definitions. The formal definition is that it’s the law enforcement officers who police the streets and help maintain order—it’s the court marshals, the lawyers, the probation and parole officers and, of course, correctional officials. So, it’s all the formal institutions of the criminal justice system. But the way that I think about the carceral state has been deeply informed by Foucault’s idea of the carceral, which is a carceral continuum or carceral network. In this book I’m trying to get us to expand our definitions of the carceral state to think about social programs that are operating in low-income, urban communities from the Kennedy administration until today, and the ways in which these programs impose various forms of supervision and surveillance. Often people who come into contact with these various state programs eventually end up in prison.

The Left needs to abandon its reliance on the imagined power of guns, and focus on what does build alternative sources of power. The only way to fight against the capitalist order is patient, ground-level organizing in our organizations, our unions, our community forums, and when possible, in the electoral arena.

What we need are not isolated armories but the mobilization of the masses. And joining with powerful student protestors and millions of people finding their voices against gun manufacturers and the NRA will help with that work.