The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 1      January 14, 2013

Both sides of ‘gun debate’
target rights of workers
(lead article, commentary)
The Dec. 14 killing of 26 elementary school students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., has sparked sharp debate among politicians and pundits from the left and right of bourgeois politics. But all the proposed “solutions,” from gun control to expansion of armed cops in the schools, share a common target—the rights of working people.

Calls for more gun control have been led by liberal figures like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Dianne Feinstein from California.

President Barack Obama asked Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and to pass legislation that would impose a background check on any person purchasing firearms from private sellers. Obama assigned Vice President Joseph Biden to lead the charge for restrictions on gun and ammunition purchases.

The Journal News, a suburban New York newspaper, published Dec. 24 a map with names and addresses of handgun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties.

From the other side of the bourgeois debate, Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association executive director, opposed the call for government restrictions on guns in a Dec. 21 press conference and instead demanded the government post armed cops in every public school across the country and maintain an “active national database of the mentally ill.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun,” he said, “is a good guy with a gun.”

LaPierre blamed the Connecticut rampage on the media, Hollywood and video-game makers, which he referred to as a “corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, announced plans to deploy armed volunteer “posses” around Phoenix-area schools.

Bloomberg, who the Times dubbed the “chorister” for the gun control campaign, defended what he called the city’s “proactive” policing methods. “We send our police officers to problem places where there are problem people,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program Dec. 16, hailing New York’s “stop and frisk” policy that overwhelmingly targets young Black and Latino men.

Some conservatives joined in liberal calls for more restrictions on gun sales.

“The best we can do is to try to detain them, disarm them and discourage ‘entertainment’ that can intensify already murderous impulses,” conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Dec. 20 Washington Post. He called for targeting what he described as a “small cadre of unstable, deeply deranged, dangerously isolated young men.”

“But there’s a cost,” he adds. “Gun control impinges upon the Second Amendment; involuntary commitment impinges upon the liberty clause of the Fifth Amendment; curbing ‘entertainment’ violence impinges upon First Amendment free speech.

“That’s a lot of impingement, a lot of amendments,” he says. “But there’s no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.”

The shooter in Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, was clearly mentally ill. He killed his mother, then shot and killed 20 children and six school staff before killing himself.

Media reports that Lanza suffered from autism or Asperger’s Syndrome and he has been described as mentally unstable by some who knew him. This has led to a sharp debate over reactionary calls for special registries of the mentally ill or increasing their forcible institutionalization.

Funds for mental health programs slashed

Meanwhile, funding for mental health programs are being slashed all across the country. South Carolina cut their mental health budget by 39.3 percent from 2009-2012, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported. Illinois cut 31.7 percent, Washington, D.C., cut 23.9 percent and California cut 21.2 percent. Capitalism both fosters antisocial and violent behavior and places a low priority on treating those with mental disorders. Mental health care is first and foremost a commodity—and often not very profitable.

Capitalist rulers fear that the deepening economic and social crises of their system will force bigger battles with working people ahead. They seize on every opportunity to cut away at political rights, seeking to make it harder for workers to fight back.

In the current debate, most representatives of the propertied rulers stress the need to strengthen the armed bodies of the capitalist state and their related institutions—the cops, courts and “registries” of dangerous people.

And many want to restrict workers’ access to guns, seeking a monopoly on arms in the hands of their cops and military forces.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution—like the rest of the Bill of Rights won in struggle by workers and farmers that serve as restrictions on and protections from the government—guarantees the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” against government infringement.

Opponents of the Second Amendment argue that “public safety” necessitates scrapping that right as a relic of the past enacted in a different period when popular militias existed and before the invention of automatic weapons.

But working people are not safer with a monopoly of firearms in the hands of cops and other armed bodies whose job is to protect property and prerogatives of the capitalist exploiters. Defending all workers’ rights against stepped-up encroachments by the bosses and their government become more, not less important today, as the employing class mounts assaults on our wages and working conditions.

The Second Amendment is among the constitutional protections that working people wielded as part of the mass proletarian fight for Black rights in the 1960s. Groups like the Deacons for Defense and Justice and Robert Williams’ NAACP chapter in Monroe, N.C., maintained their right to bear arms and used them to stay the hand of racist thugs and cops, protect social protest actions and Black communities and prevent bloodshed.

At the same time, the working-class movement has nothing in common with the gun-rights politics of rightist militia outfits or with vigilante “justice” and so-called Stand Your Ground laws that promote them. But the working-class political battle against such reactionary movements and laws cannot be advanced by calls for government restrictions on any rights of working people.

Anti-social violence and senseless murder do not come from video games or legal rights to own guns. They are not a product of too many constitutional rights or too few armed cops at every corner. They are first and foremost a by-product of social relations under capitalism—buttressed by cop brutality, deaths and maimings on the job, and bloody wars of conquest abroad.

And violent crimes within the working class can be exacerbated by the myriad social pressures that mount under the grinding effects of the capitalist crisis.

At the same time, the rise of mass working-class struggles to come will replace capitalism’s dog-eat-dog values with social solidarity, just as they always have in the past. It’s this solidarity and the transformation of working people and their view of themselves that develops in the course of struggle against capitalist exploitation that is the most powerful weapon against anti-social behavior of all kinds.  
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