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The (Current) Gun-Control Debate Is Not Really About Gun Control

The (Current) Gun-Control Debate Is Not Really About Gun Control

Ken Levy

It has been a little over a month since the Stoneman Douglas mass shooting, a week since hundreds of thousands of high school students walked out of class to protest government inaction on gun control, a few days after the shooting at Great Mills High School, and a few days before the national March for Our Lives.

There is gun violence problem in America worth solving. Lets start by solving the gun violence of the Armed Forces.


Yes. The glorification of the US military—which necessarily avoids the question of what its mission actually is—sets the stage for troubled kids to solve their problems with tools of the military trade.

Add to this the proliferation of first-person-shooter video games and Hollywood blockbusters qua recruitment ads, and the over-prescribing of psychoactive drugs in lieu of counselling and therapy, and suddenly the US’s homicide rate, far and away the world’s highest, begins to look either inevitable or, worse yet, calculated.

And no, clear plastic backpacks aren’t going to solve this problem.


It’s a trade off. A large number of gun owners are willing to trade deaths for less restrictions. Since they vote on the right, the right feels the need to appease them.

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I liked your reply…thanks.

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This article seems to be an honest attempt at dialogue by either agreeing on a basic premise or avoiding a waste of time by recognizing that without that agreed upon premise there is no possibility of agreement. But I think the author entirely misses the larger political context of the modern gun control debate.

I suspect that the people he refers to as “Second Amendment absolutists” would agree that “the number of homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, and injuries in the U.S. should be reduced”. But they ascribe that problem not to guns but to culture wars and assaults on what they perceive as the American identity. In other words, ‘urban’ crime, ‘immigrant’ crime, and a liberalism that is at once morally permissive and at the same time susceptible to creeping totalitarianism.

Has Prof. Levy ever watched an NRA commercial? There isn’t much talk in those ads about the need for a well armed militia. There is, however, a lot of talk about the people who are coming for your lives, and the government that is coming for your guns.

In the same vein, I find it difficult to take seriously any discussion of gun rights without a recognition of the profound depth to which white supremacy informs “Second Amendment absolutists”. The NRA and Republicans had no objection to gun control when Black Panthers were carrying guns around. Imagery of urban warfare in Chicago and “liberals” like Barack Obama maneuvering to take away all the guns figures prominently in NRA and conservative mythology. As do MS-13, Mexican rapists, and Sharia law. It’s not even possible to understand the 2nd Amendment without an awareness of the pervasive American fear of border fighting with Native Americans and slave rebellions. The abject fear that fuels right-wing extremism in this country has always been informed by white supremacist notions. Pretending that it doesn’t just ignores a big part of the problem.


I’d be interested to see what all the proposals are both state and federal before commenting much further. I saw https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/which-gun-control-proposals-actually-have-a-chance-of-becoming-law which was somewhat interesting, but rather limited in scope (it’s only federal). I’m not a lawer, but I’m pretty sure the second amendment doesn’t preclude a lot of things we can do right now, or try to do over the next decade. Some day, maybe we can discard it, but I don’t see that day anytime soon.

What is needed now is more discussion with reasonable gun owners. This issue isn’t all that different than the abortion issue in my opinion which Trog pointed out that progressives can capture most of the center by simply being willing to discuss and implement modest restrictions on third trimester abortions (as happens in Scandinavia which has much better abortion services and less need for abortions than the US overall I’m guessing). If we can get the center (people who own guns or perhaps don’t, but still think people should be able to own guns) to join us, the NRA isn’t going to have nearly the power it does now.

As an example for what is possible, the NRA fights back 100% on any move to regulate lead out of bullets. This lead exposure is bad both for wildlife (raptors feeding on contaminated flesh) as well as for humans (young kids at rifle ranges are especially at risk - some stories report 5-10x the recommended limit for lead in the bloodstream). But guess what - there are gun enthusiasts who are more clear thinking on the side of getting the lead out than the NRA ever will be. As a vegan, I had to get past reading about “wound channels” in downed animals, but it was interesting reading nonetheless - https://clarkarmory.com/blogs/blog/7-reasons-i-choose-to-use-lead-free-ammunition.

Thom Hartmann has written about the origin of the 2nd Amendment. The Southern Slave States needed to maintain armed militia to keep down slave rebellions. The 2nd Amendment was a way to placate the Southern states at the time (Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia) to maintain the integrity of the brand new “United” States.
The 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with guns per se, but the right of slave states to maintain what they had already - militia - to keep slaves on the plantations, horrid as that sounds to me to write here. Not that the Mid- or Northern states cared very much about the lives of African Americans . . . They allowed this protection to be added to the Constitution!

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It’s not the amendment’s (or its authors’) fault. It’s the misapplication of the amendment and ignorance of its historical context that has supported gun sales, which make gun violence so easy.

Especially in a basic cultural context, including the dominant religion, of the myth of redemptive violence.

This appears to be recognized by some who actively promote violence from the single-shooter to the macro scale. The incoming National Security Advisor, through his SuperPAC, spent $1.2M on Cambridge Analytica psyops to rouse militaristic fervor:

No, you’re ignoring the historical context. Yes, we’d just shucked off England, but to suggest that the writers of the Constitution anticipated becoming just as oppressive (which was mostly about taxation and the trade imbalance created by sending raw materials and buying them back as manufactured goods) is ludicrous. Very few citizens of the 13 states witnessed, let alone participated in, any of the fighting. And they didn’t hear about and vicariously witness every incident as we do today.

You’re also studiously ignoring the modifiers placed on “militia,” “well-regulated.” The Continental Army had been disbanded and existed only as state militias. These were to be the alternative to a standing army, should the need arise.

Misdirection BS. The amendments were and should be considered individually and for their content and applicability.

Respectfully, the 2nd Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, e.g. rights held by the people–voters/citizens in a patriarchal Herrenvolk democracy at the time… Property-owning, white men. The security threats to these citizens were class based–the “mob” or “rascal multitude”–race based–the overarching repression of blacks and maintenance of slavery in slave states and white supremacy–frontier based–the encroachment on land in a “wild state” or held by “uncivilized” persons, namely American Indians or foreign rivals–the subjects of rival European powers–UK/Spain or the Mexican successor state to New Spain.

The Second Amendment has, at least to my knowledge, never been used to defend against charges of sedition or rebellion–witness the Whiskey Rebellion, the trial of John Brown for promoting “servile insurrection,” etc., the U.S. Civil War, various labor rebellions and riots from 1877 through Blair Mountain and beyond, the list goes on and on.

If one talks about the “protection of citizens from government tyranny” with fellow gun owners, in about fifteen minutes someone will invoke the post-WWII “Battle of Athens” in eastern Tennessee where a group of veterans effectively overthrew a corrupt and anti-democratic local government. These same people will never have heard about similar WWII vets in Monroe North Carolina, led by Robert F. Williams, who stood down the klan during the same “double V” period… At no point will any “own the history” of the white supremacist terrorism in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period where rifle clubs and other private militias were organized along racial lines and “overthrew tyranny” defined as the political enfranchisement of people of color/ freedmen, the exercise of occupation by victorious U.S./Federal troops, the organization of state police forces like the short-lived Texas State Police, swiftly superseded by the old-time Rangers, etc. In defeating any post-Civil War political project of freedmen, part and parcel included the white militia derogating to themselves the “right” to deny access to arms by the people they intended to continue to oppress.

This history, and the points raised above by other commentators about NRA/Reagan Republican opposition to the “open carry” advocated by the Black Panther Party for Defense, and other attempts to use the 2nd amendment to illustrate, politicize, and fight against inequality, and yes, defend against government repression do illustrate the white nationalist politics of the “gun debate.” I’d go so far as to state that gun ownership, from the outset of North American history, is actually a feature or component in the social construction of the “white race” and the concomitant “ordeal of America.”

I reject Ken Levy’s point–or rhetorical flourish?–that he is unable to find firearms-rights-proponents and “gun lovers” who concede that the high rates of spectacular mass murder with firearms, murder rate, gun suicide, and negligent killings are not a national scandal, a tragedy, and a serious social problem. There really is, however, and here in support of his point, a large group of “gun lovers” who are entirely willing to contemplate the high levels of gun deaths as essentially analogous to motorist deaths-- that is, ultimately some sort of “price to pay” by society for living in “freedom’s shining city on the hill” or whatever… Tragic.

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The “well regulated” part of the militia, held as “necessary for the security of a free state” referred to the said militia having arms in order, being proficient in their use, and demonstrating this through periodic musters.

That the individual’s right “to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” referred to the standing notion that no free-born (read: white) man shall be disbarred the exercise of arms. Standing armies were thought inimical to a representative republic, and also expensive. Professional soldiering was derided as a dishonorable occupation–a paid hireling or mercenary, at the orders or beck and call of aristocratic officers in a sort of “palace guard.” All European armies were just such dynastic and colonial enforcers. With the possible exception of the Swiss militia-based army.

The U.S. elite had, as you say, “shucked off England” due to taxation, trade imbalances/colonialism" etc. Westerners had been hostile to British attempts to forestall exploitation of the Ohio River valley and settlement beyond the Appalachians in the imperial need to keep Indians from waging further costly wars as the crown sought to pay for its hugely expensive wars with imperial rivals… No French threat in North America, interests increasingly diverging from those of the Metropolis, and “virgin” land beckoning territorial expansion and exploitation really did motivate more than a “few citizens” outside the writers of the Constitution and their social peers.

Yes, I used those words, but in a completely different context. You don’t seem to make any real argument with mine, but you sure did show off your knowledge (though with no backup).

All that good sense and interesting information, and then you resort to the roadkill misdirection. Cars are not designed to kill, they have other purposes, and they’ve been extensively redesigned, as required by law, to kill less. Guns have only the purpose of killing. Stop it.

IN SUPPORT of bringing solutions to the tragic loss of life, each of us are contribute in ways we can. If you would like to join us, TONIGHT, we are creating an environment for respectful and proactive discussion on the important issue of gun violence, gun safety and gun control.

Any campaign for gun control that frames the debate in terms of “confiscation” would be suicidal. How about for starters (second to banning all assault weapons for both police as well as civilians) calling for government “buy-backs” of excess of guns? What does household stashing of a hoard of weapons have to do with the right to self-defense?

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In terms of the historical context in which it was written, the right to “bear arms” refers to muscats, able to fire one bullet at a time before reloading. Semi-automatic weapons in the 21st century are another animal altogether, and should be no more included under the rubric of weapons for arming a regulated militia than, say, homemade bombs.

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Muskets, please, not grapes. Have you seen the “Ed” ad?

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