It’s morning in the mountains of Pakistan. One-hundred and sixty kilometers east of Peshawar, Northwest Frontier Province., the sun rises over the mountains, bringing in a new day for tradesmen and merchants of Darra Adam Khel. For over 120 years, this town has been dedicated primarily to one business, the manufacture and sale of firearms. Without high-tech machinery and without first-world wages, men and boys toil away with attention and skill at building guns and ammunition of every variety. Meanwhile, the ever-present threat of American Predator drones hovers as much in the imaginations of these villagers as the weapons of indiscriminate destruction do sixty thousand feet above. Nevertheless, this town stands as a testament to the crude simplicity of the manufacture of weapons, which has never been halted by the use of force.
Meanwhile, 11,000 kilometers to the west, it’s Tuesday. The president of the most militarily powerful nation in the world is convening a meeting to decide who will be targeted in air strikes to be conducted throughout the following week and who will be spared. This same president has just recently proposed that new legislation be put forward to restrict access to various implements of a magnitude roughly equal to that of those manufactured in the mountains of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. This proposal was put forward under the pretense of providing for the defense of the American people against the threat of their own neighbors, whose access to these implements is unrivaled in the industrialized world.
Should these proposals be added to the ever-expanding doctrine of state will, they will be enforced by the same mechanisms of social compulsion whereby the rest of this will is exacted. Should this be the case, the very same cops who disproportionately target the poor and people of color for drug and other offenses against the will of the state will have a new tool in their arsenal which will allow them to feed the ever-expanding prison-industrial complex with new slaves for the plantations of the present and future. There will be new assaults as occurred at Ruby Ridge (all schadenfreude aside), at Waco, at both MOVE organization headquarters in Philadelphia in Philadelphia, at the Black Panther office in Los Angeles, at Fred Hampton’s house in Chicago, at the scene of a thousand slave hunts of the 1850s. These assaults will mirror the thousands of unnoticed and unreported incidents which have occurred before and since, that have put free people into state-sanctioned dungeons due to the perception of a threat to the monopoly which the state assumes over the “legitimate” use of violence. Should these proposals be put into law, they will only serve to increase the power of the very same state which doesn’t bat an eye at firing hellfire missiles at villagers armed primarily with home-made guns 11,000 kilometers away with complete and total impunity.
The events leading up to the recent surge in discourse around the imposition of restrictions on the possession of weapons by non-state actors has by no means come in a vacuum. Mass shootings have been prevalent in the media over the past several years and, regardless of their anomalous nature and relative infrequency as compared with America’s normally high rate of homicide and/or murders committed by police (you are vastly more likely to get murdered by a cop than by a mass shooter), are still indicative of a social problem in the United States. This is a social problem which must be realistically and actively addressed. No one can deny that the deaths of the children of Sandy Hook were tragic and unacceptable for any society. That said, the increased empowerment of the state relative to those who live subject to its violence will do little to nothing to curb the social and economic dislocation which socializes those who would perpetrate such atrocities into their will to do so. Regardless of the abuse of the memory of these atrocities to strengthen the power of the US security apparatus, it is important to recognize that the debate is being framed entirely on this basis.
The leading thrust of the political argument is that the government must step in to impose restrictions on the owners of firearms for the good of the public. The primary oppositional thrust of the political discourse (as put forward by the National Rifle Association), is that the government must increase the presence of the security apparatus around the places where these atrocities are most likely to happen. In each case, no attempt is made to look at the underlying material structure of weapons in the United States or the material roots of less anomalous violence. The question that you will not hear asked by state operatives Senator Dianne Feinstein, President Barack Obama and fascist enablers within the leadership of the NRA is this: Why are so many Americans armed?
The reason they will not be asking this question is very simple: it is, in part, their fault. The fact of the matter is that the United States has so many guns as a result of being the world’s number one contributor to the international manufacture and sale of weapons. Comprising 1.1% of world GDP, the United States sells around 41% of all weapons sold around the world every year. The fact of the matter is that the arms manufacture industry could not survive in the United States at the scale at which it does if it were not subsidized by the state through military and police purchases as well as the sale of American weapons to military and police forces around the world. The fact of the matter is that if the agents of the state really wanted to get rid of weapons which they felt negatively impacted the well-being of the people, they’d simply stop buying and selling them. That the argument is not framed in this manner should be indicative of their true intentions.
I want to end this on a personal note. I own guns. I don’t own them because I think that some dead old white men gave me the right to do so two centuries ago. The 2nd amendment of the constitution is not relevant to why I feel that people have an intrinsic right to defend themselves from the violence of other people using what implements are available to them. I don’t own them because I think that they will somehow magically allow me to overthrow tyranny if or when it comes in the form of, say, a Multiple Launch Rocket System leveling my home and the five kilometers around it in seconds. As it is clear that the state has far and away more guns and butter than I could ever hope to afford, the idea that political power flows from the barrel of small munitions is outmoded. I don’t own them because I am afraid some broke rogue thief is going to invade my home and take my non-existent valuable things. Using lethal force in the defense of possessions or property is and always will be murder and is, as such, wrong. I own them because of the recognition that there may be a time and place in which these tools become essential to the preservation of my own survival and that of and my friends. I don’t know when this will be or what nature this situation might look like, but I know that it is possible and empirically probable, given human history. I own them because of the recognition that safety is a privilege which presently exists relative to social hierarchies in our society. As a person of color, I don’t feel safe unarmed in parts of Portland and the police certainly don’t make me feel any safer. I own them because we have not yet created the necessary social preconditions which would convince me that I shouldn’t or wouldn’t. The absence of an institution which thinks it’s OK to kill kids on the other side of the world is just one of those preconditions. If we want to make the world a safer place for all, increasing the depth and scope of state power is not the answer. The only answer is revolution.