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A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control

Anarchist Opinion

In early modern England, regulation of firearm ownership was closely intertwined with the struggle by the landed classes and capitalist agriculture to restrict the laboring classes’ access to independent subsistence from the land. This included enclosure of common woodland, fen and waste — in which landless and land-poor peasants had previously hunted small game — for sheep pasturage or arable land. It also included exclusion of the common people from forests via the Game Laws and restriction of hunting to the gentry.

A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control

by Kevin Carson
Center for a Stateless Society
January 17, 2013

From its very beginning, gun control — the attempt to regulate the possession of means of self-defense by the ordinary populace — has been closely associated with class rule and the class state.

In early modern England, regulation of firearm ownership was closely intertwined with the struggle by the landed classes and capitalist agriculture to restrict the laboring classes’ access to independent subsistence from the land. This included enclosure of common woodland, fen and waste — in which landless and land-poor peasants had previously hunted small game — for sheep pasturage or arable land. It also included exclusion of the common people from forests via the Game Laws and restriction of hunting to the gentry.

Under the slaveocracy of the American south, firearm ownership was prohibited by Black Codes that regulated free blacks. And after Emancipation, whenever the old landed gentry managed to successfully assert its power against the Reconstruction regime, former slaves were disarmed by house-to-house patrols, either under the Black Codes or by such irregular bodies as the Klan.

The same was true of the Civil Rights struggle a century later, after World War II. In areas where armed self-defense efforts by civil rights activists were widespread, they significantly improved the balance of power against the Klan and other racist vigilante movements. Numerous armed self-defense groups — e.g. the Deacons for Defense and Justice, whose members used rifles and shotguns to repel attacks by white vigilantes in Louisiana in the 1960s — helped equalize the correlation of forces between civil rights activists and racists in many small towns throughout the south.

Especially notable was Robert Williams, who in 1957 organized an armed defense of the Monroe, NC NAACP chapter president’s home against a Klan raid and sent the vigilantes fleeing for their lives. Williams’s book Negroes With Guns later inspired Huey Newton, a founder of the Black Panthers Party.

Speaking of the Black Panthers, no discussion of the origins of modern American gun control would be complete without recognizing their role in inspiring the modern right-wing gun control agenda.

Foreshadowing current groups like Copwatch and Cop Block, the Panthers in 1966 organized armed patrols of Oakland streets with rifles and shotguns, stopping to witness police interactions with local residents and provide information and offers of legal assistance when necessary.

In 1967 Republican state assemblyman Don Mulford of Oakland, a vocal enemy of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the Black Panthers, responded with a bill to prohibit publicly carrying firearms in California. The BPP’s Bobby Seale protested the bill by leading a Panther detachment, armed with .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns and .45-caliber pistols, up the steps of the statehouse (“All right, brothers, we’re going inside”), through its doors, and into the public viewing area. There Seale read a statement denouncing Mulford’s bill as an attempt “at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror and repression of black people,” and warning that “the time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.”

Mulford’s gun control bill was signed into law three months later by Governor Ronald Reagan.

Irregular workers’ militias and armed defense formations played a significant role in labor history, both in the US and abroad. During the Copper Wars at the turn of the 20th century, the governors of several Rocky Mountain states instituted martial law — including door-to-door confiscation of firearms from workers’ homes and striker encampments. In some cases, as with the West Virginia Coal Wars and the Homestead strike, workers fought pitched battles against Pinkertons, state militia and sheriffs’ deputies.

In Spain it was largely owing to workers’ militias, organized under the auspices of the CNT trade union federation and the parties of the Left, that Franco’s July 1936 coup attempt failed. In the areas of southern and eastern Spain where Franco’s forces failed to carry the day, workers’ militias often played a decisive role. In some areas armed workers drove Franco’s troops back into their barracks after pitched battles and burned them alive inside.

From its beginnings the state has been an executive committee of the economic ruling class and an instrument of armed force by the owners of the means of production, enabling them to extract surplus labor from the rest of us. I can’t imagine why anyone would expect the state’s gun control policies to display any less of a class character than other areas of policy. Regardless of the “liberal” or “progressive” rhetoric used to defend gun control, you can safely bet it will come down harder on the cottagers than on the gentry, harder on the workers than on the Pinkertons, and harder on the Black Panthers than on murdering cops.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center's Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation, and his own Mutualist Blog.

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A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, January 21 2013 @ 09:23 PM CST

Be wary - very, very wary - of any argument by a so-called "anarchist" that meshes so neatly with the right-wing ideology of Fox News.  All of Kevin Carson's opinion pieces, without exception, focus exclusively on the evils of government control of this, or government regulation of that, and never once has he examined the broader dynamics of hierarchy, oppression, and exploitation that permeate our lives as consumers, workers, students, family members, etc. 

It boils down to this:  Carson is totaly blinded by his "free market" ideology, and sees the entire world in terms of property rights, contracts, and market transactions.  When he criticizes gun control, he does it from the perspective of someone who believes private individuals or businesses should have the right to sell as much as they want of whatever they damn well please, without any of that nasty State interference.  I imagine there are many private arms dealers in the world who would find Carson's ideas in this regard quite congenial.

To sum up:  anarcho-capitalists like Kevin Carson, despite the publicity they get from Counterpunch or Infoshop News, are nothing but an irritating boil on the ass of the real anarchist movement.

A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control
Authored by: Admin on Tuesday, January 22 2013 @ 12:10 PM CST

Good morning, Makhno. Kevin Carson is not an anarcho-capitalist.

A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, January 22 2013 @ 02:33 PM CST

Good morning, Admin.  Have you looked at Kevin Carson's web site?  It is chock full of articles praising private property, "free markets", etc.  See, for example, the Market Anarchist FAQ.  He calls it "market anarchism", I call it "anarcho-capitalism".  Carson himself nowhere makes a clear distinction between those two terms, and if you can explain how they are different, please do so.

A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control
Authored by: Admin on Tuesday, January 22 2013 @ 07:31 PM CST

Market anarchism is not the same thing as anarcho-capitalism. Carson has stated in numerous articles that he is an anti-capitalist. He's not trying to be an anti-capitalist and pro-capitalist at the same time.

But we've gone over this before.

A (Brief) People’s History of Gun Control
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 23 2013 @ 08:48 AM CST

Yet again, you are dodging the question, Admin, so let me do your homework for you.  Please check out the following short section, Are market anarchists for or against capitalism? from the Market Anarchist FAQ on Kevin Carson's web page, Center for a Stateless Society:

That depends on what one means by the word “capitalism.” Some market anarchists label their views as “anarcho-capitalism,” while others prefer to identify with “anti-capitalism” or “libertarian socialism.” Still others reject both the labels “capitalism” and “socialism” as too hopelessly distorted in the public consciousness to be used meaningfully in reference to what they advocate.

While there is some ideological diversity that goes along with those three different approaches to labeling market anarchism, they tend to agree on some broad essential prescriptions.

The reason for this disagreement within market anarchism about labels is a flaw in the way capitalism and socialism are conventionally defined by the general public. Non-anarchists who identify as socialists tend to define the economic status quo as “capitalism.” Non-anarchists who identify as free market advocates tend to agree with the socialists that the status quo is “capitalism.” Both typically agree that the status quo is a result of the alleged “free market economy.”

Market anarchists, however, typically disagree that the economic status quo is a result of a free market economy and instead tend to attribute systematic economic injustice to market intervention by the state — that is, to divergence from the free market ideal of absolutely zero state intervention in the economy.

Market anarchists have adopted different labels and bodies of rhetoric to explain their views to a general public that can have passionate views associated with the words “capitalism” and “socialism.”  No matter whether one calls oneself a “socialist” or a “capitalist,” there will be a segment of the public that assumes the market anarchist supports an unjust status quo they oppose — or perversely wants to make it worse.

Now, Admin, with all the evidence in front of you, I ask you to explain how "market anarchism" is different in any essential respect from anarcho-capitalism?