Sunday, January 6, 2013

The SWP and the Second Amendment

The January 14th issue of The Militant includes an article by Louis Martin on the Newtown school massacre. It opens
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.
Now when The Militant accuses both sides of being "bourgeois," then one is usually entertained by radical-sounding bombast, followed by no position whatsoever. The paper's position on global warming fits into this mold--they really take no sides. It's not for nothing that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has earned the sobriquet abstentionist.

But this article is different. Not only does The Militant take a position, it has a view that puts it radically at odds with American society. They manage to both oppose second amendment rights and gun control at the same time. Therein lies the tale.

The key to understanding The Militant's position is to note that the quoted paragraph does not cover the waterfront in terms of "bourgeois" opinion. There is a third position held by many members of the NRA, and one which (with caveats) I share. That is, schools would be much safer if law-abiding citizens could carry guns. Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, knew that he'd be the only person on campus with a gun until the cops arrived. Since it took twenty minutes for the police to get there, he had plenty of time to methodically shoot students and teachers one at a time. He didn't need semi-automatic weapons or big magazines--twenty minutes is plenty of time to reload. The key to his success was that the school was a "gun-free zone," and he didn't have to worry about anybody shooting back. Take that certainty out of the equation (by giving citizens guns), then likely as not Mr. Lanza would not have chosen that school as his target.

Posting an armed guard at the school helps a little bit. But Mr. Lanza would know who the guard was and could take him out fairly easily. It complicates his planning somewhat, but not by much. On the other hand, if some group of random citizens are armed, first he doesn't know who or where they are, nor can he predict how they'll respond. He cannot plan for that situation, and he being a meticulous planner, wouldn't have gone there in the first place. (Now I am sympathetic to some of the counter arguments, e.g., teachers carrying guns in classrooms full of 12-year-olds may not be a good idea. But this takes us off-topic.)

Declaring a "gun-free zone" is tantamount to putting a big target on a facility. It is really stupid public policy.

So The Militant simply ignores this third, "bourgeois" opinion. To see why, it is useful to quote the Second Amendment in full:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Now I'm neither a lawyer nor a historian, but I think I understand how this has been interpreted by the courts. The first clause--about a well-regulated militia--grants the state a monopoly on violence. That is, private armies and militias are not allowed in the United States. Neither are armed vigilante groups. Further, under the first clause, there are limitations on what weapons citizens can own. They can't have howitzers, or tanks, or automatic weapons.

The second clause grants an important exception to the state monopoly on violence, namely that citizens have a right to defend themselves, their property, and innocent people around them. Now this right is carefully circumscribed, and varies considerably depending on location and situation. Far be it for me to describe it in full. But for the current discussion we can put it this way: Citizens have a right to defend themselves until the police arrive.

When seconds count, the police are only minutes away. In Newtown, the police were twenty minutes away. During that time, supposedly free citizens were denied their constitutional right to defend themselves. I do not suggest that anybody should be allowed to carry weapons into a school. But if not teachers, surely there is a janitor, or an assistant principal, or a secretary, or a cafeteria worker--and preferably several of these--who are willing to take some responsibility for the safety of their pupils and coworkers.

The Militant opposes both clauses of the second amendment. They are clear about their opposition to the state monopoly on violence, and they actively advocate private militias. The article says,
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.
This paragraph completely misinterprets the amendment. Of course The Militant only supports some vigilantes. The next paragraph begins "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." So the paper is inconsistent: they only support goons on their side of the argument.

Indeed, the article's argument against Stand Your Ground laws indicates that the SWP opposes the second clause of the amendment as well. From The Militant's perspective, "gun-rights" means only that certain vigilante groups which the SWP happens to support should be allowed to carry guns. Everybody else should let themselves be lined up and shot as class enemies.

This, of course, is Brown Shirt politics. Or rather, Red Guard politics. It doesn't matter--the only difference is the color preference.

Were the SWP a significant organization this would be scary. Fortunately they're inconsequential, so I can still be friends with them. But it is important to call them out on what they really believe. They oppose the second amendment. They oppose the rule of law. And they support Redshirt violence in support of their cause.


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