The socialist case for gun rights

The surprise of this primary season is probably Bernie Sanders. The independent Senator from Vermont who calls himself as a democratic socialist and is running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is doing very well in polls, drawing large crowds to his events, and has even raised considerable funds for a politician who relies on small donors. Some might say Hillary Clinton should be worried. In the beginning no one bet anything on him, and some think that his support for gun rights would affect support from his liberal base, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

In America, people usually assume that everyone on the left supports gun control. Outside America, not many people speak about gun rights. As a Peruvian lefty, I never thought about guns. The exception was when I saw Bowling for Columbine, after that I supported gun control even if in my own country buying guns is actually very complex. I think that non-American leftists tend to sympathize with Michel Moore and other progressives from Hollywood, not out of affection for liberalism but to oppose conservativism; all gun rights advocates in the liberal conception are portrayed as gun nuts.

Some years after I had taken a position on guns, I joined the Socialist Party of Peru and started to be interested in the history of the New Left, first in my own country, then in America. When I read the libertarian Anthony Gregory defending the use of guns by the Black Panthers, my position changed and I became a supporter of gun rights. But that wasn’t my first step to being sympathetic to guns, I think it was reading the left-libertarian Alexander Cockburn that I started to be suspicious of the liberal arguments for gun control.

The idea is very simple — self-defense. Minorities throughout history have had to defend themselves from the aggression of centralizing powers including the State, from the militia movement to the Zapatistas. It doesn’t matter if they are a minority based on ideas or ethnicity, the thing that matters is that they are going to be able to defend their community, just like the Panthers did before the Reagan crackdown.

It is funny that liberals still often portray gun enthusiasts as closet white supremacists or something similar. Sure Dylann Roof was a real racist, but what about the Huey P. Newton Gun Club? Despite the popularity of Bernie Sanders, I don’t think that liberals are going to agree with him on gun rights, I think they would had been more comfortable with a gun control liberal like Elizabeth Warren, but the fact that Hillary was far to the right that Bernie became a choice for an average Democrat voter. Even if Sanders’ popularity hasn’t anything to do with his position on gun rights, maybe there are baby steps to toward a left favorable to the Second Amendment.

Some argue Sanders’ support for gun rights is simply a matter of Vermont being a rural state where guns are popular and maybe there some truth in that, it would be very difficult to get elected as a supporter of gun control. Some people think socialists are just like liberals, but it’s more complicated. In the years of war against the Sandinistas in Central America, even some social democratic parties from Latin America were in favor of them. While social democrats oppose revolutionary socialism, they more or less agreed that the Nicaraguans should resist. If you say that you are a fan of Che Guevara, it doesn’t make sense to be in favor of gun control. On the contrary, if you want to empower people, give them guns and the possibility to defend themselves.

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