The Trouble With “Sensible” Gun Regulations

On December 15, Think Progress published a post titled The Five Gun Safety Regulations Even NRA Members Support. In this blog post, Igor Volsky cites a poll conducted by Frank Luntz for Mayors Against Illegal Guns that found a large majority of gun owners and NRA members support some gun regulations. Volsky describes these gun control policies as “sensible” and as “common sense measures.”

But as usual, statist policies with support from both liberals and conservatives serve to perpetuate privilege and injustice. At least two of these gun regulations would disproportionately disarm marginalized and oppressed groups, fulfilling the bigoted function gun control has often been designed to serve.

In 1967, conservatives led the charge in favor of gun control. California governor Ronald Reagan supported the Mulford Act, a gun control law designed to prevent the Black Panthers from carrying guns to defend themselves against racists, including racist police. While modern gun control laws are not so overtly racist in intent, some of the least controversial gun control laws disproportionately disarm people of color and other members of marginalized populations.

Take, for example, the first gun regulation discussed by Volsky. It turns out that a large majority of gun owners and NRA members polled favor “Requiring criminal background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees.” But who would be most impacted by these criminal background checks?  People of color are disproportionately targeted by this country’s criminal justice system.

Thanks to the war on drugs and America’s increasingly draconian immigration laws, they often are prosecuted and punished for completely non-violent offenses. In practice, this means that criminal background checks would disproportionately disarm even peaceful members of marginalized groups that continue to face violence from white supremacists. Similar impacts are predictable consequences of laws that bar convicted felons from accessing firearms. The NRA considers such laws to be constitutional. While laws like this would disproportionately disarm people of color, the majority of people who commit the mass shootings that have sparked our current debate on gun control are white.

The second “common sense” gun regulation Volsky discusses is “Prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns.” Apparently 71% of NRA members polled support allowing the war on terror’s authoritarian apparatus to undermine the right to bear arms. I hope they would be more reticent if they learned that over a million people are now on the watch list. People can be added to the watch list without even being charged with a crime, and there is nothing resembling due process or an accessible way to challenge one’s listing.  The terrorist watch list represents one of the great civil rights violations of our time. Yet apparently at Think Progress it’s “common sense” to propose using this list as a basis for gun control.

The reality is that Muslims disproportionately find themselves targeted by the terrorist watch list. And Muslims also find themselves targeted for hate crimes, as has been noted recently at Think Progress. Can it really be considered “common sense” to disarm those who appear on the terrorist watch list?  The concrete impact will be to disarm Muslims, making them more vulnerable to the bigoted violence that jingoistic fear mongering has wrought.

We cannot separate gun control from the rest of the state apparatus that enforces gun laws. The state criminalizes and profiles members of minority groups, and they will target these same people when deciding who is allowed to access a gun. Anyone who claims to stand for social justice should keep this in mind.

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