The People's Right to Bear Arms

Michael Pollak mpollak at
Sun Apr 25 23:39:59 PDT 1999

On Sun, 25 Apr 1999, Jim heartfield wrote:

> In message <Pine.NEB.4.10.9904232304260.24733-100000 at>,
> Michael Pollak <mpollak at> writes
> >
> >So libertarian gun laws are not necessary for revolution. Rather
> >revolution is necessary for there to be any point in having guns.
> I see things differently. The state's monopoly of violence is an
> _ideological_ constraint over the mass of ordinary people, much more
> than it is a physical constraint. It represents an acceptance that the
> state acts in the interests of the community, while the community itself
> is dangerous. To give power to the state, you must have a
> correspondingly low opinion of your fellow human beings. If you believe
> all the crime panics then it is natural enough to want to be defended
> against your neighbours, by the police. But the real danger comes from
> the police, not your neighbours.

I quite agree with you that breaking the power of crime panics is crucial to mobilizing people for progressive ends. But lowering the level of lethal violence in society seems crucial to me to bring about this end.

The more I think about it, I more I wonder whether our differences might not reflect the different situations of our respective societies. You live in one where the police by and large have all the guns. I live in one where the population has quite a lot of its own. As far as I can see here, the result has been a relative increase in the firepower and violence of the police as compared to those of Britain (hollow point bullets, indeed) and an increase in the power of crime panics to grip the public's imagination, as evidenced by our (almost) world record imprisonment rate, and the fact that a majority of my countrymen support the death penalty.

In both our countries, I think we agree, the discourse of crime is an means of legitimizing both racial oppression and the oppression of the poor. But I have always assumed that people in my country are more gripped by crime panics than people in your country on this evidence of our supporting more draconian laws. (Heck, when I found out the average *life* term in Europe came out to 15 years even I was stunned.) I also assume that we're not naturally bigger scaredy cats, but rather that it comes from the fact that our homicide rate is 4 to 14 times that of Western European countries. (All other rates of crime are in the same ball park.) And that if we brought it down nearer towards the European level, people would be less afraid of their neighbors, less prone to believe in crime panics, and we could convince the majority to stop imprisoning such a large number of poor and black people. And this would be a progressive ideological effect in every way. And that we could bring this rate down by decreasing the availability of guns. There's my reasoning, wrong as it may be, in a nutshell.

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that when the police have a monopoly on guns, as in your country, they have a greater legitimacy in the eyes of the populace -- there is a wider and deeper acceptance that they act on behalf of the community. And conversely, when, as in my country, the police do not have a monopoly on guns, they are held in greater suspicion. Is that fair reprise? I think there might be some missing terms in this argument, but let's grant it for the sake of argument. Does it follow that loosening up the gun laws in Britain would a good thing? Because it would generate more suspicion of the police? Do you think this suspicion of the police would outweigh the increased suspicion of one's now by definition better armed neighbors? And do you think the result would be more laws to curb the police, and fewer crime panics? Judging from my society, I think the opposite would be the case. But I'm interested to see how things look from the other side of the fence, where previously I'd thought the grass was greener in this respect.


__________________________________________________________________________ Michael Pollak................New York City..............mpollak at

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