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Revolution Is a Warm Gun: Rethinking the Left's Positions on Violence and Gun Control

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Tony was the first gun-toting revolutionary I ever met. A Jewish African-American studies major, he quoted Frantz Fanon in the twilight of the Reagan era. When he popped by the school cafeteria, he was usually upset about something - the frat-boy student government, the state of Black America, a shop owner admonishing a customer, "Don't Jew me." Tony once vowed if a revolt suddenly "went down" in Baltimore, where we went to college, he would join in. "It would be premature," he said, but he would nonetheless grab his assault rifle and give his life fighting alongside the rebelling urban underclass. I thought, "This guy has a death wish."

I didn't realize how right I was. One day in the cafeteria, someone said, "Did you hear about Tony? He killed himself. Gun to the head." Rumor was his young wife and baby daughter were at home when he did it.

I've been thinking about Tony and what he represented in terms of the left's relationship to guns. Namely, why is it that so many leftists - and by leftists, I'm referring to self-described radicals and revolutionaries, not liberals - are against gun control?

Despite the Aurora and Newtown massacres, it's almost impossible to pass effective gun-control measures. It's not enough to attribute lax gun laws to our founding mythology, a violent culture or the power of the gun lobby. After all, same-sex marriage has triumphed, and reproductive rights still exist, despite the same mix of power, money and culture in the opposition's corner.

What's missing from the pro-gun-control camp is a genuine grassroots campaign, and that's where the left comes in. Pick an issue and the left is organizing around it - climate justice, labor, rape culture, immigrant rights. But why not gun control? Because, most leftists, myself included, agree with the principle Tony advocated, which is political violence - meaning collective self-defense - is a necessary though not sufficient means of securing freedom from a violent state. 
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