Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Arizona GOP and gun lobby back racist 'poverty firearm confiscation', welcome state intervention into gun market

Oh, sweet irony.  Perhaps rivaled only by our magnificent sunsets, it's the one consistent joy of living in Arizona.  Endorsing what is in effect a confiscatory transfer of guns from poor people of color to the white middle class, Jan Brewer signed into law Monday a bill that blocks cities that organize gun buyback programs from destroying them after they are handed in.  According to the new law, cities will be required to sell them instead.

Thanks to the panic around gun regulation these days, it's a seller's market.  So, who's selling, and why?  We can start by looking at some cold, hard facts.  With Arizona's unemployment rate still higher than the national average after years of a grinding, ongoing economic crisis that has disproportionately affected minorities, many people are surely selling these weapons for short term cash or to take care of basic needs.  Indeed, a recent Tucson buyback ("no questions asked") offered only grocery store gift cards as payment (a restriction that probably itself reflects racist and anti-poor biases).  

An upcoming buyback in Phoenix offers grocery and electronics store gift cards -- bread and circuses, essentially, for the poor.  Gun dealers in Tucson themselves set up shop outside the buyback event, offering $50 -- a pittance -- to anyone willing to sell.  And, as you would expect, Arizona ranks high in terms of population in poverty, and that rate itself is highly racialized.  Thus, many of the "voluntary" gun sales probably ought more realistically to be viewed as poverty confiscations from a politically disenfranchised class of people.

In addition, Arizona has one of the worst levels of felony disenfranchisement by race in the country.  According to a report by the Sentencing Project, an organization that advocates for sentencing reform, Arizona ranked in the top ten of states for felony disenfranchisement.  And, when you drill down into those numbers, what you find is that they break down quite disproportionately along racial lines.  Arizona ranks near the top, with 12.1% of the black population being disenfranchised.  This in a state where African-Americans make up only 4.5% of the overall population.
               
                                               
                                
If white Arizona gun owners are a persecuted group, constantly under threat, then never before has such a targeted group found such a sympathetic ear in government.
                                               


Indeed, Arizona incarcerates whites at rates far lower than non-whites.  Blacks in the Copper State are locked up almost six times as often as whites, and Latinos are incarcerated at 1.8 times the rate as whites -- almost twice as often.  And this is not a result of whites committing less crime.  As an Arizona AZLU investigation of DPS stops revealed, cops are more likely to stop people who aren't white -- despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with contraband after being searched.  And this despite cops searching whites less frequently.  So cops are paying more attention to people who aren't white.  Or, looked at another way, whites are getting a pass from cops.  What this means, of course, is that all things being equal, you are more likely to wind up a felon in Arizona if you aren't white.

What's more, felons actually have more reason to need to own a gun than non-felons, given that they are much more likely to live in high-crime parts of the city where policing is adversarial or non-responsive, or where it makes more sense to deal with problems first hand rather than involve the police, whether to avoid making trouble or out of a fear that the cops will just make the situation worse.

Meanwhile, anyone who has attended any of the seemingly constant stream of 2nd Amendment rallies at the capitol can attest that the political wing of the pro-gun movement is overwhelmingly white.  And they are the opposite of disenfranchised.  Gun rallies feature a virtual who's who of party officials.  The Republican power structure caters to their paranoid ravings, passing one gun liberalization law after another.

This is remarkable because it goes so clearly against the popular narrative of gun rights under siege that predominates the movement.  It's a peculiar feature of the white middle class right in Arizona that it perceives itself to be constantly under attack, despite its political agents being firmly ensconced within the political establishment.  If white Arizona gun owners are a persecuted group, constantly under threat, then never before has such a targeted group found such a sympathetic ear in government.

So what we have here is a state-mandated intervention in the gun market for a privileged set of consumers -- at the expense of a disenfranchised class with little recourse -- quite ironic given the free market, anti-government sensibilities of most gun owners!  Further, this new statute is designed to prevent cities from circumventing a 2010 law aimed at forcing them to sell seized weapons to federally licensed dealers, thus making it set to neatly resolve the supply problems that white middle class gun owners have been complaining about since the latest wave of white gun-grabber paranoia set in, clearing gun store shelves state-wide.  Of course, the irony is that this supply problem is essentially being solved by state-legislated gun confiscation, via poverty and felony.  However, white middle class gun owners seem fine with it because they are the beneficiaries.

Of course, this lines up perfectly with the history of white gun ownership in the United States, which despite the rhetoric of the armed white right, has always really been about defending reactionary and racist tyranny policies, not opposing them.  White gun owners like to trot out and appropriate the imagery and history of armed struggles of people of color, whether slaves or Native Americans, but the truth is the very armed whites who today use those arguments would back then have almost certainly been the defenders of slavery and the wars against Indigenous peoples.

How do we know?  Because that's what armed whites did then.  Despite their current fantasies, with very rare exception (John Brown, the militant left in the 70's), armed white people have served again and again as a bulwark of tyranny, not as its opposition.  They have formed slave patrols, Klan night riders, Anti-Mexican militias, border vigilante paramilitaries, strike breakers and gangs of Indian-killers.

                                              

Even disregarding the history, if a well-armed white population were de facto a counter-force against contemporary government authority, then one is hard-pressed to see the evidence of it in a society that imprisons more people than any other country on Earth and apparently feels no restriction on its imperial ambitions from its gun-toting domestic population.
                                               


But this should come as no surprise: after all, this is a settler society, and in settler societies the armed population serves as an auxiliary to state power, not a hedge against it.  Even disregarding the history, if a well-armed white population were a de facto counter-force against contemporary government authority, then one is hard-pressed to see the evidence of it in a society that imprisons more people than any other country on Earth and apparently feels no restriction on its imperial ambitions from its gun-toting domestic population.  The vast majority of armed whites, it turns out, have always had a very selective definition of tyranny and likewise have been all too eager to defend reactionary, racist politics.  This echoes today in the white gun movement's support for border controls and armed immigration militants.  And as we see with support for this law, that's a hypocrisy they are quite happy to embrace.

But what would a really consistent pro-gun position look like?  Here are a few ideas.  First, it would reject this state-backed confiscation from the poor and marginalized and propose instead remedies to poverty and criminalization.  Second, it would reverse the pro-gun movement's parasitic relationship to a disenfranchised population; rather than seeking to expropriate the guns owned by poor and non-white Arizonans, it would instead insist that their rights be defended and extended.  Importantly, it would demand an end to the ban on felons owning firearms.  And it would call for an end to police seizures of weapons from the poor, regardless of legality.  Finally, it would demand a demilitarization of the police and immediate measures to end racist disparities in policing, imprisonment and sentencing.  It would break publicly with law enforcement, especially racist reactionaries like Sheriff Paul Babeu and Joe Arpaio.  And it would end any affiliations with racist border militias and make its rallies no-go zones for fascists.

The white pro-gun movement needs to break from its reactionary tradition and embrace in a genuine way the history it currently exploits and engages with only superficially.  If it wants to cite the legacy of slave and Indigenous resistance as its lineage, then it needs to stop fetishizing the imagery and start standing by the content.

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