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by Bennett Muraskin
Take the current proposal to stop persons on the federal “no fly list” from buying guns. Such a ban would arguably affect innocent Arab and Muslim Americans who do not belong on that list to begin with. Mistaken identity is definitely an issue when it involves foreign surnames, but even assuming the accuracy of the “no fly list,” when the National Rifle Association argues that people who have not been convicted of any crime should not be deprived a right possessed by other Americans, it has a point.
What about a more comprehensive system of background checks of potential gun buyers to weed out those with criminal records? Leftists must know that this would have a disparate impact on black and Hispanic minorities, who make up a disproportionately large part of the prison population. If we believe that prisoners, upon release, should have all of their rights restored, including the right to vote, and should be protected against employment and housing discrimination, etc., how can we justify treating them as second-class citizens by barring them from owning guns? It is no secret that millions of racial and ethnic minority members have felony records. If we restrict gun ownership to the “law-abiding citizens,” we are leaving guns in the hands of white people, many of whom are harbor racial and ethnic prejudices. (Think of the mass-shooter Dylan Roof.)
There are, of course, many gun-control measures for leftists to rally around, including a ban on military-style assault weapons and the stockpiling of excessive ammunition. But should we go so far to advocate that no one except law enforcement should have the right to carry weapons in public? With so much evidence of police misconduct, should those improperly fired upon by police have no right to fire back? And can we always trust the police to protect progressives against potential armed attacks from the right?
Many rightwing opponents of gun control believe that the average citizen should have access to weapons to protect themselves against government tyranny. Well, people on the left, from the Chicago anarchists before Haymarket to Eugene Debs and Malcom X believed the same thing.
Personally, I do not believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms. In my judgment, our “founding fathers” meant to limit this right to citizens serving in militias. Still, I can understand why some Americans fear a society in which arms are largely in the hands of criminals who obtain them illegally. Are these people necessarily paranoid and/or racist? I simply propose that we might also fear a society in which arms are largely in the hands of the police and the military and no one else.
These are topics that leftists should openly debate.
Bennett Muraskin is a contributing writer to Jewish Currents and author of The Association of Jewish Libraries Guide to Yiddish Short Stories, among other books.