Editorial: On sensible regulation of firearms

A candlelight vigil was held in Santa Clarita, CA, after a wave of mass shootings in 2019. (Photo: Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

By Benjamin J. Rizzo, Deputy National Chair of the American Party of Labor.

So-called gun control is a controversial topic in the American communist movement, with many communists vehemently opposing any regulations or restrictions on the ownership and purchase of firearms, often in a knee-jerk way. In my opinion, many of the communists who oppose “gun control” –which is a misnomer anyway; it should be called “sensible regulation of firearms”– often lack the organizing ability to get even as few as five people out to a meeting. To me, these people seem to be caught up in fantasies about firearms and their utility as a tool of revolutionary transformation.

The sad reality is that American society, at least, is awash in firearms although the estimates of the numbers of firearms in civilian hands vary widely. One estimate that uses methodology devised in the 1990s by a retired professor of public policy at Duke University places the figure at 352 million. Another estimate from 2020 by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group representing the gun industry, places the figure at 434 million. Keep in mind that this is in a country with an estimated population of 333 million as of 2022.

In any event, the working class is using these firearms to kill each other and themselves in appalling numbers rather than their exploiters and oppressors in the capitalist class. That’s the bottom line to me. According to statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control, there were around 49,000 deaths from firearms in the U.S. in 2021. This is greater than the nearly 43,000 deaths from motor vehicle crashes that year, although it is eclipsed by the more than 110,000 deaths from opioid overdoses. These gun deaths in 2021 include about 26,000 suicides and 21,000 murders, with the other approximately 1,500 deaths attributed to accidents, “undetermined circumstances,” and killings by law enforcement (557). According to the Washington Post, the actual number of people killed by law enforcement that year could be almost double the number reported since not all law enforcement agencies report killings to the FBI.

It seems to me that a responsible and rational position, a position that corresponds to the material reality of our society — for any communist party that claims to care about the welfare of the working class and that seeks to provide it with the guidance and direction that it so desperately needs — is to advocate for sensible regulation of the ownership and purchase of firearms. This would include limiting sales of firearms to those 21 years old and up so they have the opportunity to gain the maturity needed for responsible ownership of firearms; banning sales of weapons — such as assault weapons (the weapons of choice for alienated young men who aspire to be mass shooters) –that clearly are not compatible with the self-defense needs of civilians; closing the “gun show loophole,” i.e. requiring all transfers of firearms between civilians to be reported to the authorities; and ending the opportunities for people to misuse guns in a fit of temper, such as allowing concealed carry of firearms anywhere and everywhere, which some believe is a cause for the increase over the last few years in road rage incidents leading to death. These incidents went from 70 in 2018 to 141 in 2022, along with a corresponding increase in injuries from road rage shooting incidents (176 people in 2018 vs. 413 people in 2022).

It is irresponsible for any Marxist group that aspires to one day be the vanguard party of the American proletariat –the leading organization of the working class in its struggle for liberation– to just shrug its shoulders and act as though nothing can be done about the carnage (which seems akin to the pernicious idea that capitalism is a “natural” system) and to project the belief that the bloodshed doesn’t matter and doesn’t have political ramifications. If anything, the violence in our society often seems to play into the hands of the right wing as working people adopt reactionary positions on firearms and crime and stock up on firearms in large numbers, often in response to the fears cynically whipped up by the right wing at certain times, such as the election of the first Black president. It is time that communists quit sounding like libertarians when it comes to sensible regulation of firearms that would make society safer, thus would be in the best interests of the working class, and that could reduce the chances of attacks by fascists, such as we saw in Kenosha in 2020.

Editor’s note: This editorial is a follow-up to our recent statement on the immediate and long-term tasks of the struggle against gun violence in America.

Categories: American Party of Labor, Editorials

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