As the Democratic Party once again rejects progressives, telling us that our role is to shut up and vote as we’re told, the number of voices on the left who demand progressive values is on the rise. With movements like the People’s Party doing exactly what Democrats have said to do to beat them — building a viable organization — there is a sense of the power that we on the left in fact possess in a nation where elections are often decided by a few hundred votes.
And among this movement, I have seen a question asked several times that I am treating as encouraging: What do we think about the Second Amendment?
In years gone by, this would sound like an exploration into how guns can be removed from our society, especially given the stereotype of the left — all too often deserved. But as Trump’s version of the Freikorps fan out across the country, I am seeing increasing numbers of my fellow progressives who realize that individual gun ownership is one defense of the people.
The case of Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager from Illinois who traveled to Wisconsin to oppose the protests following the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police officers is but the latest incident to suggest to leftists that being armed is worth considering. While the details are still coming out, one thing is clear: When Anthony Huber tried to use a skateboard to stop Rittenhouse, the latter’s AR-15 was a more effective weapon.
Another point that shows up in incident after incident is that the right wing will have guns. The agents of the authoritarian government will have guns. Protesters can at times overcome opposing force with non-violent action, and in the long term, institutions of law work better than blocs of vigilance, but these peaceful approaches depend on the strength of humanity and the burden of exhaustion in the parties involved. The conflict in Northern Ireland turned political only after decades — centuries, really — of politics by other means, and with Brexit, violence may return. The wars in the Balkans came to an end only when NATO nations backed Bosnians and other minority groups with sufficient force. And the classic example is the Allied powers coming together to destroy their generation’s incarnation of fascism in World War II.
These are cases on a national level, and it is possible to cite other examples in which pacific movements won — staying with eastern Europe provides many nations that did not go the route of Yugoslavia, but instead defeated authoritarian rule by popular protest, though only after decades. Gandhi’s resistance in India achieved independence, but today, that country suffers from nationalist impulses at home and stares across its border with Pakistan with varying degrees of contempt and alarm. The bottom line conclusion to me is that non-violent approaches are preferable, but it is good to be ready if they do not work. Those eastern European nations that marched their way out of Soviet control were in a hurry to join NATO, for example.
As I said above, the right wing will always have guns, and as some five million Americans have become first-time gun owners so far this year. With Democrats stating that new gun control will come if they are elected, it is likely that many of those new buyers disagree with one corporatist party at least on that point — though I am encouraged to see that fifty-eight percent of new owners are blacks and women, whatever implications can be drawn from that. If more on the left discover the security and enjoyment of gun ownership, gun control becomes increasingly unrealistic.
As a realist who wants to accomplish progress, I understand that winning takes multiple approaches. We have to engage in political activity, but at the same time, we need to be able to protect ourselves, since dead people are not supposed to vote, and in any case, their votes are often exploited. And basic rights — whether addressing guns, speech, bodily autonomy, or whatever else — are a fundamental aspect of what any progressive movement has to be about.