With William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech to the Democratic National Committee in 1896, the Democrats accepted into their midst a populist bloc of voters that periodically pulled the party leftward, an influence that lasted nearly a hundred years. Bill Clinton led the effort to exorcise the progressive elements after the party suffered heavy losses in the 1994 midterm elections, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the best known member of a new generation summoning Democrats back toward progress. And all of this has roots in the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, a concern for ordinary people over the interests of the wealthy that blessedly has been extended to all ordinary Americans rather than just white farmers.
The Republican Party had its own experience with popular movements, starting with abolitionism at its founding and coming back under Teddy Roosevelt, but Republicans discovered wealthy Americans in the Gilded Age, and after T.R. and Taft departed the presidency, the party has been firmly on the side of the powerful. After the Democrats joined them in the 90s, this left the country without a major party to represent ordinary people.
To raise the economic consequences of this is to be accused of engaging in class warfare. To this, I say so be it, but I also wish to expand the conversation to consider the role that gun control plays in this conflict.
Consider the Mulford Act, a law enacted in 1967 in California to ban the carrying of loaded weapons in public, a law that the NRA and Ronald Reagan supported — the latter having signed it as the governor of the state. Gun control advocates love to cite this as evidence of the gun rights movement’s hypocrisy, since the law was passed after members of the Black Panther Party openly carried guns in public to defend their rights. But these supporters of gun control should consider the stance they are taking. If you support a law that was tailored to restrict the civil rights aspirations of minority groups, you need to ask yourself if guns are your actual motivation.
Gun control has historically been supported by racial minority groups in America, though things have shifted in the era of Trump, but to me, this is the predicted result of the work of the economically and politically privileged, pitting poor and working class whites against poor and working class members of other races so that all groups do not join together to topple the system that keeps the few well off at the expense of the many.
The reality is that the people who are in charge will always be armed — whether armed themselves or vicariously through their security agents. The president can threaten to send economically disadvantaged Americans off to war and enjoy the protection of the Secret Service, but if working-class Americans express a desire to see the president’s life put in danger, they can expect an intrusive visit from the same agency. A bank will receive the enthusiastic aid of law enforcement at all levels to pursue robbers, but when the same bank cheats borrowers out of their homes, law enforcement will just as enthusiastically aid evictions. These examples go on and on, and in every case, the forces of the government will have weapons — weapons that many states do not permit ordinary people to possess legally. And no amount of gun control is aimed at changing this fact.
Gun control is class warfare, the determination that some people deserve to be protected while the majority ought to serve without complaint. By contrast, respecting the right of the people to own arms for their own individual and collective defense is a basic recognition of the proper source of power in a society. It is an acceptance that we should not have layers of privilege that cannot be challenged.