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Shooting back is just as violent as shooting first



What? Is the NRA trying to create a new market? With gun sales plummeting since Trump's inauguration and the market among conservatives utterly saturated, ginning up fear of the groups they've armed makes perfect sales sense.

"Arming the Left" (by Michael Siebert, May 18) spins a dystopian tale of Nazis shooting crowds of demonstrators and posits, "Let's say you're black or Jewish or" fill in the blanks. "You're unarmed and your belief that something like this could never happen here has just been shattered."

I am Jewish. I am well aware that it can happen here. It already has. Many times. Blacks, native people, poor people and minorities know it intimately, from lynching and Jim Crow to native genocide and gay bashing. All were and are carried out by armed men who believe they are righteous.

That's why I advocate pacifism. A philosophy that undermines the legitimacy of violence as a solution will ultimately make us all safer. Learning nonviolent communication, conflict resolution and de-escalation are critical, but are nowhere mentioned in the article. Strong community is critical. If that "20-year-old kid storming toward you with a pistol on his hip" sees you as the friendly neighbor, rather than the armed other, he's more likely to talk rather than shoot. If you are armed, he will be more likely to draw that pistol. Are you likely to shoot him even if that pistol stays on his hip? Will your weapon embolden you to use violence? If you're armed, are you any different from that kid?

The United States has a long, dismal history of political violence. It happens in a context, not in a vacuum. Understanding the context is key to understanding violence and building movements that are far more effective at stopping it. Picking up a gun doesn't begin to address the reasons for violence. Throwing more weapons into the mix can only make things worse as each side points to the arms and violence of the other to justify its own aggression.

George Ciccariello-Maher says, "bearing arms as a leftist isn't just about self-defense—it's about building movements." This can be true. But it says nothing about the nature of the movement or the perils weaponry brings.


One movement mentioned is the Black Panther Party, which initially took up arms in a very disciplined manner to effectively resist police brutality. Bearing guns helped force police to follow the law. They were also the Panthers' Achilles heel, because many believed it was appropriate to use those guns. The FBI sowed the seeds of mistrust, making some Panthers believe that others were government infiltrators. The ensuing paranoia led many party members to kill each other and the party literally self-destructed.

American history is replete with movements that picked up arms only to have those arms used against them. The point is that weapons are most effective in the service of government and corporate interests. They are least effective and most dangerous among left movements.

There's a darker side to weapons: You have to dehumanize your adversaries to use them. Nick Campbell "thinks that people beholden to certain ideologies simply can't be reasoned with, because they fundamentally don't respect the rights of other people to exist." That's a textbook example of dehumanizing your opponent. To say that the left should dehumanize others to make ourselves safer because they're dehumanizing us is dangerous hypocrisy. When the left and right dehumanize each other, where does it end? What are the limits of self-defense? Shoot the armed kid charging you? With his gun still on his belt? Kill the leaders? Kill anyone you determine "simply can't be reasoned with"? Do we really want this country to look like Syria or Sarajevo? No? Then dial back the rhetoric before yet another righteous murderer does something we'll all regret.

"...[Y]ou plunk down $500 for a handgun... you immediately feel safer holding it. For the first time since November, you feel like you have some power." These are the chilling words of a writer who can't think through the consequences of rhetoric. I sure don't feel safer knowing that a gun is your only conception of power. It sounds so romantic to be on the front lines, breaking the norms, using guns and machismo to protect civilization from... them. That's Hollywood, not reality.

Let's build community. Let's organize movements. Let's learn de-escalation. Let's teach conflict resolution. That's what would make me feel safer. And that's what would build a stronger and more egalitarian society.

Robbie Liben is a computer programmer in Missoula and a lifelong non-violent political activist.


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