Oh yeah, guns…..

The sniper murders in Dallas provide another chance to think about what legal access to firearmsPOLICE RELEASE PICTURE OF DALLAS SNIPER SHOOTING SUSPECT in the United States should look like.

The demonstrators included individuals legally and openly carrying weapons. Apparently, even with good intent, this was of little help in deterring or responding to the bad guys with guns.

In the next few days, we should find out how the shooters obtained their weapons, and whether existing or proposed laws could have–or should have–prevented it.

Importantly, shooting at police is an example of individuals standing up to what they see as the illegitimate exercise of government authority. Some gun rights advocates point to recourse to armament as a defense against tyranny (e.g.).

This strikes me as an extraordinarily weak argument. First, citizens with grievances and guns can do a lot of damage acting against people and policies that most of us don’t see as tyrannical. Second, the government and the police will always be better armed, and the threat of armed opponents is used to justify harsh and violent policing.

The image of armed opponents is generally white and rural. The tragic crime in Dallas may change that. It’s worth remembering that the image of armed black men made it possible for conservative politicians to support gun control…long ago. In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which repealed open carry in California in 1967. It was directly inspired by the tactics of the Black Panther Party, whose members appear at right on the steps of the Capital building in Sacramento.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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