Have Guns, Will Liberate: Inside the civic theology of arms-bearing

Source: The Baffler

European thought on violence and government doesn’t survive transatlantic shipping very well. In the American setting, the story of Hobbes’s state, which seizes for itself the exclusive right to force while providing domestic peace in return, has the reassuring and quaint cadence of a sanitized fairy tale. That’s because in North America, the war of all against all has long been seen less as a problem and more as a solution, one perfectly suited to a settler-colonial population conquering its way westward with non-state militias. Freelance physical force was indispensable in a slave society maintained by violence inflicted lawfully by state and private actors alike. Let loose in the New World, Leviathan goes feral.

And that Max Weber chestnut about the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force? Weber’s catchphrase is sorely tested—if not smashed outright—by the present battery of policies devolving “Stand Your Ground” powers of lethal force to the private individual. Today, non-state violence is warmly encouraged, protected, and given incentive by the state itself.

The 2012 massacre of twenty young children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, did not produce any meaningful gun control legislation despite an initial bout of talk from the White House and sympathetic pundits that now was surely the time for such measures. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite—a call to continue militarizing our public schools with armed teachers and higher numbers of armed “school resource officers.” Kansas now requires public buildings either to admit concealed carry firearms or to install metal detectors and hire a security detail, on the grounds that public safety is impossible without either armed citizens at the ready or armed guards. (Most public facilities in Kansas’s big cities can’t afford such precautions, thanks to the blind austerity reign of governor Sam Brownback, and thus have no practical choice but to welcome the new armed retinue.) Detroit’s swamped police officers, whose average emergency response time in 2012 was a torpid fifty-eight minutes, have been known to advise people to just shoot an intruder before calling 911.

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