Guns and gangs

Miguel Centellas, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi, wrote the following on his Teaching (Comparative) Politics blog. I found the piece (so to speak!) interesting and provocative. With Miguel’s permission, I am reposting it in full here.

All of what follows here is written by Miguel.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments about guns lately (and I’ve engaged in some debates). One thing always bothered me about most “pro-gun” arguments, however. See, here’s the thing: I’m not opposed to guns per se. Both my grandpa and dad were hunters (and I always wanted to go). I’ve shot guns of various kinds, enjoyed it, and was good at it (I have certificates to prove it). But growing up in Michigan, where hunting was a big deal, and where my grandpa and dad (and uncles, neighbors, etc.) went hunting, I rarely ever saw a gun. My grandpa kept his (a rifle, some shotguns, and a pearl handled .22 pistol) locked up in some remote corner of the basement. They were never in any way “readily accessible.” Someone could’ve broken into his house and he’d be helpless, his guns a flight of stairs away in a dark corner. I only ever saw my father’s gun once (a classic Mauser bolt action). That was my experience with “legal” gun ownership. It’s also what I expect of people who advocate “responsible” gun ownership.

But, recently, the arguments I hear are about self protection and the right to defend against tyranny. The arguments often come from people concerned with gun violence in society, but who believe they need guns to protect themselves become they don’t trust anyone else to do it. And the arguments also come from people distrust the government, who don’t think it represents them, and who think the police are simply the armed and brutal hand of a distant regime that seeks to put them down.

The problem is, I recognize all those arguments. Because I also grew up in a rust belt city in Michigan. So I’ve heard those arguments before. They came from gangbangers. Young, angry men who lived in fear of violence and needed weapons to protect their lives, their property, and their “turf.” They also didn’t see the government (and certainly not the police) as someone they could trust. They were cynical about governmental authority.

Ironically, in many ways, these gangbangers were ultimate libertarians (of a certain stripe). They were engaged in the free market, often selling products that were unregulated—and resisting any regulations. They took it upon themselves to protect themselves and their families—they didn’t call 911. They were self-made men (and a few women). They were rugged individualists, relying only on themselves. Gangbangers don’t have Social Security accounts. If their business fails, they don’t get government bailouts. In short, they fend for themselves in a harsh world.

Most of the gangbangers I knew in high school were regularly armed. We all knew it. But they weren’t constantly shooting up the place. If you asked them, they would always insist that their gun was for protection. It was a deterrent from being jumped or mugged or even shot at by rival gangbangers. And perhaps it worked. I remember one time in particular when my brother (who was not in a gang) was walking home from middle school and he was about to get jumped. He was saved by a classmate (who was a gangbanger) who simply walked up, asked what was going on, and unzipped his jacket to show his “piece.” The message was clear: Sam’s “my boy,” don’t try this. Sam got saved from being jumped because a 13-year-old classmate had a handgun.

So that’s my experience with guns. The people who were “responsible” gun owners kept their guns locked up and occasionally went hunting. The “criminals” used them for self protection and walked around armed.

So you can understand my recent confusion. When I argue about gun restrictions and people point to their need to walk around armed to be safe. Especially when it’s accompanied by posturing. You know what I mean, the ubiquitous picture of some guy (it’s usually a guy) posing with his Glock or AR-15 or whatever, looking tough. Because what I see is just a gangbanger posing with his piece, looking tough, and bragging about how “nobody better try to jump me!” while also denouncing a government that’s “out to get me and my kind.” It just reminds me too much of my local gangbangers. I mean, they were the only people I knew that always bragged about their guns and wanted everyone to know they were “carrying.” They see themselves as “patriots.” I just see another gangbanger.

2 thoughts on “Guns and gangs

  1. Pingback: Outside the Beltway

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