Mises Wire

Gun-Control Advocates — Check Your Privilege

I have my doubts about the utility of privilege theory (and strong concerns about the effects it has on civil discourse). But for those who take it seriously, one aspect of privilege that has been explored to a lesser extent is personal security. That is, if it is to be talked about at all, it is typically about how underprivileged groups are more likely to be the target of violence because of their identity, especially if the perpetrator is considered to belong to a privileged class.

Surprisingly, very little attention is given to the fact that state actors enjoy tremendous privileges (for example, notice how, in the event of police brutality, the focus is almost always on the races of the officer and victim and almost never on the privileges police enjoy, such as qualified immunity from civil liability, extra due process protections as listed in the “Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights,” and preferential treatment from investigating officers and prosecutors).

At least part of the reason for this lack of attention is that to criticize the privilege of government police is also to question the legitimacy of state power itself — something that adherents of privilege theory are hesitant to do as they tend to see state power as the solution to social problems. It is just that the right people need to be in charge of it.

This is probably also why we see so little criticism of gun control advocacy by privilege theorists (the overwhelming majority of whom are probably such advocates themselves), even though this — the ability of the individual, particularly the underprivileged individual, to legally possess the means of self-defense — ought to be jealously defended by them, for they argue that these individuals are precisely those who face the most danger in society. Based on the types of arguments made by privilege theorists on other issues, they should be highly critical of gun control advocates.

For one thing, notice the type of gun violence, as well as the type of gun, most focused upon by the media and by politicians — mass shootings and “assault-type” weapons. This is strange, if we are to believe they are truly concerned about providing an accurate portrayal of gun violence. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than one percent of all homicides each year in the U.S. are from shootings where 3 or more are killed. And between 1993 and 2011, 70 to 80 percent of firearm homicides (and 90 percent of nonfatal victimizations) were committed with a handgun, not a scary-looking assault rifle.

As well, the acts of gun violence where middle class white people are the victims — i.e., the demographics that are not most frequently victimized — tend to receive the most media attention. However, African-Americans suffer a firearm homicide rate 5 to 6 times higher than all other racial groups. Despite comprising about 13 percent of the U.S. population, African-Americans were 59 percent of the victims of non-fatal gunshot wounds who were treated in hospital emergency rooms in 1993, the peak year of gun violence in the last 23 years. (There has since been a decline in gun violence: homicides declined 39 percent between 1993 and 2011, while nonfatal firearm crimes declined 69%.) But these are not the victims focused upon by the media or politicians.

Why not? A large part of the explanation can be attributed to their privilege. Few of the politicians, celebrities, or media personalities advocating further gun restrictions live in a dangerous neighborhood. Many of them can afford to live in a gated community and hire personal private security, or have such security provided to them at taxpayers' expense. They are able to drive, not walk, through dangerous areas, if not avoid them entirely.

As such, they have little to lose in terms of safety if further restrictions on private gun ownership are implemented. The types of gun violence they are most concerned about are rare events occurring in places where middle and upper class people can imagine themselves: places like college campuses, night clubs, and movie theaters — not the inner-city. Despite railing against the racism of police that people in poor communities face, they tend to give no thought to how these individuals, who do not enjoy the same level or quality of police protection that they do, will protect themselves. The privilege (especially of the politicians) is of the worst kind: state privilege that is not only indifferent to the suffering of the less privileged but actively working to make it worse.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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