Political Animal


December 18, 2012 1:33 PM Must-read piece of the day: guns don’t secure freedom — they destroy it

By Kathleen Geier

So much has already been written about the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown. And yet, so much more remains to be said. There’s a lot that I want to write about this, but it will have to wait until my blogging stint this weekend. To write about this subject, I need to learn more, and read more, and that will take some time.

I do, however, want to strongly urge that you all take a look at this powerful piece at the New York Times’ Opinionator site, by philosophy professor Firmin DeBrabander. DeBrabander makes a compelling argument about how, contrary to the perfervid fantasies of the right in this country, guns don’t guarantee our freedom — in fact, they corrosively undermine it.

Now, I don’t entirely endorse DeBrabander’s argument. Certainly, there are times when violence is necessary to bring about political change. But since those times are the exceptions rather than the rule, I think his thesis generally holds. Here are the key grafs, though of course you should read the whole thing:

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.
Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don’t require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force. Arendt and Foucault reveal that power does not lie in armed individuals, but in assembly — and everything conducive to that.
Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • JustMe on December 18, 2012 2:08 PM:

    But this is precisely the point, and it is what conservatives desire. It's a point made in David Frum's Dead Right: conservative policies are there to incentivize, if not force, people to act "conservatively". The highly armed society is just the final culmination of that, where everyone lives in fear of acting differently or sticking out and is afraid of speaking out for fear of getting shot.

  • ComradeAnon on December 18, 2012 2:32 PM:

    The Texas gun shop owner that refused to sell to liberals has a new offer. Discounted concealed carry permits for teachers. Heavenly Father, what illness do people have to make them think that a teacher getting a gun is a solution to what happened in Connecticut.

  • c u n d gulag on December 18, 2012 3:07 PM:

    Great piece!

    And, he is so right!

    And so is @JustMe.

    If you want a Conservative society, arm everyone. Who wants to act differently if you know every one around you is packing.

    If you want a Liberal society, keep guns out of public places, so that people can express themselves.

  • ack ack ack on December 18, 2012 3:11 PM:

    This reminds me of why I moved back to Michigan after a brief stay in Arizona. One day I was in the express lane at the grocery store buying bananas. There were maybe 3 or 4 other other people in front of me, when a man, in full cowboy get-up and a very visible holstered gun, cut in front of me in line. He then proceeded to stare at me, as if challenging me to put up a protest. I let him go ahead of me but not without a "you're welcome."

  • James on December 18, 2012 3:30 PM:

    'Saying guns don't secure freedom - they destroy it' is a tough sell in a country that gained its independence through violent revolution.

  • celeidth on December 18, 2012 3:46 PM:

    This is also why unions are so hated by the right.

  • Amir on December 18, 2012 3:48 PM:

    Kevin's point is well taken that at times violence is necessary as a community struggle to fight despotism and dictatorships, but that is exactly the point Professor Geier makes about importance of community. To fight despots, we need well organized communities, which extreme individualism undermines. Modern uprisings don't succeed by arms, as authoritarian regimes will have amassed more of them. Fight against despots only succeed by having communities that trust each other, communicate with each other, and are willing to sacrifice for each other. These are apparent in all successful modern uprisings.

  • Doug on December 18, 2012 3:54 PM:

    "Saying 'guns don't secure freedom - they destroy it' is a tough sell in a country that gained its independence through violent revolution." James @ 3:30 PM

    And just how violent WAS it for the people living then - once the Revolution was over? Strangely enough, I don't hear of mass killing in Cambridge MA in the 1800s. Or Pittsburgh PA. Or Lexington KYNor do I hear of mass killings ANYWHERE in this country until the run-up to the Civil War. And THAT mass killing was done by John Brown.
    The British romanticize the aristocracy and working class, we romanticize the use of guns...

  • plane on December 18, 2012 3:57 PM:

    He talks about Egypt but what about Syria? I wonder how the rebels there would feel if you took away their guns? I'm sure the Syrian government would love it if all the unarmed rebels gathered in one place at the same time to protest...they'd gas them all at once.

    Guns undermine community? Perhaps to some extent this is true but what influences a person to purchase a gun in the first place? Wouldn't this be one of the root causes of the loss of community?

  • Anonymous on December 18, 2012 4:23 PM:

    @James and @plane


    Yeah guns were vital for securing our freedom ... back in the day when wars were fought by massed infantry. These days, wars are fought by drones, jets, tanks, bombs, spy satellies, etc.

    If armed insurrection is ever required to secure our liberty, then NO AMOUNT OF PERSONAL FIREARMS WILL AID IN THAT STRUGGLE. To imagine otherwise is to be deluded, and seriously underestimates the technological and organization superiority of the modern American military.

    Ask the good folks of Syria how effective their AK's are against modern military hardware, if you don't believe me. How effective would personal firearms be against the American military here on their home field?

    Nope, if that dark day comes (as my two crazy Fox-addicted uncles believe), then our only hope will be in our Military and National Guard organizations—the hope that they fight on the behalf of freedom and life, instead of on the side of despotism.

    Syria, unfortunately, doesn't have a history of promoting liberty. There is little hope that their professional military will take the side of freedom in the struggle.

    But there is no evidence at all that a firearm carrying population can acquire or secure liberty against a modern military force. No nation has achieved democracy by using personal firearms against industrialized military forces. If you believe that such evidence exists, then please share it with us.

    Farmer John and his rifle could have made a difference in war two centuries ago. Not anymore.

  • Al on December 18, 2012 5:02 PM:

    " I'm sure the Syrian government would love it if all the unarmed rebels gathered in one place at the same time to protest...they'd gas them all at once."

    The Egyptian protesters already settled that point. Refusing to be provoked into violence and standing mostly unarmed, Mubarak soldiers refused direct orders to shoot them and THAT is when Mubarak quickly realized he better quit. And he did.

  • Anniecat on December 18, 2012 5:58 PM:

    What about the good people of India? They managed to get rid of the British without guns.

  • Rick B on December 18, 2012 7:37 PM:


    The American Revolution was won through well-organized violence applied by armies, not anarchical violence applied by uncontrolled and uncoordinated individuals.

    The real problem these days is that the old white men grew up on the movie myth of the lone gunman taming the west. As a result today the myth is that the gun won the west (that is, settled the southwest) when in fact the southwest was settled by county property records and installing barbed wire. Ever seen that in a movie? I sure haven't.

  • Rick B on December 18, 2012 7:50 PM:

    @Kathleen Geier

    You are correct that at times violence is necessary in society, sometimes to bring about political change. But making political change is not a situation best dealt with by violence. The mass actions in Egypt demonstrated that. Violence is primarily used by the government to prevent change - remember Kent State, by any chance? Syria is, of course, more current.

    But when we have a democracy we keep it by giving the government a monopoly on violence. This discussion shows why.

  • mudwall jackson on December 18, 2012 9:30 PM:

    Farmer John and his rifle could have made a difference in war two centuries ago. Not anymore.

    actually the revolution really didn't gather any traction until the americans stopped relying on farmer john and turned him into soldier john by forming the continental army. in other words, a regular army. even two hundred plus years ago civilians came out on the wrong end of things when they went up against professionals.

  • Anonymous on December 19, 2012 6:57 PM:

    I have not read many of the authors or philosophers described in the previous comments. But the attacks from,I assume well-meaning citizens, on this and other sites leaves me frustrated. To call people reactionary,paranoid, ignorant, etc. because they have different views than yourself on some issues, is truly ignorant in my opinion. Those terms can describe people on both sides of this issue. The loudmouths cannot resist wanting to place people who disagree with them in a certain box. You have been taught to do this by the corrupt politicians of our two party system.
    There are certainly individuals in this country of approx. 300 million that should not be allowed to drive an automobile,truck,bus, etc. and do; and those,as well, who possess weapons who should not have acccess to them etc.etc.. My child would be just as dead from a drunk driver or a speeding driver with a radar detector on their dash as any mentally ill person with a gun. The fact that their life was lost in an "accident" and not a shooting would not be any comfort to me.
    I grew up in a suburb but now live in a more rural area, I think much like Newtown, CT. It takes approx. 15-25 mins. to get a response from 911. I think to not have a means of defending my wife and children from possible home invasion, etc would be irresponsible. Cries for more gun control from these folks has now spurred another round of impulse buying of firearms by people who maybe should not be purchasing them because of a lack of knowledge of their safe use . For fun check the on-line gun stores and see how many assault style weapons are available -none:sold out . The law of unintended consequences strikes again. When things cool down many will probably be sold at gun shows. These guns are out there in the pool and will likely be passed around for years to come. I assure you that the cost of trying to collect firearms from people who interpret their 2nd amendment rights perhaps differently than you would not be worth it. I think guns are here to stay for quite some time.
    I am not a member of the NRA. I don't care if they ban assault style rifles and large ammo clips. I doubt that it will do much good at curbing the violence in our country. I do believe in closing any loopholes such as gun shows,private sales,etc.
    We live in an extremely violent,sex-ploitive society.We produce most of the violent movies that are the big box office hits. If I want to watch a popular movie with my kids I have to endure or make accommodations for the unnecessary graphic violence that serves to distort our children's ideas of reality, desensitizing them to the suffering of others. Blaming guns for the problem of an increase in violence is an easy way to feel good about this utterly disgusting slaughter of innocents in CT.
    Comparisons to other countries and there records on gun deaths can be taken two ways: 1) They have less guns so less killings,per capita. I'm sure there is some validity to this claim. 2) I need to get a gun to protect myself from all the criminal element out there who have many of these guns and are totally happy to use them evidenced by the number of shootings on any day in this country as you describe.
    One last point of interest that I have not heard mentioned. The parents of this sad tortured individual were divorced and living in different states. Don't anyone mention that his well-to-do parents could not find it in their hearts to work out there differences for the sake of their troubled child. I think there's a good chance that the obvious anger he felt toward them helped fuel this tragedy. But be careful,by pointing a finger we don't want to hurt the feelings on any group of individuals. Lets blame the "gun nuts." It's much easier. And we can all just move on as our nation goes into the toilet.
    P.S I am agnostic,, politically independent, pro marijuana decriminalization, refor