A Disingenuous Comparison

Noah reminds me that I need to be keeping up with /r/socialism – just to marvel at the senselessness. And it doesn’t disappoint. Right out of the gate I find this post on gun control. It shows this juxtaposition of Marx and Reagan with cherry-picked quotes aiming to show that Marx is ironically less in favor of gun control than Reagan. So much wrong with this it’s hard to know where to start.


First of all, as you can see, Marx isn’t advocating unqualified support for gun rights – it’s only guns as a practical means to achieve the specific aim of the revolution for now. Presumably, he doesn’t support gun rights for anyone but "the workers," and once the Revolution succeeds they’ll be happily disarming their enemies.

Second of all, gun control wasn’t really even an issue in 1850. Guns were freely available for purchase, and it wasn’t terribly unusual to own one. In some important sense, comparing Marx and Reagan on gun control would be a bit like comparing them on "the Negro Problem." Under that comparison, Marx would come out looking pretty bad, as he is known to have made racist statements about mulatto communists. You would not find similar statements from Reagan. But this says nothing about the relative racism of the two men: they come from different times with difference social mores. Marx is racist by our standards but racially progressive by the standards of the mid-to-late 1800s.

But my main gripe with this is … you guessed it! … that the Reagan quote is taken shamelessly out of context. If you go digging it up, you’ll find it’s from the 3 May 1967 issue of the Gettysburg Times in a story about how a group of 50 armed Black Panthers, in a publicity stunt, muscled their way into the California State Legislature while it was in session and just kind of stood there. This sort of show was their main M.O. at the time: they would conspicuously arm themselves and follow the police around in black neighborhoods to make sure that the police didn’t abuse their authority. While there’s a lot to dislike about the Black Panthers – especially their misogyny and criminal corruption – I think I speak for most libertarians in supporting this particular tactic. It was legal, effective and necessary. Barging into the legislature with guns was none of these things, and several members were duly arrested.

Here is the full quote from Reagan – then the governor of California – from the paper:

Americans don’t go around carrying guns with the idea they’re using them to influence other Americans. There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.

It isn’t, in other words, a call for gun control, but rather an expression of dismay at a thuggish intimidation tactic. The very next paragraph in the article makes this abundantly clear:

[Governor Reagan] agreed, however, with the group’s contention that they have the right to bear arms. At present, there is no law in California against possessing a loaded, legal gun as long as it isn’t concealed.


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