Gun control is not (necessarily) so progressive
Illustration/Fraser Allan Best
The peep-hole makes their nose look big. Looking at our neighbours to the south, American gun culture can seem ugly. Being from a country that has restricted firearms for more than a hundred years, Canadians tend to come down strongly on one side. Away from the heart of the debate, it can be difficult to understand the other side: how can the pro-gun lobby not stand down after a tragic school shooting? They must be heartless.
Unfortunately they’re not. The issue is just a hard one. Like most issues with staying power, there are good people on both sides of the aisle.
The gun control debate isn’t between the good and the bad, it’s not even between Republicans and Democrats. Over the last several months Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed social-democrat (and a student fan favorite), has voiced caution about implementing stricter gun laws.
In his high-profile meeting with Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, Sanders talked about the legitimate use of guns in an urban context. The two agreed that strict gun control can leave innocent people in low-income neighbourhoods defenseless against the gang violence that comes with their zip code. The argument is not a new one in the debate, but it is a new one to hear on the lips of a popular liberal.
But it shouldn't be. On both sides of the border, progressive students have been the first to stand up for the rights of vulnerable groups. Often, our first impulse is to think of the future victims of mass shootings, some of whom will likely be children. Obama's actions only expand background check requirements, but the liberal solution tends to be one that favours fewer guns, not more. This is a noble train of thought, but stricter control isn’t the only destination.
Equally progressive voters will think of marginalized people living in fear of being shot by a gang in a neighbourhood that the police simply can’t protect. The logic is similar, but here you would be callous, not noble, to restrict guns—leaving the vulnerable defenseless.
So why do Canadian students disproportionately favor stricter control? Yes, it may come from living in a country that has taken people-shooting guns off the table entirely, and yes, it may have to do with identifying with the gun-control-supporting Democratic Party.
Yet another explanation is that students—living predominantly in or around the downtown campus—are simply unable to relate to the reality of life in a neighbourhood where being shot to death is an everyday risk and police can do little to protect you. Across urban campuses, gun control seems like an obvious political move because of this comparative luxury. In the neighbourhood of the university, the chances of needing to defend yourself from someone who means you serious harm remains (mostly) abstract.
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This is a privilege that still goes unchecked. The disconnect in the dialogue on guns doesn’t come from an inability to relate across the border, or across the political spectrum—it comes from being unable to relate across the poverty line.