By H. Harrison Coleman
To any onlookers of modern American politics, it seems that the two major parties’ positions on gun control are clear cut—the Democrats dislike guns and restrict them at every opportunity, and the Republicans embrace them, even in the face of tragedies like the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. But, as a new faction rises up in the Democratic Party—the Progressives—the formerly straightforward characterization of these positions is becoming increasingly nuanced.
Progressives have a much more pro-firearm outlook than the typical Democrat. In an ABC News analysis of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary field and their stances on gun control, a common trope reveals itself: the progressives limit their gun policies to popular, common-sense restrictions, such as waiting periods and registries, and the moderates favor large, sweeping actions such as nationwide gun buybacks.
This was best exemplified in the standard-bearers for each faction of the Democratic Party: moderate President Joe Biden turned gun buybacks and a complete ban on assault weapons into a cornerstone of his campaign, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the progressive, has scorned the “unconstitutional” idea of policies like buybacks, wrenching praise even from outlets like Fox News.
The rise of the Progressives has undoubtedly changed the face of American politics for a good long while. The Progressives, who represent one of the leftmost factions of the modern American political scene, have many openly socialist members, as well as others aligned with members of modern leftist organizations. One unexpected side effect of the growth of this new faction is the increased presence of gun owners and firearm advocates that sing the praises of guns from a very left-leaning perspective.
Much of the far-left approaches gun politics from a Marxist perspective. They view attempts to limit gun ownership and other restrictions on firearms as attempts to disarm the working class. Progressive firearm proponents view gun ownership rights as they view most policies: through the lens of class. In their eyes, a gun-less population is at the mercy of a government with a “monopoly on violence,” as one leftist puts it in an interview with Vice Magazine. They argue that their primary rival, the far-right, has access to guns, so they should, too.
The far-left has a long, proud tradition of being pro-firearm. Nowhere is this more true than in the US. Take the Black Panther Party—the famous (or infamous) Black Power group that was founded as a pushback to the widespread anti-Black violence in Civil Rights-era America. The group was infamous for their prolific use of firearms and their socialist beliefs—so much so that they scared then-California Governor Ronald Reagan into passing some of the strictest gun control legislation the US had ever seen.
As leftism has become more prominent in modern US politics, pro-gun groups in the spirit of the Black Panthers have emerged. Take the Socialist Rifle Association, a far-left firearms group founded in Wichita, Kansas, which has a membership of 10,000 people across 33 states. Also hailing from Kansas is the group Redneck Revolt, an anti-capitalism, pro-Second Amendment group of working-class people with chapters in 30 states.
These gun groups all have several characteristics that decidedly separate leftist gun enthusiasts from their right-wing counterparts. For one, a common theme among these organizations is the veneration of John Brown, a fervent, radical abolitionist from the 1850s whose fight against slavery was so rabid that it led him to kill several slave masters during Bleeding Kansas, and, alongside a band of likeminded abolitionists, to unsuccessfully raid a federal munitions site in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. It comes as no surprise that Brown, a native Kansan, would appeal to groups that were founded in Kansas, where Brown is something of a local hero (for some).
Another characteristic unique to far-left gun groups is their protectiveness of the LGBTQ+ community. Transgender Pride flags are common affixtures to the firearms of groups like the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA), 33% of whose members are members of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, members of the leftist Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club have a history of showing up to LGBTQ+ Pride marches in order to ‘defend’ the paraders from far-right organizations that tend to make themselves present at such events.
This new paradigm of socialist groups being pro-firearm has deep roots, but this entrance into the mainstream is very new. The SRA and Redneck Revolt were founded in 2018 and 2016, respectively, and their memberships have proliferated across the nation in the years since. The slow march of radical leftist gun groups is a political trend that threatens to upend the normal classification of the parties and their stances on gun control. One thing is for certain, however: the Second Amendment has nothing to lose but its stereotypes.