The Right to Bear Arms


MARCH 2002
VOL. 111 NO. 12


Under socialism, would the people still have the right to keep and bear arms (Article II, Bill of Rights); or would this right be restricted as it is today?


This, of course, is a question for the Socialist Commonwealth to answer. We do not know what the answer will be, but we can anticipate how the decision will be made. First, however, we should be clear on why "the right to keep and bear arms" was included in the Bill of Rights and what relevance it has today under vastly different circumstances.

When the Bill of Rights was adopted, the United States was still a frontier nation where the people associated their right to keep and bear arms with liberty because arms had been essential to them in resisting tyranny. This "right," of course, has atrophied under capitalism. We can still possess arms, and to a certain extent we can "bear" them. However, whatever these arms are for -- sports, hunting, personal protection -- they long ago ceased to be associated with liberty.

The reason is obvious. The vast changes that have taken place with the elimination of the frontier and the industrialization of the nation have not only altered the role of arms; they have also created conditions that eliminate arms as potential instruments for resisting tyranny or for achieving freedom. For social and economic evolution has created new weapons and placed them in the hands of the people, which is to say, of the workers, the useful members of society. These "weapons" are economic in character, and consist of the industrial organization of the workers.

The right to keep and bear arms, even if not restricted as it is, would have no meaning for us today in terms of winning socialist freedom. To win socialist freedom we must first use our numerical superiority on the political field. We must vote capitalism out, so to speak, and socialism in. We must have the Socialist Industrial Union prepared to wield the consolidated economic might of the working class by taking, holding and operating the industries. For this task we need, not arms, but organization and an appropriate program.

Once established, socialism will confer on the people a power far greater than could ever be ensured by the right to keep and bear arms. It is the power that inheres in collective and democratic control of the nation's economic life. Indeed, the "right" to bear arms ultimately depends on their being available. Under socialism, the people will determine what to produce and what not to produce. They may, for example, decide not to produce automobiles that depend on the internal combustion engine and consume fossil fuels because they pose a threat to the environment and to their own health and safety. They may exercise a similar judgment regarding certain guns or guns in general. Whatever that decision is, however, it will be reached democratically, and as with all truly democratic decisions it will be subject to reconsideration, adjustment and even reversal on reasonable grounds.