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'Government monopoly on force,' as demanded by CSGV, on display in Ferguson, MO

In the wake of the police killing of unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis), outraged protestors suspect that Brown's capital "crime" was "walking while black." Meanwhile, the tactics used to suppress the protests have been more appropriate for an occupying army than for "peace officers" with the mission to "protect and serve" their communities. From establishing a "no-fly zone" over Ferguson, to journalists tear gassed and arrested, to deploying snipers and armored fighting vehicles, U.S. troops in Afghanistan could hardly ask for looser rules of engagement than the "public servants" of Ferguson are enjoying.

'Keeping the peace' in Ferguson, MO
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

This morning, the Ferguson police finally released the name of the officer who killed Brown--while simultaneously alleging that Brown had just minutes before robbed a convenience store. A great deal remains to be sorted out about why Officer Darren Wilson claims to have thought it necessary to kill Brown, but in the meantime, a city has been under the boot of martial law, in effect, if not in name.

Surprisingly, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) counts itself among those who believe the brutal suppression of Ferguson is grossly excessive, according to their press release:

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) is closely watching the situation in Ferguson, Missouri and we are deeply disturbed by what we see unfolding there. Our hearts go out to the family of Michael Brown, Jr. as they deal with an unimaginable loss.

What makes this surprising is that CSGV has long defended virtually unlimited power of government, to the point of denying the legitimacy of armed resistance against a government rounding up citizens for the concentration camps.

They [the Ferguson Police] have responded to largely peaceful protests with a heavily militarized force (approximately 70 SWAT members and an armored vehicle) and trained loaded weapons on Ferguson residents, including children.

Hmm . . . "a heavily militarized force"? That's funny--CSGV's executive director Josh Horwitz likes to warn us to "not pile too much on the militarization of law enforcement" (37-second video).

For years, we have differed with the pro-gun movement over the use of coercive force in a democratic society. It is our contention that states with unregulated private militias are rarely, if ever, functional. That said, the government’s “monopoly on force” must be subject to civilian control, and it comes with tremendous responsibility to adhere to democratic principles of good governance.

The Ferguson PD's actions are under civilian control--the cops (who are "civilians," if heavily militarized ones) didn't pull off a coup d'état. They are taking their directions from the government officials above them--just the way CSGV claims government should--must--work.

Now CSGV has decided that this would be a good time to demonize so-called "assault weapons," despite none being involved in this situation:

The situation in Ferguson should also be cause for reflection on the continuing arms race between civilians and law enforcement in our country. We must recognize that Ferguson is not the norm. The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are good men and women who are legitimately concerned about the type of firepower they are now being confronted with on America’s streets. This arms race is making our neighborhoods more dangerous and benefitting only one party: the gun industry, which sees continuing escalation as a business opportunity. We must all come together—civilians and law enforcement alike—to curb the proliferation of military-style firepower in our society.

Whatever the reason is that Wilson killed Brown, it's not because AR-15s are legal for civilians to own (and not because Type III body armor is, either, Rep. Honda). CSGV has made this argument before: if citizens were more strictly limited in terms of what guns they can own, law enforcement would be less jumpy, and thus less likely to gun down unarmed teenagers. "Pass some more gun laws, so we can stop killing you," is the apparent message. Actually, though, it's not quite true that privately owned so-called "assault weapons" are playing no role in Ferguson--they have very likely prevented the looting from being even worse than it has been.

Finally, we acknowledge the comparisons that many are drawing between what is happening in Ferguson and the armed standoff that took place at the Bundy ranch this past April. The dramatic differences in law enforcement response to the two events are difficult to ignore. Why are white pro-gun activists able to point loaded firearms at law enforcement and avoid accountability under the law altogether while unarmed, peaceful African-American citizens are met with a militarized police force and mass arrests?

You want to know why the Bundy ranch guardians were able to make the government back down, while Ferguson residents remain under the government's jackboots, CSGV? It's because at the Bundy ranch, the government knew that they would not enjoy a "monopoly on force"--that they would pay for their excesses in blood, more of it than they were willing to lose. The Ferguson cops, on the other hand, clearly like their overwhelming edge in firepower.

That's your "government monopoly on force," CSGV. Own it.


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