How Wealthy White America Protects Itself
And why this protection sometimes involves making policing more dangerous
Marxist theory has long understood law enforcement to be the racist, anti-labor, anti-poor guard dogs of capital. The implication being that while law enforcement is ideologically and materially aligned with (white, wealthy) capital,… capital will also sacrifice law enforcement, as one would a loyal guard dog, if doing so will enforce, protect, or expand capital’s existing power.
Let’s look at a brief example of how this plays out in reality.
38 states now have a version of the Stand Your Ground laws. Generally, these laws allow individuals to practice lethal self-defense when they feel their life is threatened. Ohio's SYG law was expanded in 2021 to say that a person has a legal right to lethal self-defense (without first retreating) ANYWHERE that the person is legally allowed to be. Previously, a person could only use lethal self-defense without first retreating only on their own property or in their vehicle. Now it's anywhere!
Here's the exact language in the Ohio Revised Code (2901.09):
"For purposes of any section of the Revised Code that sets forth a criminal offense, a person has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person's residence if that person is in a place in which the person lawfully has a right to be."
The STATED objective of these laws is both ideological and material. Ideologically, they represent a long-held project of the American right: complete, uncompromising instantiation of the 2nd Amendment. Materially, advocates claim that SYG laws deter crime because potential criminals must calculate the increased risk of a potential victim engaging in legal, lethal self-defense.
HOWEVER. From a 2012 study published in the Journal of Human Resources:
"This paper exploits the within-state variation in self-defense law to examine their effect on homicides and violent crime. Results indicate the laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and nonnegligent manslaughters."
Without crime deterrence, advocates are left to lean into the ideological project of expanding a highly individualized version 2nd Amendment rights. So what else is being done to expand these rights?
Just this week, Ohio Republicans passed a law and sent it to Governor DeWine's desk that removes ALL PERMITTING AND TRAINING REQUIREMENTS for concealed firearms. (UPDATE: DeWine signed it into law!) Previously one had to maintain a permit and meet ongoing training requirements to legally conceal carry a firearm. If DeWine signs this bill into law, there will be quite literally NO requirements - one will be able to legally purchase and carry a concealed firearm anywhere they are legally allowed to do so without meeting any additional requirements.
Additionally, and here’s where it gets interesting, this law would remove the requirement to tell a police officer that you are carrying a concealed weapon UNLESS they ask you first.
"Ohio Republicans sent a bill to the governor Wednesday that would let Ohioans carry concealed firearms without a permit or training. Senate Bill 215 gives people 21 or older, who are legally allowed to own a gun, permission to conceal that weapon, no training or permit required. It also removes the requirement to tell officers about the weapon unless asked."
So I have to ask,.... why? There are numerous examples of law enforcement advocacy groups and police unions opposing expanded conceal carry privileges and SYG laws - just last year a large group of prosecutors and the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police voiced their opposition to Ohio’s expanded law discussed above. These groups rightly claim, in my mind, that these laws will INCREASE THE DANGER law enforcement faces while also increasing the likelihood of avoidable gun violence.
This is one of those unique policy areas where the broader conservative individual rights project diverges from conservative pro-police politics - the rights of individual, lethal self-defense in all circumstances is prized more highly (and has a larger constituency) than entirely milquetoast-but-reasonable gun reforms supported by law enforcement and their associated advocacy groups.
I want to suggest a framing in which to understand this divergence - and it brings us back to the Marxist contention that the function of law enforcement is to be the (racist, anti-labor, anti-poor) guard dog of capital.
There is A Deeper Sickness so foundationally embedded in the white American mind that we should not even call it a conspiracy - we're just following our programming.
From the abstract of a 2015 article published in Social Science & Medicine that examines Stand Your Ground laws in Florida:
"Our results depict a disturbing message: SYG legislation in Florida has a quantifiable racial bias that reveals a leniency in convictions if the victim is non-White, which provides evidence towards unequal treatment under the law."
I contend that the deep, lizard-brain, subconscious, implicit-rather-than-explicit reasons for these laws - an explanation so deeply rooted in the White American brain that those who act on it would be unable to explicitly identify it - are as follows:
These laws greatly increase white America's ability to lynch Black and Brown people without consequences.
More guns on the streets mean that there will likely be more crime which means that politicians and advocacy groups can EASILY sell the "crime wave panic" narrative that inevitably leads to bloated law enforcement budgets and police crackdowns on the poor, the melanin-rich, and other low castes - thus further protecting, enforcing, and expanding the power of wealthy white Americans.
A few extra police deaths is a low, low price to pay for these huge wins for wealthy white America - after all, they’re only the guard dogs.
A Deeper Sickness, indeed.