In case you missed the news among the ongoing scandal that is the Trump regime and the terror attack in London, Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas, recently signed into law a bill that allows the carrying of concealed guns onto college campuses and into bars and churches. The ostensible goal is to have a larger population capable of dealing with active shooter situations (not that we have had a mass shooting on a university campus in Arkansas).
It’s easy to view this new law in the light of our culture of violence and the desire of the arms industry to expand its profit margins. But I think it’s important to look at what is implied by this law in terms of the relationship between the government and the citizenry—a relationship increasingly cast, on the part of self-described conservatives, in terms of an economic transaction in which the citizen is the customer, the consumer of government services. A dominant feature of neoliberalism is the growth of unpaid labor on the part of the customer. Think the “u-scan” stations at your local grocery store where you can check out yourself, which is only the latest iteration of policies that eliminated the gas station attendant who would pump your gas. Companies regularly try to shift more work (unpaid) onto the consumer so as to eliminate labor costs (and labor’s remaining political power).
So think about this new “campus carry” law in the light of neoliberalism. Does it not resemble the shifting of unpaid labor onto the citizen? After all, citizens are now being urged to protect themselves and undertake, at their own expense, training to deal with active shooters.
And it is an expense. Yesterday, I was in a rage about this law and thinking that, since I am a person who occasionally appears on college campuses to talk about issues like racial violence, perhaps I should invest in a concealed carry permit? My late father-in-law never had such a permit, though he owned a lot of guns, until a plumber showed up at his place bearing a concealed pistol, leading him to think, “Gosh, if even the plumber has one, maybe I need to get one, or I’ll be the only one left unarmed!” It’s how arms races get started. But then I had the thought that, carrying a pistol onto campus, I would, in fact, be contributing to such arms races, because students who saw that I was armed may feel no choice but to arm themselves.
So I stepped back and thought that perhaps the best compromise was to purchase a bullet-proof vest. There is one outlet here in Little Rock which sells such things, but though it’s legal in Arkansas for a civilian to own a bullet-proof vest (provided he has not been convicted of a felony and has no intentions to commit such an act), they don’t sell to civilians. However, a policeman friend of mine called them up and said that they would sell me such a vest provided he came in and co-signed the form—and did I have $700 to spare? Because that’s how much a simple, Level 1 vest would cost.
I don’t know about you, but $700 is a lot to me, and I can think of many things I would rather do with that money than purchase a piece of tactical gear. But this is the reality of neoliberalism. The cost of feeling safe now is shifted from the government and onto the citizen. It’s not just the $700, either. It’s the time I have to spend contacting people and searching around for a place that will sell me that vest, and time from my friend’s day off to take me over to the store. And if I wanted the conceal carry permit, too, for added “safety,” then that’s the license fee, paying for the initial training, and then paying for the extra eight hours of training that lets you carry a pistol onto a college campus. Oh, and if you don’t already own a gun, well, those are pretty expensive, too.
My policeman friend said that his basic gear runs about $2,500. I imagine that, when you add up the costs listed here, and count as a cost the time you are spending having to do all this, you would probably be out about that same amount. That is a cost shifted onto you, the citizen. You are now, for all intents and purposes, a self-employed policeman responsible for protecting yourself and others—and without the requirement that your training actually be current, which, again, differentiates you from actual police, who receive ongoing and thorough training.
It’s the old neoliberal pattern—replace skilled workers with poorly paid, unskilled substitutes. And it raises the question: Will actual paid policemen eventually go the way of gas station attendants?