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Beyond Law and Order in the Gun Debate: Black Lives Matter, Abolitionism, and Anti-Racist Gun Policy

June 29, 2021

In 2020, millions of Americans mobilized for racial justice and police accountability under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement. The diverse range of their demands notwithstanding, activists overwhelmingly called for the decentering (if not also defunding) of police as the go-to institution for solving problems of crime, broadly reflecting the anti-racist politics embraced by the contemporary criminal justice abolition movement. Recognizing that American gun policy has often deepened the reach of the criminal justice system amid the war on crime's broad ambit, this article considers how abolitionist approaches -- and the broader scholar-activist work in which they are embedded -- challenge the traditional coordinates of gun politics and gun policy and provide a framework for forging an anti-racist gun politics. Putting criminal justice abolitionism into conversation with existing community-led efforts that decenter the criminal justice apparatus in gun violence prevention, this essay examines gun abolitionism as a means of revamping dominant visions of safety and justice from an anti-racist perspective -- and reformulating the leading approaches to gun policy accordingly.