A Michigan candidate for US Senate, Brian Ellison, who is expected to be the Libertarian party’s candidate in the November midterm election, set his sights on raising at least $10,000 to buy 20 pump-action shotguns and provide training for homeless people. Ellison is calling his fundraising campaign “Arm the Homeless,” and the drive has already made international news.
Saying that homeless people are “constantly victims of violent crime,” Ellison believes that providing the homeless with firearms to defend themselves would serve to act as a deterrent.
A 2014 study, entitled Violence and Victims, highlights the disparity in violent victimization of homeless individuals versus the general population:
Individuals who are homeless have an increased risk of experiencing myriad social problems including victimization and violence. The prevalence of violent victimization in the homeless population has been estimated to range from 14% to 21% and approximately one-third report having witnessed a physical attack on another person who was homeless. This rate of violence is highly disparate when compared to the general population in which only 2% report experiencing a violent crime.
When Ellison was asked by Michigan Radio if he trusted the homeless people with guns, he questioned why there was judgement and bias against homeless people.
“I don’t know why the homeless are viewed as such a different type of people as the rest of us. I carry a gun with me all the time, and I don’t victimize anyone. I wouldn’t expect that the homeless would use their weapons to fight off the police who are asking them to leave. I think the homeless would use their weapons to protect themselves from being victims of violent crimes,” he said.
“Not only are the homeless constantly under threat from would-be criminals,” said Ellison, “but they are also under threat from governments at various levels that criminalize activities that homeless people rely on for survival.”
Ellison, a veteran who served in Iraq, told The Guardian that he decided to run for office “just to try and make a difference.” While he admitted that his “Arm the Homeless” campaign has shock value— meant to bring attention to his campaign— Ellison said he believes that as a third-party candidate going up against well-funded Democratic and Republican opponents, shock value is necessary to break the media marginalization of third-party candidates. And while the shock value gets publicity, he said the true intent of the campaign is to bring more attention to the high rates of violence experienced by homeless individuals and their dehumanization.
When asked by The Guardian, as to whether he thought his plan was dangerous, Ellison responded with a question of his own.
“Well, are you worried about the police being armed with military weapons?” he asked.
“I am. The world we live in is a scary world, where the police who used to dress in short-sleeved shirts and carry a revolver now have long rifles with scopes and bulletproof vests and armoured vehicles.”
“And quite frankly that scares me much more than a homeless person trying to defend themselves with a shotgun,” he said.
Ellison noted that he would aim to “pre-qualify” homeless individuals wanting to receive one of the shotguns, and that no one would be forced to carry pump-action a firearm.
“The first thing that we’re gonna do is ask them if they think this is something that would benefit them. We’re certainly not trying to force anything on anybody,” Ellison said.
In addition, Ellison told Vice that “the idea is to go around and pre-qualify people who we think will meet the criteria by simply having a conversation with them and trying to get a feeling of who they are, whether or not they seem like they’re stable, seeing if they have an ID and if they’d pass a background check.”
On his fundraising page, Ellison pointed out that case law provides that police have no duty to protect individuals and highlighted the recent school shooting in Parkland as an example.
How long can we as a society sit back and allow peaceful citizens of this great country to be targeted for those that view them as weak targets? According to case law in the decision of Warren v. District of Columbia, the police do not owe a specific duty to provide police services to citizens. What this means is that as individuals we can not count on the police to protect us, as they are under no obligation to do so. We saw this recently in the Parkland shooting when Broward County Sheriff Deputies stood outside while a gunman killed 17 students and teachers. I believe it is time we take a stand against the injustice and victimization of the homeless.
Although Ellison originally felt giving away handguns would be ideal, he settled on pump-shotguns.
“Frankly I think the ideal weapon would be a pistol,” he told the Guardian, “but due to the licensing requirements in the state we’re going to have a hard enough time getting homeless people shotguns as it is.”