I started this series of posts just a few days before the tragic event in Newtown. When choosing as a title a riff on the ‘Hey Hey LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?’ chant of the anti-Vietnam-war protesters I had no idea that it would become so pointedly and horrifyingly appropriate so soon. But after the shootings in Aurora and elsewhere in past months, the reaction to them by gun advocates and the lack of action by our government made it clear that further tragedies were not only likely, but inevitable. And sadly, that turned out be true. And now we can only wait to find out where and when the next will occur, because it surely will. Why? Because this country is locked in a deadly vortex of powerful interlocking forces: a culture in which violent expression in word, thought and deed has become commonplace; the routine expression of that violence through the use of deadly weapons; and the undue, obdurate influence over much of our government and populace by a powerful industry that reaps huge financial reward from the proliferation and use of those weapons. How has this situation, unique among all the advanced countries of the world, come about in the US?
Anger and resentment permeate though many levels of our society, and in many cases it is condoned if not actively encouraged. One would assume that we should be very careful about arming angry and resentful people with deadly weapons, but the gun industry and its surrogates like the NRA have become adept at marketing to exactly that segment of the population, and in many cases are actually helping to create it.
As just one example from a recent news article: An older gentleman in a floppy camouflaged baseball cap manning a National Rifle Association (NRA) booth outside the Antioch gun show rattled off conspiracy theories popularized by the far-right radio jock Alex Jones. He warned me that the government was planning to round up “normal citizens” and throw them in concentration camps operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema): “In fact, Obama’s own campaign promise was to develop a 20,000 man civil army to patrol the streets of America that he will build up stronger than our own military, and so this is all part of the program that’s coming down the pike.”
One could be tempted to laugh at this insanity, or believe that surely no one with an ounce of common sense could think this way, but unfortunately this is only one of numerous lunatic right-wing conspiracy theories. Why does anyone choose to believe in this stuff when so obviously none of it is true? Why do they choose to listen to the inchoate hate-filled ramblings of people like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh and actually believe what they say? Why do they choose to poison their lives with this garbage? Whatever the reason for their choices – manufactured conflict over common sense, knee-jerk anger over considered analysis – those people have proven to be a huge market for the gun industry. And it is so easy – just keep pushing the button marked “the government is after you” and the money flows into their coffers. And the net effect is that millions of deadly weapons are now in the hands of people who are angry, resentful, bigoted, and delusional. This is a recipe for disaster, and the NRA and other similar organizations have no business supporting it.
But there is another more insidious perhaps even greater threat – one that is being nurtured in our schools. The Columbine, Aurora and Newton atrocities were committed by emotionally unstable young men. In the Columbine case, at least, that instability has been attributed to their having been bullied in school. A year after Columbine ‘an analysis by officials at the US Secret Service of thirty seven premeditated school shootings found that bullying, which some of the shooters described “in terms that approached torment,” played the major role in more than two-thirds of the attacks. Early stories following the shootings charged that school administrators and teachers at Columbine had long condoned a climate of bullying by the so-called jocks or athletes, allowing an atmosphere of intimidation and resentment to fester.’
The celebration of a school’s athletes, and the resulting impunity those athletes have to commit psychological, emotional, physical and sexual violence against other pupils is a pervasive, serious problem that has had a demonstrable direct cause and effect. The emotional scarring, the resentment, and the anger resulting from this casual and condoned violence is a deep-seated time bomb just waiting to explode at another Columbine, at another Newtown. And, of course, it was ridiculously easy for the shooters in these incidents to obtain the firearms they used, evading any and all forms of licensing, background checks, mental health analysis, age limits etc.
Unfortunately, what to most of us is a horror that could never be contemplated does not appear that way to these mind-warped young men – indeed, the very opposite is true; they will achieve ‘celebrity in death’:
‘Charles Andrew Williams, the Santana High School shooter, reportedly told his friends that he was going to “pull a Columbine,” though none of them took him seriously. Many foiled school shooting plots mentioned Columbine and the desire to “outdo Harris and Klebold.” Convicted students Brian Draper and Torey Adamcik of Pocatello High School in Idaho, who murdered their classmate Cassie Jo Stoddart, mentioned Harris and Klebold in their homemade videos, and were reportedly planning a “Columbine-like” shooting. In a self-made video recording posted by Seung-Hui Cho to the news media immediately prior to his committing the Virginia Tech massacre, Seung-Hui refers to the Columbine Massacre in an apparent reference to his motivation for his own acts. In the recording, he refers to Kelebold and Harris as being “martyrs.”
In America there is no getting away from the fact that here we have what is probably a unique cultural phenomenon. To reiterate – the US Secret Service determined that in most of the school shootings they analyzed, bullying was the primary motivator.
There is a current focus on the events in which mentally deranged people commit single atrocities with automatic weapons. But while legitimate after last week, we must not miss the larger picture. There are all kinds of ways in which twenty people (or more) get killed with a gun, even if not all at the same time: kids who pick up loaded weapons owned by their parents and accidentally shoot themselves or other kids; hunting accidents; those shot for walking-while-black; those innocents shot by self-appointed vigilantes who take the law into their own hands instead of calling the police; those who believe the only way to win a domestic argument is with a gun; etc. etc. And it is important to remember amid the cherry-picking of statistics by the NRA and others, there are large numbers of ‘accidental’ (criminally stupid) death-by-gun incidents in the US that are never reported as homicides, but are certainly the result of the sheer volume of guns in circulation, and the casual and irresponsible attitude towards them.
And this is the point here; apart from the news-making “massacres” there are just too many gun-related deaths, from carelessness, ignorance, arrogance, resentment, anger, to ignore. When do we decide that enough is enough? Or indeed that we have already gone too far? And this is my issue with the NRA and other similar organizations; they have pushed the boundaries of acceptability so far that we are all in danger. This is not about hunters, although I have no understanding of the thrill involved in killing defenseless animals (and often wonder about hunting as a “gateway” activity – how easy it might be psychologically to move from routinely killing animals with guns to killing people). But the NRA has: engineered the proliferation of guns far beyond those needed for hunting; encouraged the collection of multiple guns in numbers that far outstrip their utility as protection; enabled and promoted the acquisition of ever-deadlier weapons for which there is no justifiable rationale in a modern civilized society; and pressured into place the appalling “Stand Your Ground” legislation in a number of states. And it does this in large part by appealing to the fear, resentment and anger of its members that it itself had fueled. It also, of course, simply buys the results it wants through the purchase of politicians and legislators.
And what has been their response to the gun massacres we have seen to date in terms of policy or indeed anything constructive? Nothing. Wait for it all to blow over. Actually not quite correct: unbelievably the reaction of many gun advocates to Newton is to double down – there should be more guns – with all restrictions on carrying guns in public places, including schools, not just eliminated but reversed, so that carrying guns would be encouraged or even mandated. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas): “I wish to god she (the principal of the school) had an M4 (automatic rifle) in her office so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out, she takes him out.” (In my opinion, Gohmert is a living endorsement of the proposition that everyone should have a basic IQ and sanity test before being allowed to serve in government.) That was also the position of Gun Owners of America, which said that if teachers at the Newtown school had been armed, the killer could have been stopped. Its director, Larry Pratt, went so far as to say, disgustingly: “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands”. So basically their solution is to keep arming more sections of society in some fruitless ever-escalating quest to protect each one from another. And our public places and schools become free-fire zones.
But just for the sake of it, let’s examine this proposition. The sequence of events as it would play out in Newtown is as follows:
- Parent is an avid gun collector and keeps numerous hand guns and semi-automatic rifles in the house.
- Parent takes son to gun range where he learns to be accomplished in the operation of said weapons.
- One day son takes some of those weapons, kills parent, goes to a nearby school and starts shooting defenseless children and adults.
- Principal of school retrieves automatic rifle and shoots at son who is attacking the school. (Note that there is no mention by these idiots of how long it might take the Principal to retrieve said rifle, and how many children would still have been shot, or what would have happened if the son had just shot the principal before he could be shot by the principal, or what would have been the collateral damage resulting from a machine gun battle in a crowded school.)
Are these people serious? Yes, they are serious; they are also stupid and very dangerous. But isn’t there a very obvious, simpler and much better solution to the above? Yes – remove point #1 in this scenario and none of the rest of the tragedy happens. But we can’t do that because it would negatively impact gun sales and the NRA does not want that.
The proliferation and the use and abuse of guns has become so casual, so entrenched, so well-funded, so politicized, that significant changes to gun control policies will be very difficult, if not impossible. There may be some cosmetic, incremental changes but I will bet there is nothing of any substance. And any changes will probably be meaningless anyway, because there are now so many guns in circulation that nothing short of a complete recall will have any impact. Gun sales have increased dramatically since Newtown – as gun enthusiasts are encouraged by the NRA to pre-empt any gun-control legislation introduced by the Obama administration and stock up with even more weapons before a ban goes into place.
The neanderthal Mr. Larry Pratt also suggested that “this is not the Wild West”. In fact, it seems to me that America’s choice of guns as its go-to recourse in conflict resolution has not moved forward in a hundred odd years. Oh and by the way, when Dodge City residents first organized their municipal government, the very first law they passed was a gun control law. They declared that “any person or persons found carrying concealed weapons in the city of Dodge or violating the laws of the State shall be dealt with according to law.” Many frontier towns, including Tombstone, Arizona -the site of the infamous “Shootout at the OK Corral” – also barred the carrying of guns openly. Today in Tombstone, you don’t even need a permit to carry around a firearm. So instead of moving forward, we have in fact moved backwards – and that is entirely the fault of the gun industry, the NRA and similar organizations, and their paid lackeys in the legislative bodies of this country.
I also believe there is another factor at work here; that people feel more powerful when they own, carry and use guns. They become more of a man. Indeed, this was overtly expressed in Buckmaster’s “Man Card” campaign. And it is reported that the gun industry is trying to engender this same sentiment in women, because as yet, the number of guns bought by women does not approach that bought by men, and that is another market to be exploited. If somehow you feel that you are more of a man, or stronger in any sense, because you carry a gun, that is pitiable.
I started this piece with talking about the “Hey Hey NRA! How many kids did you kill today?” phrase. While I believe that the NRA and the gun industry does bear the lion’s share of responsibility for this situation in America, we should probably also think in terms of “How many kids did we kill today?” because we have allowed things to get to this point, and even if we don’t have direct responsibility for any of these tragedies, there are ways we can try to prevent them happening again:
- Attend to our schools and stop the bullying and other violence perpetrated by kids on kids. No one in any school should be allowed to get away this kind of activity, even if they are star players on the football team.
- Stop listening to hate speech and manufactured anti-government conspiracies. There are more important things to worry about that are actually real.
- Stop electing bone-head politicians whose only qualification is their position on gun control.
- Repudiate through whatever means possible the Stand Your Ground laws that legitimize vigilante killings and enable the killing of innocent people because no one can argue against the claim that the perpetrator felt threatened. The police don’t want them, and neither do we.
- Give up any and all guns you don’t need. Someone will get hold of them and kill people. Or you may kill someone.
- Stop the sale and use of assault weapons now. Buy back all those that are now in circulation.
- Keep this fight going. As with every other tragedy like Newtown, the NRA and others will hope that everyone stops paying attention after a couple of weeks.
- Stop taking illegal drugs. The drug business in the US causes thousands of gun-related deaths a year, not only in this country but also in the principle countries supplying this voracious non-diminishing market. And it could be stopped virtually overnight, but, no, Americans will continue to put their self-indulgence and sense of entitlement ahead of the greater good, and continue to consume illegal drugs.
Some source material for the above: