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Wednesday, 21 February 2018 06:05

Guns Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg When It Comes to US Violence


ar 15pAR-15, the Parkland gun (models vary) (Photo:Wikipedia)

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Think of mass shootings, or the approximate 10,000 gun homicides that occur a year in the US, as the top of a volcano that is erupting. All that molten lava has pushed itself through the caldera and resulted in explosive violence. You can also think of it as the tip of the iceberg, with a massive block of violence and rage floating beneath the surface.

As Kelly Hayes so eloquently pointed out the other day on Truthout, we live in a society where violence has become normalized. It is incorporated into the culture like DNA. Gun violence is simply its most visible edge. As Hayes writes,

Mass shootings are merely the amplification of a very American phenomenon, and we do not have a broad-based commitment, as a nation, to combat the roots of violence...

Prohibition has never saved us from ourselves -- only transformation can do that. Idle laws are a poor substitute for the work of building a society that truly values life and prioritizes the creation of safety. The real work lies in unravelling our death-making culture, and facilitating the transformation of both individuals and communities.

That is not to say that individual gun laws might not save some lives. After all, although discussion of gun laws tends to concentrate on the buyer, there is a wide array of gun commerce -- including gun stores, gun shows, manufacturers and wholesalers -- that are ripe for reining in. However, we are, as Hayes notes, a nation "saturated" in violence. In fact, each weekend on the news, entertainment is made out of the grisly toll from guns, as news networks spike viewership -- and thus advertising rates -- with gun violence serving as spectacle.

The cliché for television news is true: "If it bleeds, it leads." That phrase says a lot about our nation's grim fascination with carnage.

Perhaps it is understandable when you consider the premise of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. As she establishes in an interview with Truthout, the Second Amendment represents a United States built on stolen land and chattel slavery. The means of enforcing these goals, in relation to Indigenous people, were largely through the use of militias armed with guns and the government military:

I would call "massacres and oppression of Indigenous Americans" a government policy of genocide, total war, total ethnic cleansing. The citizens' militias [were] one aspect of that policy; the other was the formal US Army and Marine Corps, which spent the first century of US independence carrying out this project. The role of settler-colonial landowners as voluntary militias in initiating massacres to drive Native communities out and seize their land was acted out as "individual rights.

As for Black chattel slavery, Dunbar-Ortiz asserts:

By the mid-1700s, the plantation agricultural system was agribusiness and made up the primary source of wealth in the new republic. There was no debate about including the individual right to bear arms and form militias in inscribing the Second Amendment among the first 10 amendments to the constitution, as these features already existed in the colonies. Colonial citizens' militias already existed, and by time of independence, the slave-owning colonial militias had been transformed into slave patrols.

In short, many of those who worship guns do so as a legacy of how firearms were used to enact violence on two oppressed groups essential to the growth of the United States. Guns were and are a representation of a nation built upon the violence of white supremacy, as land was bloodily seized from Indigenous people, and as enslaved people were kept in bondage by militias with guns.

Add to that the US's long ignominious history -- especially since World War II -- of being the dominant military interventionist in the world. How many people have been killed around the globe in the name of "defending the US"? Around Christmas and at political events, we make claim to be a nation that loves "peace," but what other nation on Earth has the interminable and gruesome record of violence that we do?

Then there is the politics. There is an interesting political note to factor in here when it comes to who supports gun reform. A January 15 Washington Post article analyzes a CNN poll on gun laws:

Where there was a difference was by party. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans oppose stricter gun laws, including almost half who oppose them strongly. Among Democrats, opinions are stronger in the other direction — but among independents, the question is about split.

If you’re a Republican lawmaker, then, why would you advocate strongly for stricter gun laws? Your base of support opposes the idea, and swing voters are split.

And if you’re President Trump, the result is even starker. Three-quarters of your base opposes stricter gun-control laws, more than half strongly. Where’s the incentive to advocate for them?

It is worth considering how many of these Republicans are (directly or indirectly) scions of the primary perpetrators of the violent culture that spawned this nation -- of asserting white privilege at the point of a gun.

In July of last year, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wrote about an incendiary NRA ad:

On the surface this is a recruitment video for the National Rifle Association. But what you are really about to see is a call for white supremacy and armed insurrection, each word and image deliberately chosen to stir the feral instincts of troubled souls who lash out in anger and fear.

So we have come full circle to the crisis of dealing with our national gun violence problem. Not all mass shootings relate to the resentment of white supremacists that this nation is changing, but plenty of them do. The violence we gasp over has, as its source, the fact that this nation was founded upon the brutal suppression of non-white people.