So there was another mass shooting. Well, actually there have been six of them in the last week, but we’re still talking about the big one. In Vegas. You remember. An act of violence on that scale has the unique ability to galvanize the public, to bring us together and offer a moment of clarity. In this case it seems we might see eye-to-eye on a piece of gun control legislation. Even the NRA is willing to listen*. Wow.
Of course the idea that restricting access to bump stocks constitutes meaningful gun control (or, really, gun control at all) is laughable. It reeks of the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, when right wing politicians in the employ of the gun lobby rushed for any scapegoat that might be accepted by the left, and settled on removing Confederate flags from state buildings. It is certainly a good idea, and certainly not a real response to either a specific act of violent white supremacy or gun violence in general.
But even when our consensus on what to do is wan and fragile, large scale shooting attacks captivate us. We remain fixated on the 24 hour news cycle as the perpetrator’s third grade girlfriend says in an interview that she never saw it coming and false flag conspiracy theories crop up before the barrels or the bodies have cooled. Ending mass shootings by military weapons is as easy as restricting civilian access to military calibers, but ignores a few grim realities (not the least of which is that we simply don’t care to act).
Banning guns relegates violence to the domain of the state, and ours is a nation where still, in 2017, a person’s skin color is as dangerous in the eyes of the police as a weapon. We elected an autocratic, Nazi sympathizing president who promises to parade our military through the streets as a show of force. Call me a gun nut. Call me paranoid. I’m uncomfortable with a state monopoly on death.
And then of course there is the reality that the dramatic, galvanizing shooting incidents happen only a few times a year**, and that the overwhelming majority of gun violence occurs at an upbeat cadence of ones and twos until we see tens of thousands of Americans fall each year at the hands of their countrymen. This truth yields cries of “black on black” murder from right wing racists who are bad at statistics, but the fact remains that most people are killed by someone they know.
Any earnest discussion of solutions requires acknowledging the scale of the challenge. Guns outnumber people in the US, and are firmly entrenched in our national identity. Any effort to confiscate these weapons will play into the narrative of the militant right and probably catalyze a civil war (we’ve seen armed insurrection for far less go unpunished). Tempering the manufacturing and sale of new weapons will take decades or generations to have a palpable effect on firearm ownership. Even passive regulation curtailing new sales would require legislation dramatically more profound than we could muster after 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The simple fact is that for the foreseeable future***, the NRA has won. Guns are here to stay; what’s left is how we use them.
America’s culture of violence is bred in the disparity between our national premise that hard work will yield success and the reality that for most of us it simply isn’t true. Murder is the tool of kings and desperate men, and our social and economic policies of the last 80 years have sown large swaths of desperation across our city centers and rural communities.
Violence in America is about much more than access to guns. It’s about access to healthcare. Access to education. Access to real jobs and an answer to the promise of the American Dream. If we’re serious about addressing gun violence in a meaningful way the conversation cannot begin with esoteric modifications or the vague, cowardly scapegoat of “mental health,” whatever that means from the lips of a politician.
To address gun violence in America we need to address America’s culture of violence, and to address that culture we need to confront the atmosphere of hopeless resignation that afflicts the disenfranchised. This begins by recognizing that our democracy is broken, that what we have for government looks much more like a plutocratic monarchy, ruling on behalf of the rich. We will not see an end to gun violence until class mobility becomes a reality for all Americans and healthcare is, if not a human right, an essential pillar of our social contract. The end to gun violence lies in demonstrating that we truly are created equal, and a government that protects egalitarian ideals.
Gun violence is impossible without guns, but violence itself is born from scarcity and desperation. These are the most productive, prolific years of human history, and there is no excuse for either.
**That’s it! Why is everyone so worked up?
***One thing we actually can do is to pressure the news media to publish crime scene photographs and video. We live in an insulated fantasy world shaped by John Wayne and Michael Bay. The reality of gun violence is easily lost on those who it doesn’t touch in a personal way. Let’s change that.