2.5. The Gun Problem

There is a mass shooting almost every day in the US. This is not hyperbole; if we adopt the definition by the Congressional Research Service, a mass shooting is defined as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms”, we find that there were 346 verified mass shootings in the US in 2017. This translates to a mass shooting every 0.95 days on average. Compare this with Australia, which has not had a mass shooting since the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996.

 

In 2015 there were more than 34,000 gun-related deaths in the US. Australia had 211 gun-related deaths in the same year. This translates to around 12 times the number of deaths in the US per capita than in Australia. This rate is higher than the Philippines, Israel, and even Mexico. In 2016 the number went up to 38,000, which averages out to a death by firearm every 15 minutes, or the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every month.

 

Gun-related violence is clearly a serious problem in the US that needs to be addressed urgently, and yet as each year introduces more and more massacres, no action is taken to control the problem. To name just a few of the most severe:

  • The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, where 33 people were killed and 17 were wounded;
  • The Tucson shooting in 2011, where six were killed and 19 injured, Among the dead was a district chief judge and a nine year old girl; among the wounded was a Congresswoman who was shot in the face.
  • The Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012, where 28 were killed and two wounded. Among the victims were 20 children aged 6 and 7;
  • The Orlando massacre in 2016, where 49 people were killed and more than 58 wounded;
  • The Las Vegas shooting in 2017, with 58 dead and 515 wounded.

 

In Australia, legislation was passed following a massacre 22 years ago and there has not been a mass shooting since. In fact, the number of gun-related deaths in Australia has been consistently decreasing since then. In the US, no legislation has been passed for even common sense legislation that is supported by over 90% of the population.

In the US you can legally own a firearm if:

You might not be able to fly to see your parents if you are on the terrorist watch list, but it is perfectly fine for you to purchase a firearm. You are not allowed to vote if you are a convicted felon, but you can purchase a firearm.

 

Follow the dollar

In understanding any area of US policy one need always ask only a single question: Cui bono? Who benefits from the unregulated gun ownership and the endless escalating massacres? The gun and ammunition manufacturing industry has an annual revenue of $13.5 billion. In a single year alone, a total of almost 11 million firearms were manufactured (10,847,792 in 2013, the last year for which we have data). Only 4% of them are exported. Massacres greatly benefit the arms manufacturers for two reasons: Firstly, the person committing the massacre has probably purchased a large number of weapons and ammunition; and secondly, massacres amplify the feeling of fear in the general community, causing many to purchase guns to “protect” themselves. In this vein, it is in the interests of arms dealers to nurture a feeling of constant terror in the population, since the response is for the citizenry to purchase more weapons. The strategy appears to work like a charm – gun sales always seem to experience a surge after mass shootings.

 

The irony is that gun ownership does not serve as protection, and actually increases the chances of violence or death. It has been shown that the presence of firearms increases the chances of homicide, suicide, accidental death, and domestic violence. Also, gun owners are almost 3 times more likely to kill themselves or a family member than a home intruder. In almost every way, increasing the presence of guns creates a less safe environment.

 

The perversion of the second amendment

Australians have probably heard of the second amendment and probably associate it with the “right to bear arms” as it so often appears in the media. While it is true that the right to keep and bear arms is stated in the second amendment of the US Constitution, it is not the entire contents of the amendment and not, in my opinion, the primary focus of it.

 

Here is the second amendment in its entirety:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

That’s all there is to it.

 

The first thing you probably notice is how grammatically poor the wording is. The founding fathers were wordsmiths and careful about their usage of language, and the wording of the second amendment was changed several times (this Wikipedia entry provides a list of the changes). Why, for example, was the wording changed from the more grammatically correct version:

 

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.” ?

 

Leaving out the religiously scrupulous part, the wording in later drafts was changed such that the “well regulated militia” part was placed first and foremost. This speaks to the actual intention of the second amendment by those who ratified it. It was never intended to provide citizens carte blanche on the possession of firearms, but rather it was a provision allowing for the raising of militia by local governments. Those militia would be carefully monitored by the powers that be, i.e., they would be “well regulated”. A militia must be armed, and so they were given the right to keep and bear arms.

 

In other words, the Second Amendment provides the right to keep and bear arms solely for the purpose of forming a militia that would be carefully scrutinized by the government. The belief that is held today is, to myself and many others, a clear perversion of the original intent of the amendment.

 

Moving slightly into the realm of speculation, consider the fact that there was no centralized police force in the late 18th century. This didn’t really come along until the 1830s. Before that time, local towns relied on a so-called “night watch” which consisted of volunteers supervised by constables. At the state level, however, the militia was charged with the role of law enforcement, and so the militia could be regarded as the equivalent to the state police force at the time of the ratification of the second amendment. Translating this law enforcement structure to the modern day, it does not require much speculation to suggest that the well regulated militia of the 18th century was the police force of its time.

In that sense, the modern equivalent of the second amendment could simply be an allowance for the arming of the police.

 

How?

Given the seemingly obvious intention of the second amendment, how and why was it perverted so that the public focus was only on the last (secondary) part? We have already addressed the why (Cui bono?), but the legal cover was solidified by Supreme Court rulings from just the last decade. The pivotal case was from 2008, where it was declared, by a 5-4 ruling (of course), that the second amendment is unconnected with the militia. This was reinforced in rulings in 2010 and 2016. These rulings need to be treated with the greatest skepticism, given the fact that the Supreme Court of the 21st century, like the rest of the US government, has been corrupted by corporate interests.

 

The NRA and media collusion

The domestic lobbying branch of the arms manufacturers and dealers is the National Rifle Association (NRA). It sells itself to the people as a protector of their (perverted) second amendment rights, but in reality its job is to ensure that gun sales are never impeded by legislation. The solution to every problem is always more guns and all attempts to control the gun problem are always painted as a violation of the rights of the gun owners (which, conveniently, disregards the rights of victims to not be slaughtered by gun owners or the fact that the vast majority of gun owners also want more restrictions). When a massacre inevitably occurs, the narrative put out by the NRA, which is adopted line for line by the mass media, is always the following:

If the killer is a minority, he is labeled as a gang member or a thug.

If the killer is Muslim, he is labeled as a terrorist acting on behalf of all Muslims.

If the killer is white and/or Christian, he is labeled as a mentally ill lone wolf.

The implication should be obvious: Always fear the collective “other”, always dismiss the white Christian, and never under any circumstances suggest that the unregulated access to firearms could be the reason for why so many people were killed.

To ram this message home, consider the following:

  • Why are the terms “white terrorism” or “Christian terrorism” never used in the media?
  • Why are there never calls for all Christians to apologise when one of their own commits an atrocity in the name of their church?
  • Why is there blanket news coverage when a Muslim commits a violent crime and almost no coverage when the same crime is committed by a white supremacist or Christian fundamentalist?
  • Why is “gang violence” always associated with minority groups and never with neo-nazi groups who wear uniforms and behave very similarly to those in minority gangs?

 

The cycle of violence and profit

The collusion of the arms dealers with the established political elite (via the NRA) sets up a perpetual money making machine. Guns remain deregulated guaranteeing that a mass shooting is always just around the corner. Mass shootings escalate fear in the population, who buy more guns out of the misguided belief that it will make them safer. This leads to a larger number of deaths and injuries, which escalates fear even further, and so goes the cycle with more and more firearms being purchased each time. Government intervention is prevented by invoking a feeling of mistrust in the citizenry (the evil socialist government wants to take away your guns!), propped up by the NRA with enthusiastic support from the mass media.

 

To give an example of the extent that lawmakers will go to protect their NRA lobbying funding, consider the recent massacre in Florida; what activists are calling the Valentine’s Day massacre. The Governor of Florida signed legislation that would raise the age of purchasing firearms to 18; a sensible and appropriate move that should leave rationally-thinking people to wonder why anybody thought it was appropriate for people under the age of 18 to purchase a firearm. The NRA immediately sued the state of Florida.

What would be a rational response to the escalating number of school shooting in the US? Prevent firearms from being brought onto school grounds? Prevent access to firearms to minors? Prevent access of assault rifles? You should know by now that this is the US where rational responses don’t happen when money is involved. Here is a list of some actual responses:

The School Marshall Program: A bill allowing teachers to be armed in class;

The sale of bulletproof blankets for elementary school children;

Encouragement by a former presidential candidate that protesting school children should “instead of looking to someone to solve their problems for them do something about taking CPR classes.”

 

To those reading this from Australia, take a moment to think about that. Imagine ten of your high school teachers being required to carry a firearm with them at all times and given the authority to shoot their students. Can you think of one of your teachers that you might enjoy being able to bring a gun into the class room? Can you think of a former student of yours who might like to get their hands on that gun and what they might do with it?

 

At the time of writing, thousands of school children are taking part in the “March for our Lives” protest. The attacks leveled against them by the right wing say more than I ever could about how low people will go to protect the arms manufacturers. Young people do not vote and they do not give money to politicians. Their lives are therefore worthless to Congress. Their protest will not change a thing.

Whenever you might be reading this posting, on whatever day it might be in the future, do a quick search online to see how many were killed in today’s shooting in the US.

 

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