(Photo: Sébastien Bertrand)
In the wake of the latest mass shooting in the United States - in which 10 died at an Oregon community college - there will again be a clamor for gun control. President Obama, upon being informed of the latest large scale killing field, lamented that we have become "numb" to gun violence.
President Obama challenged the mass media, "I would ask news organizations [to] tally up the number of Americans who have been killed in terrorist attacks in last decade and the number of Americans who've been killed by gun violence."
NBC News responded to the president's request with a startling set of statistics:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 153,144 people were killed by homicide in which firearms were used between 2001 and 2013, the last year that data are available (that number excludes deaths by "legal intervention").
- The Global Terrorism Database — which uses a criteria to determine terrorist attacks but also includes acts of violence that are more ambiguous in goal — estimates that 3,046 people in the U.S. died in terrorist or possible terrorist attacks between 2001 and 2014.
The top number doesn't even include suicides and legal police killings (which boost the number to 394,912). Still, just counting homicides alone, 11,780 Americans were killed by guns a year on average, in that time period, while 219 on average were per year killed by terrorism — although of course the 9/11 attacks are the bulk of the deaths.
The NRA - and more extremist pro-gun groups (yes, there are more strident firearms advocacy organizations than the NRA) - will accuse gun control advocates of "exploiting" the mass shooting and "taking advantage of the victims." There will be a series of editorials in big city papers calling for more gun control and verbal exchanges of dismay among individuals.
In 2-3 weeks, however, this latest mass murder with a firearm will recede into the rabbit hole of past news. After all, a Washington Post article about the executions in Oregon noted, "In fact, using data from ShootingTracker.com, we can say that mass shootings -- defined as incidents in which four or more people are shot -- have happened hundreds of times over the last several years."
In reality, however, most gun killings occur among individuals, generally passed quickly over by the press, if reported at all. Yes, you may read an occasional article such as this one from The Chicago Tribune that states, "murders keep adding up for deadliest September in Chicago since 2002." However, in general, we do not mourn the loss of the vast majority of those killed by gun violence (often people of color who are shot dead are not even named by the media). We lament and wring our hangs over the alarming number of people felled by guns, not over them as individuals and not over their value as members of our community.
Yes, guns are far too prevalent and easily available in the United States. Yes, there is a gun industry that has a vested financial interest in perpetuating the fear in our society that leads to the purchase of ever more technologically-advanced and lethal weaponry. Yes, there is no question that fewer guns in fewer hands would make the United States safer. The gun lobby will vociferously dispute this, but the statistics of death by firearms speak for themselves.
Nevertheless, the problem is much more deeply rooted than a society floating in a sea of guns. The NRA and its "fellow travelers" represent the tip of the iceberg of a nation that was created by the use of violence to suppress and massacre an Indigenous population that already occupied the land that became the United States. Clamorous gun advocates represent the tip of the iceberg of a white patriarchal society that became an international economic power due to the establishment and perpetuation of slavery - and all the violence and killing involved in sustaining the ownership of other human beings as a source of free labor.
The nation grew - in land and wealth - through the utilization of violence as a nationally condoned policy.
Currently, the US empire is founded on the assertion of militarized violence to perpetuate its supremacy as the "sole superpower." The use of violence also ensures that the status quo of structural racism and economic inequality are maintained through the use of brutal policing and mass incarceration - which is itself a form of violence upon the freedom, integrity and soul of individuals, who might otherwise represent a potential political counterforce to the existing oligarchy founded on white privilege.
It's a combustible mixture when combined with the prevalence of guns in the US and their role as a source of profit for everyone from the manufacturers to the individual sellers at gun shows.
In the recent past, we have finally visually seen the frequent toll that police shootings take on people of color - murders that were certainly occurring before but were not recorded at the time, so the police officers' accounts of "justifiable force" almost always prevailed (they still do, in most instances, because cases are usually presented to grand juries by district attorneys who either are pro-police, politically ambitious, prejudiced or all three).
The condoning of police murder to protect the overall interests of the status quo and prevent a more just society is as much a part of the gun violence problem in the US as mass shootings.
As Simon J. Ortiz wrote in his poem "Busted Boy," "The violence of suppression erodes a society, shred its morality into brutal acts":
In his poem "For the City that Nearly Broke Me," Reginald Dwayne Betts writes of a friend Malik shot by the police as indicative of "the way America strangles itself":
& Malik's casket door clanks closed,
& the bodies that roll off the block
& into the prisons and into the ground,
keep rolling, & no one will admit
that this is the way America strangles itself.
The killing field in Oregon yesterday is inextricably tied to the killing fields of neighborhoods abandoned by the status quo to be burial grounds for disposable people, which cannot be disentangled from a culture that has incorporated violence as a tool of expansion and societal control since its inception. When violence is so deeply embedded in a culture for immoral and ignoble purposes, it cannot be prevented from spreading and emerging in moments of horror such as yesterday in Oregon. State-sanctioned violence and individual acts of shooting become inseparable parts of the same continuum.
When the nation is without a moral compass about the use of violence, we unleash all those filled with anger and despair to avenge their self-perceived grievances with guns.
Yes, we need fewer guns and less craven political capitulation to the gun advocates, but until we deracinate the right to resort to violence as a basic underpinning of our nation's racial and economic injustices and of our militarized international hegemony, the shooting will not stop.
"The violence of suppression erodes a society."
Shootings Are Enabled by a Gun Cult, but Fostered by a Society That Perpetuates Violence MARK KARLIN 02 October 2015Tweet