laws, guns, and money, pt 1

In the light of horrendous massacres, those who have a heart cry out to “do something” to prevent further atrocities. However, a narrow focus on gun control—or worse, mental health—at best only treats symptoms. Homicides are not merely a fact of weapons (which is to say tools) but of will, of psychological possibility, and apparent necessity. As we see in other contexts around the world, semiautomatics are but one efficient way to kill a group of people, but far from the only. So, we need to not just look at the tools of homicide, but the motives as well. Not just the how but the why are important. I’m convinced that in the context of the United States, it’s helpful to look at how state violence is carried out here and abroad on behalf of corporations and that violence becoming internalized. Digging further, the fact that the US leads the world in energy and food consumption (and waste) is not unrelated to the fact that its military dwarfs all other militaries. Combined with its repressive and militarized police and incarceral system and extreme income inequality, this helps explain why we have a more abundant gun and violence culture than other rich countries.[1] We will cover more of the why’s later, but for now I want to highlight how this concentration on the how is problematic, perhaps futile, and often worse.

Much is made in liberal circles of the over-abundance of guns. The United States leads the world in terms of firearm ownership with just slightly more guns than people (101:100 ratio). However, it rates low in terms of the guns to gun-death ratio, with several countries tacking upwards of 70 to 1000 times the number. Clearly, someone is stockpiling these weapons,[2] so the overabundance isn’t the only factor. And while this may sound insipid, perhaps there is something to the conservative argument that taking away guns merely means those who seek to commit mass murders will find other ways to do so. Lethal retaliation against random members of targeted populations (otherwise known as terrorism) takes the form of knives, homemade bombs, vehicles, and, hell, planes. However, reactionaries are always looking for distractions and scapegoats to continue the perpetuation of massive violence. On the other hand, liberalism avoids searching systemic causes. But a nation and world in such dire straits as ours must radically cut to the roots of the problem, particularly if the proposed solutions may garner more problems than solutions.

And the problems are many. On the one hand is the gun control debate where we question how to regulate the flow of weapons. A waiting period is reasonable and should not be discounted, but most of these mass random killings had been planned for months and the weapons bought well in advance. We must also take a hard look as to how historically and presently such laws have been used to criminalize Black and Brown citizens, much as anti-drug laws have done to racialized people. In fact, gun laws have the double effect of targeting black people for contact with law enforcement (and thus increasing the likelihood of death and prison) and of stripping black people of self-defense (as seen in the Reformation era, Jim Crow, and the Black Power movement). Despite much crowing from self-appointed– if not self-righteous–ministers of non-violence (who tend to be White and have little skin in the game), it was the Deacons of Defense and other armed revolutionary Black Southerners who kept the Civil Rights Movement safe in the hyper-violent Jim Crow South as witnesses such as This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed testify. Notice that there are two different standards in the application of gun laws and in how it works in relation to encounters with law enforcement: One is for White people and those connected to Whiteness and the other is for Black people and those connected to Blackness. Playing with toys did not save John Crawford or Tamir Rice. Being lawfully compliant and polite did not save Philando Castile. Carrying a phone and not a gun did not save Cedrick Chatman nor countless other Black youth and adults framed for their own murder by police who are supported by liberal fear of Black power.

If the liberal answer is to look at the tools as flawed, the conservative answer is to look at the people as such–not to seek solutions but to further alienate and oppress specific populations. Targeted here are racial and religious minorities and people facing mental health issues. While liberals tend to indirectly indict these same groups,[3] reactionaries like to go for the jugular. This can lead to travel bans, more militarized policing and crackdowns on protest, and of course ableist rhetoric that blames violence on mental health and stigmatizes mental illness. Not only are these not solutions and detrimental to the targeted populations, but they involve implementing and releasing more violence. Stigmatizing mental health, for instance, leads those facing mhi to resist assistance and therapy. This undergrounding of mental health leads to victimization for the person with the disability. By now we should all be aware that those who suffer mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Further, going underground and not seeking help or voicing needs leads to a higher likelihood of being preyed upon.

Not that mental health access isn’t necessary, but the US doesn’t have more people facing mental health issues than anywhere else. We need to disentangle talking about mental health and mass shootings or we risk combining the two and trapping many of us into a villainized victimization.

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[1] It’s important to note that the US does not lead the world in gun-related deaths, and even less so with firearm-related homicides. In fact, it is around 15th place depending on how metrics are measured. But it does lead in so-called developed countries. What this reinforces is that poverty kills. And as the US leads rich nations in wealth inequality and gun ownership, so it leads rich nations in homicides and suicides.

[2] Apparently, half of the weapons are owned by 3% of the population, with an average of 17 guns per owner at that top tier. Thanks to ___ for pointing this out.

[3] By supporting anti-crime bills and deportations as well as malignant rhetoric about “Muslim extremists/terrorists” and stigmatizing mental health problems

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2 thoughts on “laws, guns, and money, pt 1

  1. Pingback: laws, guns, & money, Pt. 2: The causes are coming from within the house – Left Cheek: The Blog

  2. Pingback: March for Whose Lives? – Left Cheek: The Blog

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