Schools are not safe places in the United States. Two U.S. universities were the scene of fatal shootings last Friday [Oct. 9], one in Arizona and the other in Texas, bringing the number of similar crimes committed in educational centers across the nation to 47.
Nowadays, barely a day goes by without American society living through woeful incidents like these. Three hundred and one mass shootings — defined by at least four victims — were recorded in the United States in the first 283 days of 2015. Nurseries, schools, colleges, universities, churches, shopping malls and office buildings have all witnessed such scenes of carnage.
But not only do the multiple murders outnumber the days; there are more firearms than people in the whole of the union, according to statistics available from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. At the end of 2013, at least 357 million guns were registered in the hands of American citizens: 40 million more than the estimated U.S. population. The assassin responsible for the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Chris Herper Mercer, owned 14 firearms. In an interview on the German TV channel Deutsche Welle, Jonathan Metzl, a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, who specializes in violence, firearms and mental health, analyzed the high incidence of shootings at higher education institutions: “College campuses increasingly mirror society. As there are more guns and more shootings, more disgruntled people turn to guns as a way of resolving a host of issues. Guns become the way conflicts are solved. Everything from interpersonal issues, unhappiness about grades, unhappiness about some of the societal aspects of college. We had a professor who shot another professor at a college in Mississippi a couple of weeks ago. Part of the issue is that there are just more guns around.”
Violence is in the very essence of the American nation. From the massacre of native populations in lands conquered during the expansion of the union, to the imperial wars of the 21st century — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc. — the culture of the cowboy vigilante has been enshrined in U.S. society. Part of the population has adopted hate as an ideology. Guns are a concrete expression of power.
The American empire has harmed more countries than any other nation in human history. The superpower frequently demonstrates to its citizens that the default method of resolving a dispute is by force.
For many Americans, owning a gun has become a kind of life insurance against the madness surrounding them; for others, it is an inalienable right, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
The products of this Rambo culture are chilling. Over the last ten years, 40 times more Americans were killed in incidents involving firearms than in the most dreaded terrorist attacks. The website Gun Violence Archive puts the figures at 10,000 deaths and more than 20,000 injured by firearms in 2015.
Social irrationality leads to cases as abominable as they are incredible, like the 11-year-old boy who murdered his little neighbor, aged eight, for the simple reason that she didn’t want to show him her dog.
Police are responsible for a significant number of firearms deaths. If you are black or Latino, you are more likely to be among the victims. On average, every 28 hours an African American or a Latino dies at the hands of security forces. “We have a black president now but that has not changed social relations. The police have always defended the upper classes, that’s why we can’t change the police, because they were created to defend the interests of capitalist logic,” reasons Jay Dell, a member of the Puerto Rican community in New York.*
It is a curious fact that the state of Texas, the scene of multiple mass shootings, allows young people to vote with their right-to-carry permit, but not with their student ID card. A bill set to be enacted in 2016 will allow students to carry guns at Texan universities.
Impotence and Routine
The New York Times published an article on Oct. 6 reflecting on the growing social outcry: The United States must initiate a process against the culture of gun violence, because right now fear is growing on this issue.**
In the aftermath of the mass shooting at Oregon, President Obama appeared before the nation to lament a sensational act of violence for the 15th time in his seven years as president. His speech was laden with irony and impotence: “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this.”
U.S. society as a whole seems resigned to Congress’s failure to take action and to the capacity of the powerful and radical National Rifle Association to influence Capitol Hill.
It is no secret that the NRA, founded in 1871, is one of the most loyal and generous donors to members of Congress and presidential candidates, Republicans in particular, with 32 lobbyists in Washington spending millions every year on its behalf. In 2008, the NRA invested $10 million in trying to defeat Obama in the presidential elections.
In response to the notorious mass shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, executive vice-president of the NRA Wayne LaPierre uttered, in all seriousness: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The Republican Party, which controls both chambers of Congress, supports the freedom to carry guns, leaning heavily on the outdated Second Amendment. The leading Republican candidate for the 2016 election is the eccentric Donald Trump, who bragged about his Charles Bronson-style gun prowess at a recent public event in Tennessee and declared himself to be “totally a Second Amendment person.” Andy Parker, the mother of the journalist vilely murdered on live TV last August in the state of Virginia, described the scenario in a recent interview with USA Today: “We are engaged in a war in this country. It is a war between rational, responsible people and self-interested zealots; a war between good and evil.”
For his part, President Obama summed up the absurdity of the politics surrounding the issue: “We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths.How can that be?” The Gordian knot of violence that is asphyxiating American society will be very difficult to untie. Only a profound ethical, political and social transformation could solve such an overwhelming challenge.
*Editor’s Note: The original quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.
**Editor’s Note: The sentence, originally formatted as a quote, was paraphrased from an article in The New York Times