It’s a horrible thing; this shooting of so many people at an Orlando, Florida LGBTQ night club after the shooter—his father relates—became “enraged by the sight of two men kissing.” While it is important that those in leadership roles express their dismay, grief, resolve to change the conditions that can lead to such a tragic massacre, it somehow rings far short of genuine for President Obama to—for the 15th time—“regret …how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or in a house of worship or in a movie theatre or in a nightclub” restating his now obviously impotent desire to do something about the, for all intents and purposes, complete lack of control over gun ownership in the United States. It was, indeed—as Obama suggests, ‘an act of terror and an act of hate’ but, in the United States of Armaments, it was also as predictable as day follows night.
Beyond belief, the shooter, Omar Mateen, had been interviewed by the FBI three times as a suspected terrorist. Days before the massacre Mateen had stopped by the local gun shop to purchase a handgun and long gun with all the scrutiny you and I get for telling a fast food teller to hold the double bacon on our cheese burger.
In a different city on the same day a neighbour’s tip staved off yet another massacre as Los Angeles police arrested a Santa Monica man who had boasted of intentions to harm the city’s Gay Pride Parade. Police found three assault rifles with high capacity magazines and a 5 gallon pail of improvised explosives in the man’s home.
13,286 people were killed and 26,819 injured in the US by firearms in 2015, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Between 1968 and 2011 more people in the US died from domestic gun violence, about 1.4 million, than died in all wars fought by the USA–1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq. And, STILL, the American president doesn’t feel he has the “social capital” to act on gun control! What, then would it take?
Perhaps it isn’t just the guns are us lobbying of the National Rifle Association. Perhaps the reason all Obama can do about gun violence is a wistful kind of publicly stated regret is that it really isn’t just the availability of guns. Perhaps it is the whole American culture of weapons are us whether the “us” is an individual, a gang, a police force, a political/cultural ism, a whole region of the country or the country and its whole relationship to the world. According to one study the US has killed over 20 million people since SINCE World War 11. Obama himself daily signs on for death to American “enemies” by drone strike—which is somehow construed as a kinder/gentler way of assassinating people. According to corporate US news ISIS is a barbaric organization because it beheads people with a sword. The US accomplishes the same task humanely—by frying them—and anyone around them– alive in a drone strike. Hum, I’m having some considerable trouble following this absurdly concocted syllogism that assignation by drone strike is perfectly acceptable because it fries its victims. In 2013—the only year I could get stats for—US drone strikes killed nearly 5,000 people. Of course all the drone victims were enemies and “armed combatants. But that is just another one of those perverted syllogisms where anyone struck by a US drone is, by definition, an “enemy combatant.” “Oh, we didn’t know!”seems to have been the fancy verbal dancing around the drone strikes that killed American hostages held by “enemy combatants.” No matter how absurd it becomes, “everyone killed by US drones is an enemy combatant—if they weren’t in life; they are in death by drone.
Last year the US spent more on its military than the next eight most militarized countries in the world combined leaving little doubt about its preferred option for settling international disputes and—most importantly—securing “American interests.” How can we possibly see gun violence within the United States as anything different from an axiom of the violence that the US inflicts on the rest of the world? How can anyone—presidents most notably included—talk of ending the violence at home without some sort of commitment to ending the violence the US perpetrates on the world around it?
Yes, sane gun laws that keep the recently obsessed or deranged from obtaining an assault rifle on short order would stop some of these spontaneous massacres—and that is a good thing, but even if they stopped selling any new guns (rest assured they won’t do that) there are already enough guns in the hands of US citizens to supply every man, woman, child in the us with a deadly firearm. Meaningful gun reforms would have to go way beyond banning new gun sales.
For instance, I will tell you a short and sadly true story I heard related to my parents while I was, as a child, quietly/inconspicuously listening from the kitchen.
Ted (he’s gone but I will still obscure the personal identities in this story) was a typical—even gentler than most Americans—American middle aged father. He and his wife, Marge-let’s say-decided to “See America” by car, of course. They spent a summer traveling the entire breadth of the US and were, generally, enjoying the trip. After two months on the road—travelling large distances most days—they were beginning to get a bit “edgy” and thoughts of getting home and just relaxing on the back porch were growing stronger as they headed home across some of the rolling plains of Colorado. One day, one hot day made just tolerable by cracking the “wind-wing”–the only available vehicular air conditioning in the 1950’s, Ted was just growing restless behind the steering wheel when over a gentle knoll in the prairie grass landscape, Ted and Marge, in their slightly sporty, slightly beefed up Ford coupe came on a very long line up of cars parked beside the road. People were out walking on the road like no one expected traffic to move in either direction any time soon. Ted pulled over to the shoulder and waited anxiously to continue their trip. Ted was a good neighbour and a friend to my family. He seemed agitated at times but he was admired by my parents and the southern California neighbourhood he lived in. Ted waited patiently beside the road—for awhile, a short while–before he began to become restless-antsy. After fifteen minutes beside the road, Ted looked over at Marge with resolve, “Get my gun”—a six shooter he kept in the glove compartment. “I know what this is! This is a prairie stick up! And we’re not hanging around to be fleeced by some prairie bandits!” Marge seldom challenged anything Ted said, and never when he seemed so resolute. She got out the gun. Ted started the car and grabbed the gun with one hand held high while clutching the steering wheel with the other. The shiny—bug spattered—sporty Ford pulled out from the shoulder and began to gain speed as pedestrians dashed for the side of the road as the rapidly accelerating Ford sped down the road. Over a rise and through a dip in the road then –gun held high—up a long rise, still accelerating. At the top of the rise…At the top of the second rise, there it was—a gas tanker on its side sprawled across the road. Ted dropped the gun and jammed on the brakes bringing the Ford to a screeching stop a relatively short distance from the overturned–spewn across the road– gas truck!
The problem is Ted and Marge’s story is not an exceptional story south of the 49. Americans, generally, are like that; everything comes down to guns and cars. And now they have this guy who is even nuttier than the average proclaimed as the “presumed nominee” for the Republican Party presidential candidate. And he –he’s already told us this—views nuclear bombs like Ted viewed his six shooter; it’s how you get what you want in the world. Trump has actually told American audiences that he will make America great again by being the first US president since Harry Truman to actually use America’s nuclear weapons.
I know readers expect a story like this to come around to something positive that can be done; some bright spot to focus on, some hope to cling to, but I am finding optimism hard to come by in a world where the world’s most powerful and belligerent nation is being offered a choice Trump and Clinton for President, a choice between being lead off the cliff by a rabid clown or stampeded over it by the greeds of cunning corporate interest gone amok.
I suppose the hope is, the potential antidote to the tragic story that is the United States today with all its domestic and militaristic guns is, Bernie Sanders. Even if he doesn’t win, he has moved the boundaries of the discussion. He has demonstrated that there is, actually, a whole bunch of sane and peace loving people down there. Perhaps he has ignited a dream of something better. As Martin Luther King, jr. ignited the dream of an civil rights for all, perhaps Bernie has awakened and given voice to the kind of sanity that will look for solutions that don’t come out of the barrel of a gun, that will put people before profit, that will put equity before flat out greed, that will see humanity as stewards of the land rather than a pillaging army. I do hope my grandchildren will, years from now, live in a much safer world and have a much better story to tell.