2012 made the record books for mass shootings in the United States, with seven incidents involving lone gunmen each murdering at least five people per spree.
The grotesque Sandy Hook elementary school shootings and the melee at a Colorado movie theater got our attention. Flying under the radar, however, is the fact that Sandy Hook’s 28 fatalities amount to only one third of the death toll bullets take on an average day in the US. Guns are now on track to soon claim more American lives than automobiles. The reason is simple.
When we recognized that cars were killing us, we acted in a sane and rational manner, installing seat belts, airbags, and traction control systems, for example, while working to get impaired drivers off the roads. With guns, however, we’re seeing an opposite reaction, as if the psycho-killer gene mutation has infected our national DNA. Sure, there are a few folks calling for regulating guns with the same vigor we regulate automobiles—something akin to how we license drivers and demand they bring their cars in for annual inspections.
The reality is, however, almost none of these sane, rational people are in positions of leadership, and there is no proposal to regulate guns nationally with same seriousness we apply to cars. What we’re more likely to see in the news is some Tea Party babbler twanging on about how we should militarize public schools, using tax money for armed guards at a time when we’re cutting back on teachers and freezing their salaries. This idiocy, proposed by the NRA and echoed in various degrees by Democratic and Republican politicians all the way up to the White House, illustrates the NRA’s true role as an industry lobby for gun manufacturers. The solution to gun violence is more guns. So now our national dialog is infected with the deranged asininity of arming educators—like teachers don’t have enough shit to carry around.
Psycho-killers, however, don’t confine their psycho-killing to institutions of education. During the past 20 years, less than one fifth of mass shootings have taken place at schools. Almost a third of them occurred in work places, ranging from offices and factories to an Aurora, Colorado Chuck-e-Cheese, with current or laid-off employees doing the shooting. Mass shootings also took place in a diverse array of environments ranging from churches and cafes to shopping malls, nursing homes, night clubs, trains, and parks. So if our response to mass shootings is to put armed guards in schools, how long will it be before every Radio Shack, auto dealership, bookstore, and tavern is occupied by an underpaid, overworked, anxious, stressed, tired rent-a-cop giving the hairy eyeball to everyone who reaches into a pocket to grab a wallet?
And if the concealed-carry gods did bless all of us with sidearms, what good do you really expect to come from a hyper-armed population? Imagine another theater shooting incident. The shooter bursts in to a dark theater and begins firing. Before most of the patrons have their wits about them or know what is going on, they all pull out their pistols. This should take about two seconds. Then, with gun in hand, they’ll hear more shots, see someone else, probably not the shooter, with a gun in hand, and by second four, the theater could be a free-fire zone. The same thing could happen if a firecracker went off. Or if one of thousands of non-mass shootings were to take place nearby.
Militarizing schools with armed guards isn’t a new idea. Decades ago the police posted an armed cop in my high school. He was known to nap in the basement and one day lost his gun while doing so. He was quietly transferred, and as far as I know, there was no record of the incident. Schools where armed guards hold on to their guns still get shot up from time to time, in much the same way banks with guards still get robbed. Only the robbers bring bigger guns. So the next NRA call will likely be to up the arms race in the schools, giving guards bigger bad-boy boomeroos.
The thing about people who hold guns all day, and who are trained to fear people and to shoot them, is that over the course of their careers, many of them shoot the people they fear, and in many cases, that fear turns out to have been misplaced. This is far more common, and with an exponentially higher death toll, than psycho-killer rampages.
The, dare I say, “saner” option to hyper-arming society would be to disarm the nation. Of course, I hate deer as much as the next guy, so I’ll make the obligatory homage to hunters, and admit that god meant us to have pump-action long guns. But beyond that, really, what’s the fun in taking your entire annual deer harvest in seven seconds? Does your desire to target-shoot your collection of AKs trump the next person’s right to not fear being shot to death by a crazed killer or, more likely, a tired cop? As my sister-in-law put it, “Hey, all you people posting about the Second Amendment and ‘Boo-hoo, don’t take my guns away from me,’ get over it. If giving up one of my hobbies would make the world safer, I’d pack up my enameling kiln and kiss it goodbye.”
This brings up the issue of the Second Amendment, which clearly guarantees our rights to own carbines, blunderbusses, flintlock rifles, and assorted muskets, as long as we are in well organized militias, such as the New York National Guard. More contemporary and more radical interpretations of the Second Amendment argue that the intent of the amendment was for the populace to be armed to thwart government tyranny, or, put more simply, to shoot cops or soldiers, if government grows repressive. According to this logic, an armed population will never be subdued. The reality, however, is that unless the Second Amendment guarantees everyone the right to own armed aerial drones and tactical nuclear and biological weapons, this armed population will be outgunned, even with their Wal-Mart Bushmasters. This is also the driving force behind revolutionary movements adopting nonviolence. You’ll almost never outgun the state. Contrast the relatively nonviolent end of apartheid in South Africa to the carnage in Syria. Even if the rebels prevail, much of the country will have been destroyed in the process, bringing the efficacy of violent resistance into question.
The weapon of choice for psycho-killers is the semi-automatic handgun, followed by the military assault rifle. Police agencies are now, too, equipped with these weapons, contributing to the militarization of society, which is visually represented by the image of machinegun-toting police officers. In recent years, nonviolent protestors exercising their democratic rights have been confronted by such obscene displays of power and terror. Repressive government officials justify such shows of force as being “necessary” in an armed nation. The end result of our gun culture is not gun ownership as a hedge against a police state—it’s gun ownership as a justification for a police state.
The alternative to arming everyone everywhere with an automatic weapon or grenade launcher is to begin disarming American society—this means cops and criminals and crazies, leaving cops with the same weapons they had before the assault weapon craze. We’d still have crime and mayhem, only the carnage would be on a much smaller scale. No one in any position of power is engaging this discussion, however. The gun industry lobby has pushed the meme that any effective regulation of guns would be akin to surrendering to Big Brother—or perhaps the DMV. It’s not. It’s just what we call “civil society.” This disarming would be no easy task, because it would also mandate that our government stop acting like a repressive state, threatening its own citizens with indefinite detention and assassination by executive order. In a healthy democratic society, people should not be obsessed with having to arm themselves against their government.
The issue here is obviously not with target shooters and hunters. The NRA leadership is revealing an organization that has gone beyond defending a hobby, instead identifying ownership of guns, particularly guns designed specifically for hunting humans, as a central tenet defining their vision of American society, American identity, and, more frightening, American political culture. This puts them in conflict with mainstream American values where your safety and security comes from being part of a civil society—not outgunning your neighbors and the local police department.
Someone recently asked me, “Why won’t anyone stand up to the gun lobby?” My answer: “They have guns.” Really, is this what it’s come to?
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at SUNY Buffalo State. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.
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