A deep-rooted anti-social pathology that devalues life runs through contemporary U.S. culture. Apart from the tragic deaths of 20 children, six teaching staff, and the killer’s mother in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, there have been multiple high-profile shootings in recent years, when unbalanced and alienated individuals have lashed out at society with easily-available automatic weapons.
The shootings are symptomatic of the suppressed violence embedded in the culture. Filmmaker Michael Moore was one of the few to address this issue in response to the Sandy Hook shootings: “When you have eliminated so many millions of jobs, when you’ve ruined communities like mine, Flint, Michigan, you have killed people, because—because having seen firsthand the effects of these corporate decisions—the alcoholism, the drug abuse, divorce, suicide, all the social problems that go along with this act of violence—but we don’t call it violence, and no one’s ever arrested for it …”
The defiant speech by the head of the National Rifle Association, who stated that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, marks the bankruptcy of the American philosophy of extreme individualism. It denies the community the right to ensure the safety of the person through the rule of law, atomizing society into a Wild West free-for-all. Of course, the super-rich take care to hire private militias to guard their gated enclaves.
Gun laws are more than a wedge issue for Republicans; they are a central component of their anti-social ideology. The NRA is closely connected with the corporate and Congressional plutocrats leading the attacks on unions, communities, and the safety net. The social consequences of their opposition to gun control mean nothing to them, as long as they secure the political allegiance of those for whom the rush of firing guns compensates for their actual powerlessness.
The American Medical Association’s Journal notes: “… in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. …To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: ‘none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control’.”
The NRA’s links to the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer of guns and ammunition, were made public by the Center for Media and Democracy, which revealed that Walmart co-chaired an ALEC task force meeting in 2005 that voted to approve a law the NRA had spearheaded in Florida as a model for other states. That bill was the “Stand Your Ground” law that was invoked to justify the shooting of Trayvon Martin earlier this year.
Following ALEC’s strategy to neuter the national resistance to their right-wing agenda by pushing through laws at the state level, at the same time that Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed ALEC-drafted “right-to-work” laws aimed at undermining the financial and political clout of unions in the state, he signed another bill that overturned bans on concealed weapons. Scott Walker signed identical legislation in Wisconsin after his assault on union rights in that state. And, in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, Walker proposes giving guns to the teachers with whom he refuses to collectively bargain.
It is those who are fighting to restore social justice and union rights, like the Occupy movement and community activists working with the low-waged, as well as unionized teachers across the nation, who are empowering Americans to stand up to corporate bullying and reassert the value of their lives.
UPDATE: Rebecca Peters, who led the campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws after a massacre in 1996 that killed 35 people, pointed to the role of public frustration and the leadership exercised by the prime minister at the time in creating a nationally uniform gun law which set a much higher standard for gun ownership than the individual states. She says that the laws are a resounding success: “15 years later, we’ve not had a mass shooting since that time, and also gun deaths in general are about 50 percent lower than what they were.”
Michael Moore, however, argues in an Alternet article that while gun control will reduce gun deaths, it won’t end mass slayings “and it will not address the core problem we have.” Other countries that have guns, he says, don’t kill themselves at the rate Americans do. He lists three factors that may account for the violence embedded in the culture of the U.S.: poverty, racism, and the individualistic “me” society. “I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there’s less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.”