Sometimes, the state really manages to place its own contradictions and hypocrisy in brilliantly clear focus. The last week has been one of those times. When a shooter, allegedly James Holmes, opened fire in a crowded theater during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, the response of people around the country was understandably hurt and anguish. That’s a natural reaction to the murder of twelve innocent people. Unfortunately, much like after other tragedies, this shooting has not led to a widespread challenging of the roots of the real problem. Columbine justified the militarization of our schools and the loss of student freedom. 9/11 justified an enormous imperial expedition. And Aurora will likely fall in line, though exactly where, we’re not sure yet.
This morning, I saw two stories that highlighted the hypocrisy of the media and government sensationalism around the shooting.
The first was the story of another tragedy, this one in Texas. Fourteen migrant workers (though the reporting has been pretty shoddy and numbers have ranged from 12 to 23) were killed when a Ford truck they were riding in crashed. Despite a similar death toll to the shooting in Colorado, the response couldn’t have been more different. Instead of days of national mourning, presidential trips to Texas (though there’s a chance the victim’s families were okay without a visit from Deporter-in-Chief Obama), and nation-wide calls for a re-examination of the policies and attitudes toward migrant workers and immigrants that inevitably lead to this type of tragedy, bigots across the internet were crying from their all-too-prominent-places that the victims got what they deserved. Overall the incident got nearly no mainstream media coverage, and we were not subjected to endless waxing memorial by TV hosts about the victims–and that’s because no one saw them as victims. Migrant workers are so marginalized and oppressed within American society that they are all but invisible. Unions like the Farm Labor Organizing Committee are a venue for migrant farmworkers to raise a challenge to their living conditions, appalling pay, and the terror they often face from immigration services on a regular basis.
The second story I saw this morning was that of Caleb Medley, who was shot in the eye during the shooting and now is fighting for his life in the ICU. Doctors estimate that he will rack up over $2,000,000 in medical bills if he survives (and even if he doesn’t survive, his bills will). And guess what? Caleb Medley is uninsured.
His family has desperately begun a campaign to raise money to pay the expenses, and other working people have responded, but the total is still far short of the needed funds. This situation, which could be completely alleviated through a single payer healthcare system, will likely end up saddling the family with debt for the rest of their lives. This certainly undermines all of Obama’s nice words, his claims of heartfelt support. Warner Brothers has promised to pay a sizable sum to victims and their families, which Caleb’s family hope will cover the cost, but this completely skirts around the fact that what happened to Caleb is a regular occurrence, and the solution is not charity from the wealthy on a case by case basis, but a healthcare system that places people and their lives at its forefront and consigns profit to the dustbin of history.
But what about the guns?
That’s the question everyone is asking.
Just as inevitably as these tragedies occur, so do the calls for “meaningful dialogue” around gun control that follow them (as the Onion pointed out hilariously earlier this week). But the discussions about gun control are deeply flawed. They (purposefully?) obfuscate the real issues, drawing a seemingly tidy curtain over the inner workings of a machine that is rotten at its core.
That said, it’s understandable that people want to get rid of guns, but guns are a byproduct of capitalism and imperialism. They aren’t going to magically disappear. People make a lot of money off of guns. So for now at least, they’re here to stay. In addition, history has shown us, among other things, that people are infinitely clever at coming up with ways to kill people. Even if it means you have to chew their face off to do it.
But, some argue, even if it’s not a systemic change, isn’t it good to have as many guns as possible off of the street?
This line of argument relies on racist ideas that tell us “thugs” and “drug lords” are gunning down innocent bystanders left and right, and they are the main source of gun violence. These are the people gun laws are intended to target. After all, with such laws, good, law-abiding citizens (not unlike one neuroscience graduate student with dyed red hair) would still be able to purchase guns. Only “criminals” would be excluded. Combine this with Michelle Alexander’s thesis in The New Jim Crow, and what I read is that people who make racist laws don’t want Black people having guns.
But, as I said, guns exist, and even if they were to be outlawed completely, not only would the people who really wanted one still be able to get one, the biggest criminals of all would still have them at their disposal.
Shootings like the one in Colorado, and other smaller instances of street crime do occur, but in paltry amounts compared to the level of violence unleashed daily by the US state through its police force and military. In all the conversations about gun control, these guns are never up for being controlled, though they would be the first on my list. We would all be a lot safer if police walked around in handcuffs and we could release them temporarily to save kittens from trees like they apparently do in some mythical place I’ve never been to.
The murders committed by the state are rarely even considered crimes. They are hiccups, road bumps, collateral damage, and unfortunate mistakes. Ramarley Graham, Stephon Watts, Rekia Boyd, and too many more to name here are not considered murder victims by the state, nor are the police who murdered them charged with the terrorism they have unleashed.
Around the world, the US commits heinous war crimes for which it is not punished. Unknown, but certainly higher than reported, numbers of civilians are killed regularly in drone strikes, ground massacres, and bombings.
Any sane person would consider these criminal acts, but not only are they going unprosecuted, they are sanctioned and expanded at the highest levels of power.
That’s the hypocrisy of talking about “gun control” and it also helps explain why some people feel they need guns.
There are some truly frightening bigots who own guns, but I think on a broader, sociological level, people who think they need (and people who actually do) guns for self-protection against the government or other people are a testament to how deeply undemocratic and alienating our society is.
But what do we do about guns right now? What about violence in our society generally? It’s a question worth asking.
Disarm the police. Obviously, this is easier said than done. The police are the protectors of state power, the most vital form of protection for the 1%. Without physical force, they would have to rely on the moral strength of their ideas and actions. It’s harder to be more morally bankrupt than the ruling class, and especially in the economic crisis, it’s unlikely the ruling class would last long without physical force to protect them. Even in places where the police force is less militarized than the US, like the UK (before the Olympics), police still manage to commit racist murders. Think back to the summer riots in the UK in 2010.
But the police are terrorists, and we must fight to stop the violence they unleash against our communities, and particularly Black and Brown communities. This year, the police have murdered a Black person every 40 hours, but the movement against police terrorism has grown, and as it continues to grow, we must demand that every killer cop be fired and jailed. That in and of itself will not change the nature of the police as an institution, but it can help put our movement on the offensive and give us confidence to build an even larger movement.
Confront racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamphobia head on. Don’t be squeamish about the right of people to self-defense.
The people who say “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” are generally the sort of people who make me quiver with rage, but guns are a sort of lethal physical extension of oppressive forces in our society. The fact that so many murder victims are Black, are women, are LGBTQ people is not random. They are targeted because of their specially oppressed place in society. In this situation, gun control discussions are a lot like pulling a plant up by the stem. The root is still in the ground, and the plant will grow back.
We’ll get a lot more mileage out of waging a war against oppression that we will by self-righteously crusading against gun violence. If we build a mass movement that can actively challenge the oppressive ideas people have in their heads while at the same time laying the groundwork for a revolutionary process, we can take a tangible step against this kind of violence in our society–the kind that leaves CeCe McDonald in prison, Shaima Alawadi and Trayvon Martin dead, allowed Urbano Ramirez to die in the field where he was working.
And what about mental illness? Part of the solution is so obvious, it almost feels ridiculous to have to point it out in the first place. Namely, a full and free health care system that incorporates full mental health services (including the currently non-existant preventative medical care).
Oh, and a rise in living standards probably wouldn’t hurt either. Remember the woman two years ago who murdered her children before killing herself after being denied food aid in Texas?
But I’m not just ambivalent about gun laws because they don’t address the real issue. I’m opposed to them because they, like so many other laws that are only supposed to punish “criminals” it would have consequences that would be devastating to working communities, in particular African American communities.
After all, who would be targeted by the laws? White grad student with no criminal record? Or Black teen with nothing on his record except “walking while Black?” This question answers itself. Have you heard of Stop and Frisk?
Also, it’s unlikely gun laws would actually prevent any violence.
It’s fine to hate violence. Most people do. But the reality is that capitalism unleashes some form of violence–whether it’s poverty, war, or racism–on us in some way, albeit in different intensities. But the only way to get rid of it for everyone is a collective struggle against the one class that is doing the real attacking. That’s the real solution.