How America is Killing Itself

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Every time I hear of a mass shooting, I try not to watch or read the news about it. I wish I could close my eyes and wake up sometime in the future, after American society has become aware of the fact that these kinds of massacres will continue unless we eliminate guns from the streets. I still hope that one day this country will have enough guts to face this problem, and that — on that day — society will act accordingly.

But in spite of the rapidly increasing number of victims of gun violence — a number that includes many children — a solution is not even close to being put into practice. The lives of six-year-old children in Sandy Hook and churchgoers in Charleston are being sacrificed on the altar of the constitutional right to use a lethal weapon. Based on what? On an innate passion for shooting and killing? As this seems to be an ideal that America defends strongly, I am afraid that this country will never lay down arms in exchange for a safer, gun-free society.

Even the reaction to the recent massacre in Dallas a week ago — in which a man by the name of Micah Johnson took one of his guns and killed five policemen and wounded seven as an act of (in his mind) justice for the cold-blooded murders of two black men by the police two days earlier — hasn’t gotten us any closer to a less weaponized society. An American of any age, color, religion, or ideology can walk into a gun shop — or even a supermarket — and buy himself a weapon, convinced that with a gun at his side, he is a better American.

As we know, there is very little control over the 300 million pieces of weaponry circulating in this country. The guns in circulation are not hunting guns, or Civil War-era guns inherited from great grandfathers. They are all modern weapons. They are fast and precise — manufactured for killing people quickly. Many of them are assault weapons. They are in the hands of private citizens, and as president Obama once said, they are easier to obtain than a driving license.

To be honest, even writing these facts about guns horrifies me. I admit, I have a terrible fear of guns. They scare me; they make me nervous. I think they are against everything modern humanity represents. One of my fondest memories of my father — who died when I was 10 years old — is a story about how he disarmed a policeman who came into a café with a machine gun, trying to discipline a rather joyous group of people, which included my father. This happened right after World War II, I was told. There was no violence during this scene, and my father simply talked to the policeman — who was obviously abusing his uniform, showing his zealous socialist spirit — and explained that there was no danger, and therefore no need to walk into a café with a machine gun, giving the citizens all sorts of orders. The memory of the Nazis and the Gestapo were obviously fresh in everybody’s minds, but even without that, I remember that my father opposed any kind of violence. So the hatred for guns must be “in my genes,” similar to the way that the love for a good rifle must be “in the genes” of many of my friends who love to go for a hunt, exercising the ancient call of nature. That is fine, but the story changes when the weapons are designed and produced to kill people at the level that today’s guns are designed for.

As you can see in the video in the earlier link, President Obama has denied the fact that he has ever threatened to use his presidential power to confiscate weapons from private citizens — even after the horrible mass killing at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. True to his word, he has not used his presidential power — and he is not the only president who shied away from doing that. The list is long, and anybody who wants to make it in American politics would have to consent to citizens owning guns. The most that a president can try to do is to impose some sort of control on gun sales, such as requiring background checks and more meticulous recording of gun permits. Obama’s administration tried to do that, but not very successfully.

Now, my intention here is not to describe the political battle in Congress, the influence of the NRA, or the prevalent mentality of gun owners that clashes with the interests of the wider community. I am also not going to discuss the element of racism that helped to boost profits for the gun industry. There is no doubt that the Second Amendment is fertile ground for the racial divide, reinforced by the gun industry.

Think of the two black boys killed by police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. Apparently they both had guns on them, but the police killed them both even before they could take them out. There must be a terrible panic among white policemen whenever they face an African-American with a gun. The panic is cultural and not based on actual danger. This kind of panic has happened not once, but many times, and is defended in the name of the constitution, as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his book. As I described it last year:

It’s tremendous. It’s scary. It’s not Black Power and it’s not Martin Luther King, with his zen approach in trying to change the system within. Coates lets both of them go. He cuts through reality with his own language. The fact that the United States of America is not made for black bodies, but for white Americans – the white dream – is something that Coates recognised only a couple of years ago. In fact, in the same interview with Remnick, who asked him how he became so radicalized, Coates answers, “I read history. Before that, I did not understand to what extent you can get crippled if you are ignored. Or being treated like criminal when we do the same things as a white men.” Coates blames the Constitution, which – regardless of its later amendments – foresaw only the dream kingdom of the white man. This feels and reads like the story of Guantanamo. Coates tells of a population that was thrown on this island where they have no rights, no body, no place – a hell described by Laurie Anderson in her performance art piece earlier this year.  

America — the dream kingdom of the white man, Coates writes. The country where the black are treated like a criminals if they are doing the same thing as a white man. Like carrying the gun, for instance.

As I said, I did not know much about the killing in Dallas. I did not read reports; and that night, when the first dispatches about the shooting reached me via smartphone, I went to bed. Meanwhile, a dear friend — a musician — stayed up and watched CNN the whole night. And eventually I, too, latched onto the story when the AP reported that President Obama — in Warsaw, chairing the NATO summit at the time — declared that the “Dallas shooter was a demented individual’ who’s not representative of Americans.”

I could not believe my eyes. I ended up posting on Facebook:   

How can the President of the U.S. say something like this? As if this demented individual was not an American citizen; as if all demented people in the U.S. should be kicked out of the country; as if demented people are this way not because society made them, but because of some other demonic reason. This way of talking, Mr. President, belongs in the language of the medieval church that burned women because of superstitions that they were possessed by the devil. But you, Mr. President — you are running a society that is sick, that has cops that are murderers, and you call these other demented. The two are connected — decrying demented as “not being part of America” does not resolve the problem, Mr. President!

I was disappointed, but aware that the African-American president has been walking a thin line throughout his time in the White House. In fact, when I tried to discuss the matter with two experienced editors and friends later that night, the discussion circled around what the president might have wanted to say about white America, and what he actually said in public. But if you ask me, the world has no time to hire interpreters to translate Obama’s thoughts and explain his intentions. The world generally sticks to the text, rarely taking the time to speculate about potential meanings; and the president’s words were similar to those of Stalin, who spent his whole life trying to divide the “bad” from the “good” in Soviet society.

Sure, Obama is not Stalin, but as America’s first black president, he tried to avoid one trap and fell into a different, textual one. And why is this important? Because what Obama said was a straightforward message for gun owners: they don’t need to worry. There will be no consequences concerning guns. The murderer who killed those five cops was a lone madman who was eliminated as a threat. We will heal by holding each other hands, Obama signaled. But the problem was not and cannot be resolved simply with support for police and the death of a madman.

The New York Times report from the killing field in Dallas illustrates where America is heading:

As a demonstration against police shootings made its way downtown here on Thursday, it differed from others around the country in one startling way: Twenty to 30 of the marchers showed up with AR-15s and other types of military-style rifles and wore them openly, with the straps slung across their shoulders and backs.

In Texas, it was not only legal. It was commonplace. …

But city and county leaders said the presence of armed protesters openly carrying rifles on Thursday through downtown Dallas had created confusion for the police as the attack unfolded, and in its immediate aftermath made it more difficult for officers to distinguish between suspects and marchers.

Two men who were armed and a woman who was with them were detained, fueling an early, errant theory by the police that there was more than one gunman.

In the end, the police dropped a bomb that killed the shooter, but never explained in detail how they figured out that the armed men among the marchers were not terrorists or attackers. Neither do we know if any of these armed patriots pulled out their guns in an attempt to join the police and to defend from the attacker. In short, how will it ever be possible — especially in a situation of panic — to distinguish the “good guys” from the “bad guys” if everyone is armed?

Also published on Medium.

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