“Violence is as American as cherry pie” (H. Rap Brown)
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose voters” (Donald Trump)
“When your children act like leaders and your leaders act like children, you know that change is coming” (Mikel Jollett)
Americans of all political persuasions are shooting each other in the streets and now, with increasing frequency, in our schools and churches. Despite our claims for American exceptionalism and moral superiority, ours has always been a violent country, founded from the onset by genocidal policies and exploitation of slave labor. This American violence, which never stops, has been glorified throughout our history. Violence is the default setting for problem solving for unruly children as well as foreign regimes whose policies we don’t like. Media hyped violence is just about everywhere on our news in keeping with the TV cliché, “If it bleeds, it leads”.
Hollywood action films, Superhero Blockbusters and quick kill video games are enormously popular as entertainment. Our empire supports a Late Roman taste for violence as spectacle; which is nothing new to our culture. I grew up on the East Coast, watching Old Western movies, together with other kids from our neighborhood, on our little black and white TV screen, which glorified charismatic gunslingers. Every week we had a new episode of the Lone Ranger on his white horse, shooting silver bullets; sheriffs rounding up their posses to organize “necktie parties” for the bad hombres who rode black horses. Sharing juice and cookies, we eagerly followed many a gang of valiant vigilantes setting out to promote frontier justice. Interestingly enough, many of these episodes were filmed in Arizona where I now live, which at that time, seemed as far away as Mars.
And then there was Annie Oakley, the most famous sharpshooting heroine of her time, who often starred in Buffalo Bill’s traveling Wild West Shows. A movie about her life starred Lana Turner, and there were coloring books for girls featuring her rootin, tootin frontier adventures. Many Americans also have a kind of nostalgic affection and enthusiasm for elaborate, sanitized re-enactments of earlier wars. Revolutionary War enthusiasts stage their re-reenactments in period costumes on battlefield sites with their reproduced versions of the Brown Bess Musket. These theatrics are always well attended by participants and spectators, as are similar events re-enacting our Civil War. In modern times we have Clint Eastwood’s gun- bearing Dirty Harry daring any adversary to “Make my day”, as well as Sylvester Stallone’s now iconic Rambo. All the while our toy industry has greatly profited from this long tradition of lethal weapon’s lore. The fact that a Republican candidate for the presidency could boast as to how he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody without losing voters, and be nevertheless elected, makes our situation clear enough.
Any invitation for Americans to re-think our relationship to guns is likely to meet with fierce resistance, given our history. It is not only a deeply ingrained belief that fire- arms equate with power but also it is our God given freedom set forth in the 2nd amendment of our constitution. In reality this freedom also includes freedom to stockpile guns and ammunition that we can order online with prime-time delivery options.
Times have changed since our long-gone colonial and frontier days. Our once democratic republic has become a world-wide, militaristic empire; and war permeates our fear-driven post 9/11 culture. In addition to Orwellian perpetual wars to “preserve our freedom” that we hardly notice, we are routinely asked to enlist in a War on Drugs, War on Christmas, and War on Terror. All the while our bought and paid for politicians continue to allocate ever more gazillions for more and more weapons of mass destruction. Never mind that too many of our human warriors are easily discarded and sleeping in the streets. The hour is late and our situation is dire.
On February 14th, 2018, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday for Catholics, the latest iteration of a series of horrific school shooting fractals took place in the quiet suburb of Parkland, Florida, when a drill suddenly went live. Why so many of these mass casualty events such as 9/11,7/7 and others, nearly always take place at the same time as a drill, is a topic for a whole other discussion. Another co-incidence, if you believe in such things, is that, like Columbine, the Florida school was built on land previously occupied by indigenous who came to a genocidal end. Broward County was home to Semioles who were either slaughtered or otherwise deported in accordance with colonization policies. In Parkland, the shots rang out during a class on Holocaust history.
While Colorado’s 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in the quiet suburb of Littleton, was not the first event of this kind in the USA, it became iconic due to massive media hype and political involvement at the highest levels of both government and military. The reasons for this are complex and not well understood, as they have to do with the unfinished business of war. I wrote about this in some depth in A Question of Balance (2008) as did Dave Cullen in Columbine (2009). In his film Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore addressed this underlying issue of war, from a different and still related perspective.
Parkland Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located on the edge of the Everglades and named for this environmental activist. Ironically, among the single-cause explanations for this tragedy, mental illness was favored by our mainstream media, and Ms Douglas suffered from severe episodes of mental illness at various times in her life. Along with the mental illness as the problem rhetoric, was the theory that a majority of school shooters were taking SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), medications which have the alarming side effect of both suicidal and homicidal ideations. While it does seem that these psychotropic drugs may well have played a role in these ongoing tragedies, there are other factors to consider, including ease of obtaining military style assault weapons such as the AR-15.
The Ar-15 automatic assault weaponhas that name for a reason; and for some they have become something like a fetish. As novelist Stephen King has observed: “Semi-automatics have only two purposes. One is so owners can take them to the shooting range once in awhile, yell yee-haw and get all horny at the rapid fire and burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel. The other is to kill people. (Guns). At present, there are some 5 million of these flesh shredding firearms in circulation; which can fire dozens of rounds in one single second.
All of which brings us to the raging debates surrounding the issue of gun control. The popular adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” has a modicum of truth, since other heavily armed populations, such as in Canada and Switzerland, do not have our mass shooting problems. Such countries also have mentally ill, many of whom are medicated with SSRIs; but they do not stage these horrific massacres. Other countries with strict gun control laws, such as those in Scandinavia, also have a clear consensus that these laws are an important aspect of public safety. Without consensus, gun control laws are not effective. Ask Mexico.
Unfortunately, the Columbine High School shooting issued in a new era of militarization of our schools with metal detectors installed and backscatter imaging devices became part of the teenage prom experience. While some may advocate arming teachers, more guns as a response to too many guns doesn’t seem to offer any viable solution. Public school safety programs now include twice yearly, live shooter drills conducted by former Special Forces and Israeli trained militarized police. This has rapidly evolved into a profitable extension of the post 9/11 security theater profiting from the economics of fear.
If there is any good news, one finds that the Florida mass shooting is different in that survivors are taking to social media and news media with a clear message that enough is enough, and they demand action. On the April 20th anniversary of the 11 A.M. Columbine massacre, students and teachers are planning a nationwide march to demand changes in our gun laws. Celebrities such as George and Amal Clooney, and Oprah Winfrey are donating money and resources and also plan to participate in the marches. This is hopeful, in that one may actually hope for a much needed seismic shift in our collective understanding of freedom, guns and safety.
The storm is upon us and it seems clear that when it comes to common sense gun laws, there is no leadership available from our corporate-controlled oligarchy, and that change can only be achieved from the ground upward. Grassroots groups could arise organically, perhaps as shooting clubs, as well as community activists willing to get involved with local law-enforcement, volunteer firefighters, and emergency responders to promote gun safety courses and competitions. Together they could create an actual infrastructure capable of facing all manner of diversity together as a community of responsible and sovereign citizenry. (Land Destroyer, Global Research, February 16, 2018).