Twin Madnesses, et al
by David Swanson
We’re in the grip of twin madnesses and those who have overcome one of them can still be completely controlled by the other. The first madness is the idea that spending a trillion dollars a year on weaponry and war preparations makes us safer, that 1,000 military bases abroad protect rather than provoke, that nuclear arsenals discourage terrorism, that drones have civilized the act of blowing up somebody’s house, that the Pentagon’s business really is “defense.”
Why should our 4 percent of humanity need more weaponry than the rest of the world for protection? Our militarism encourages wars and the wars justify more militarism. The weapons makers that the Pentagon keeps in business arm the rest of the world as well. Meanwhile, we’re draining our budget, hollowing out our representative government, poisoning our environment, and escalating avoidable conflicts.
There is a second madness, however. It is a madness that appeals to those skeptical of governments. This is the madness that says we need our personal supplies of guns to protect us from the government. “Take your guns away?” we declare indignantly. “Oh no. We would never want to take people’s guns away. We just want them to have the right kind of guns, the right kind of bullets, the right registrations, background checks, and mental health screenings. We want our personal militarism civilized by its own Geneva Convention.”
This still leaves huge gaps between those who would seek to limit and control gun ownership and the NRA. And the “reasonable gun rights” coalition can indeed point to instances of a gun being used in actual defense. But the notion of using guns to resist or reform or overthrow the government is bizarrely out of touch with reality.
There is no correlation between personal liberties in a nation and its gun ownership. Campaigns of resistance to tyranny are more likely to succeed and that success is more likely to be lasting when those campaigns are nonviolent. Milosevic was thrown out of power in Serbia, not by violence, but by nonviolent action. In East Timor, violent resistance failed for many years before the people resorted to nonviolence and began to win. Last year in Tunisia, with not a gun in sight (or hidden away as an implied threat either), the people overthrew a dictatorship and inspired Egyptians to do the same. Meanwhile, Americans are so loaded down with guns that we’re killing our own children—by accident, by fits of rage and insanity—and we can’t overthrow a card table.
Are you kidding me? If in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court openly stole an election and our gun-heavy populace did nothing, if someone had predicted that our government would legalize warrantless spying, imprisonment without charge, torture, rendition, assassination, and wars fought by the CIA with flying robots before legalizing marijuana, who wouldn’t have said that was crazy? We’ve watched this being done to us. We’ve watched our wealth being handed over to warmakers and financiers.
Violence does not work, not even in the heart of a society devoted to violence. Resistance movements here at home are hindered, not helped, by weaponry. The government does not want your guns; it wants your obedience. It’s not afraid of your assault weapons; it’s afraid of your non-cooperation. An abusive government has no cause for concern as long as people believe that violence is the field on which to compete. But if we give up that mindset along with the guns, there’s no telling what might happen. We might even fix this place up now, without waiting for the apocalypse.
David Swanson is an activist, blogger, and author.
Guns, Violence, Massacres, and “Other Developed Countries”
by David Rovics
One evening in the spring of 1993, I took a bus across San Francisco, leaving the troubled, largely impoverished neighborhood in which I lived (representing, I suppose, the artistic hippie beginnings of the gentrification process which has since pushed most of San Francisco’s Black population across the bay). My closest friend at the time was someone I met because we were housemates in a big apartment. He was a tall man with a long, thick red mane and beaming eyes named Eric Mark, a brilliant engineer with a promising career who quit his job and became a cab driver to experience life more fully. Eric and I, along with one friend and two of his acquaintances, were headed to the Mission District, another troubled, impoverished neighborhood, this one populated mostly by refugees from the wars in Guatemala and El Salvador.
It was the early in the morning on May 1 and several of us were decorating a nearby abandoned building with political slogans appropriate for International Workers Day, while Eric and Alfredo were keeping watch, ostensibly for cops, on the sidewalk three stories below. A group of kids with a gun pulled up in a car and demanded the contents of Eric and Alfredo’s pockets, which were promptly delivered. One young man then pointed his gun at Alfredo, who looked suspiciously Latin, but was apparently causing offense because he was dressed entirely in black, which was not one of the gang colors. Eric stepped in front of the gun, asked the kids what more they wanted. The kid pulled the trigger.
A madman with a gun killed Eric. He didn’t use an assault rifle, just a shotgun, and it didn’t even make the news. The police investigation seemed to last a few hours at most, with no one identified, arrested, tried, or any of that. Although it was a somewhat unusual case in that Eric was white, he was, otherwise, just another one of many thousands of mostly young men killed that year and every year since—one of many, many times innocent people were killed this way by guns and as shocking and life-shattering for his friends and family as it has been for those close to the stolen lives of Newtown, Aurora, or Blacksburg. The motivation for the crime? Gang initiation, perhaps. The motivation for the gang? Poverty, racism, drug prohibition—what you could call the madness of our society. A madman with a gun killed Eric, but what was it that drove him mad? Was this a “senseless murder?” “Senseless” meaning we can’t make sense of it, it’s so crazy it can’t be understood.
Now there’s been a massacre horrific enough to sustain the attention of the media, as well as the general population for more than a few days, and there’s a lot of talk about banning assault weapons, what to do about gun violence in the U.S., and how to improve mental health services for the sociopathic killers in our midst.
Banning assault weapons is a very good idea, no doubt, and I don’t want to set up a straw man in order to knock it down, but a simplified version of the argument I’m hearing from a lot of mainstream—as well as progressive—media is, if we had the gun laws of “other developed countries” we would have a similar homicide rate to those countries. While I’m sure that a lot fewer people would die on the streets and classrooms of the U.S. if we could effectively ban assault weapons, what seems equally obvious is once such a ban went into effect, we would still have a far higher homicide rate than “other developed countries,” because we are not one of those “other developed countries,” we are a banana republic.
I have spent several months of almost every year since the late 1990s playing music in those other developed countries, mostly in northwestern Europe, and I can tell you from abundant first-hand observation that it is not just our gun laws that differentiate us from “other developed countries.” I hear the talking heads making noises about expanding mental health services. Sounds like a nice idea, if you’re into rearranging deck chairs on sinking ships. The elephant in the living room is that we don’t live in that kind of country. This isn’t a country where people get “services.” This is a country where you work or die, where you are denied essential surgery for not having insurance, where even if your insurance covers mental health care, that means three appointments with a psychiatrist and a prescription for Prozac. Not all deranged American mass murderers are from privileged suburban communities with parents who can easily afford “mental health services.”
This is a country with two oscillating ruling parties who both agree we should spend half our tax dollars on the military while governing over a country which has entire cities where the average lifespan is significantly lower than in many impoverished African countries. This is a country with four million people living on the street. You going to give them mental health services? Before or after you find them a place to live and enough food to eat?
But it’s a nice fantasy. We need lots of mental health services. And after we ban assault weapons, it would be nice if our society didn’t systematically breed alienated young men. But once these people have been produced by our culture of commercialism and greed—which constantly tells these unstable young men that they’re not pretty enough, not sociable enough, or rich enough to ever get anywhere in life—then there’s a lot more than mental health services that they will need.
I know what it’s like in countries where there is no underclass to speak of, where the social atmosphere in the public schools is much more reminiscent of a Waldorf school than a typical American public school, where people can talk sensibly about “improving mental health services” for an entire society. In the social democracies of Europe, where most government housing is indistinguishable from privately-owned buildings, where almost all the jobs pay a decent wage and include at least several weeks of paid vacation every year, where any citizen can get a college education for free, where you can get across town or across the country more cheaply and faster in a train than in a car, people talk about “improving mental health services.” It seems half the people I meet in places like that work in mental health services.
You ask a Scandinavian what they do for a living and a shocking amount of the time their answer will have something to do with caring for people. If they’re older than their early 20s, they’ll usually be highly trained experts with college degrees specializing in something having to do with education, taking care of the elderly, or helping drug addicts and people with mental problems.
But the only reason they can have a society like that in those “other developed countries” is because they have a certain fundamental thing that we lack: democracy. For all the hype to the contrary, we live in the least democratic “developed country” around. While polls have shown consistently, for decades, that most Americans would rather spend their tax dollars on things like education, health care, and housing, we instead spend half of our taxes on the military, sending generations of young men all over the world in order to learn how to be sociopathic killers. We spend more on taxes than the average Japanese, but the Japanese get space-age mass transit and universal healthcare, we get Amtrak, prisons, and an abundance of fighter jets and nuclear bombs.
If any political party in Europe even talked about changing their system so half of the taxes went to the military, they would be voted out of office in the next election. But they have multi-party democracies with political groupings that have radically differing opinions—we don’t. It is our lack of democracy that prevents us from improving mental health services. Improving mental health services in America is like putting a new coat of paint on the Supermax penitentiary. It’s a sick joke.
We can take away the assault rifles—and I hope we do—but until we develop a real democracy, stop spending all our money on bombs, and eliminate poverty—all of which can and has been done by many of those “other developed countries”—innocent children and adults like Eric Mark and so many others will continue to be killed by “madmen” in “senseless acts of violence.” It is only once we have a democratic, egalitarian society ourselves that we will be able to stop the majority of the violence so rife on the streets of America: the violence caused by American poverty and American racism.
David Rovics is a singer/songwriter who grew up in suburban Connecticut and is now based in Portland, Oregon. Songs and poems he’s written relevant to gun violence and modern-day massacres include “Song for Eric,” “All the Ghosts That Walk This Earth,” “I’m Taking Someone With Me When I Go,” “Aurora Massacre,” and “Breivik.”
By Tom Diaz
The “Bloody Reel: How The NRA And The Gun Industry Exploit Violent Movies To Sell Guns…And More Guns” report is about the hypocrisy of the National Rifle Association and the gun industry it represents. Even as they pretend to condemn violence in movies, both exploit images of guns in extremely violent movies to sell the increasingly lethal military-style guns that define today’s civilian gun market.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 20 first graders and 6 school employees with a .223 caliber Bushmaster semiautomatic assault rifle. He then used a handgun to kill himself. Lanza had earlier killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, with a .22 caliber rifle.
The National Rifle Association (NRA)—the public face of the American gun industry—scurried into silence. The organization took down its Facebook page and suspended its Twitter feed. Some imagined that the executives of the nation’s premier gun lobby and industry front were engaged in agonized soul-searching. The following Tuesday, the NRA’s social accounts were again active. The organization announced it would hold a press conference that Friday, one week after the slaughter of the innocents.
On Friday, December 21, the NRA’s leadership emerged in Washington, DC. The executives did not offer the olive branch that some expected. Instead, in a defiant broadside, Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s chief executive officer and executive vice president, blamed the news media, the film industry, and video games for causing America’s gun violence problem: “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry that sells violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games. Add another hurricane, add another natural disaster, I mean, we have blood-soaked films out there like American Psycho, Natural Born Killers. They’re aired propaganda loops on “Splatterdays” and every single day…. And then they have the nerve to call it entertainment. But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?”
It would be hard to find a more hypocritical statement even in the annals of the NRA, which is distinguished by its frequent assertions of unfounded “facts” about guns and gun violence. The truth is that the NRA, and the gun industry it represents, ruthlessly peddle what LaPierre called “the filthiest form of pornography” in his statement.
The “Bloody Reel” report documents:
How the NRA promotes the use of guns in violent movies through its widely-publicized—and ongoing—“Hollywood Guns” special exhibit in its National Firearms Museum, in its official publications, and on its Internet website. LaPierre himself is credited as “executive producer” of the current “Hollywood Guns” exhibit at the NRA’s national headquarters.
Statements directly contradicting LaPierre’s thesis, written by a prominent author and movie critic whose article for the American Rifleman, an official NRA magazine, appears as the Introduction to “Hollywood Guns,” the NRA’s official exhibit brochure. Former journalist Stephen Hunter opined in his book about the movie industry and film criticism that violent movies do not cause violent behavior and may in fact prevent it.
Austrian handgun manufacturer Glock’s calculated marketing strategy to exploit the placement of its guns in violent movies to help it capture a premier place in the American civilian gun market.
Boasting by American 50-caliber anti-armor sniper rifle manufacturer Barrett Firearms about the use of its guns in violent movies. Barrett is also reported to charge video game manufacturers fees for the use of representations of its guns in games.
Tom Diaz is an advocate for a strict system of federal gun control.
Gun Control and Arms Control
by Lawrence S. Wittner
In a number of ways, gun control issues are remarkably similar to arms control issues. Gun controllers argue that the availability of guns facilitates the use of these weapons for murderous purposes. Arms controllers make much the same case, asserting that weapons buildups lead to arms races and wars. Both stress the imperative of weapons controls in an era of growing technological sophistication, pointing out that assault weapons sharply increase dangers domestically, just as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons increase the dangers of a holocaust globally.
Weapons enthusiasts have also adopted a common approach. The National Rifle Association insists that weapons are harmless. According to the NRA, “people” are the problem, which can be solved by “good guys” using guns to intimidate or kill “bad guys.”
Adopting much the same position, the military-industrial complex and its fans contend that the people of their nation are “good,” and need superior armaments to deter or destroy the “bad” people.
In this debate, the weapons critics have a better case. Even if one leaves aside the difficulty of distinguishing between “good” and “bad” people, there is copious evidence indicating that, all other things being equal, the more access people have to weapons, the more likely they are to use them. States and nations that have strict gun control laws have less gun-related violence than those that don’t. Furthermore, heavily armed countries are more often at war than are militarily weaker nations. Indeed, nations flooded with weapons are particularly prone to bloodbaths. Just look at Syria, the Congo, Mexico, and the United States.
Although weapons enthusiasts in the United States lean on other justifications for armed might, these are even flimsier. The much-cited Second Amendment to the Constitution deals with a “well regulated militia”—an outdated institution that has no connection to today’s gun-owners. Moreover, the alleged patriotic necessity of resisting the U.S. government by force of arms is not only unconstitutional, but treasonous.
Even so, the weapons enthusiasts have spotted a genuine weakness in the case made by the weapons controllers. Specifically, while weapons exist, it is necessary to prevent or restrain armed aggression—by individuals or by nations. The fact that the enthusiasts’ “solution”—throwing more weaponry into the mix—merely exacerbates the problem cannot hide the existence of the problem. So what, in these circumstances, should be done about it?
Preventing or restraining armed aggression needs to be tackled not only by arms control and disarmament, but also by just and effective governance on the local, national, and international levels. To some degree, this job has been accomplished within many nations. Particularly when countries have representative governments, equitable laws, an impartial judiciary, fair policing, an accessible mental health care system, and a high level of social well-being, conflicts within them can often be settled short of resorting to armed violence—at least if they are not awash in guns.
The issue is trickier on the international level where governance is a much newer and more rudimentary phenomenon. In this case, there is no alternative to supporting the development of global institutions that will replace the rule of force with the force of law. Clearly this transformation will require scrapping aggressive action by individual nations, as well as vigilante action by groups of nations. Above all, it will require developing the United Nations as the final arbiter and resolver of international disputes.
As many people of goodwill recognize, the United Nations has shown the world the path that should be taken toward eradicating poverty and disease, defending human rights, and resolving conflicts among nations. The problem with the United Nations is that it is often too weak to move the world very far in this direction.
If, on the other hand, the United Nations were strengthened, it would not only provide a better means for the spread of international law, justice, and social well-being, but a more effective force for disarmament and world peace.After all, this is the job for which the United Nations was created. And is it so unreasonable to provide the world organization with the appropriate authority to handle the task? In the Book of Isaiah, there is a well-known prophecy: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Today, a dramatic “Swords Into Plowshares” statue adorns the garden of the New York City headquarters of the United Nations, awaiting the day when that prophecy will be fulfilled.
Lawrence S. Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany, author of Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual (University of Tennessee Press), and syndicated writer for PeaceVoice.