Saturday, December 22, 2012

Newtown massacre and the debate about gun ownership

As to be expected, the local paper yesterday had yet more extensive coverage of the aftermath of the Newtown CT massacre and the need for gun control, in particular the banning of assault rifles. For the uninitiated, an “assault rifle” is one that is semi-automatic meaning that each time you pull the trigger, the spent cartridge is ejected and another shell enters the chamber while an automatic is a weapon that fires continuously as long as you have the trigger depressed.   It is simple to convert these types of weapons.

Politicians in San Francisco intend to introduce legislation banning hollow point bullets and require anyone buying more than 500 rounds at a time to register their purchase with the police.  The intent is to remove ammo “meant to cause extreme damage” the SF Chronicle reports although it would seem to me if one is forced in to a position to have to point a gun at someone and especially if they had to use it, causing extreme damage would be the intention.  Death is about as extreme as it gets I suppose. It is something no person under normal circumstances would relish doing, including in a war scenario, but war is not what we might consider a “normal” circumstance for most of us, neither should the conditions that some people live under.

“Ammunition specifically designed for law enforcement and the military has no reason to be in our homes and on our streets.”, says SF Mayor Ed Lee.  Knowing that the police are the only armed force in society is very reassuring to the relatives of the 28 black youth shot by police in the first three months of 2012 I’m sure; “Of the 28 killed people, 18 were definitely unarmed. 2 probably had firearms, 8 were alleged to have non-lethal weapons.”  One youth shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car and after being frisked twice

I lived in East Oakland, a few miles north of here for almost 20 years.  Much of East Oakland is referred to as the “killing zone” due to the homicide rate.  There have been 124 homicides this year according to Chip Johnson who has a regular column in the SF Chronicle.  Johnson laments that despite having no gun store, the city is “awash with guns”, many of them are brought in by dealers who buy them in Nevada and other areas, and cites police department statistics that show there were 530 shootings in the city where humans were the intended targets.  There have been 736 instances so far this year where vehicles or homes were hit and half of all shootings are never investigated according to data.  Many of those who have been moved to action by Newtown consider the tragic deaths of youth in Oakland just the way things are, it’s the normal situation---“just life in Oakland”.  There are no calls for massive state intervention in the form of jobs, education, infrastructure, to end this crisis.  Just the opposite, the cuts we are facing worsen these conditions. And as well intentioned as people may be, candlelight vigils won’t solve things either.

Alongside this report there is one about another innocent bystander in East Oakland shot by a stray bullet and Johnson makes it plain in his column that Oakland, despite California’s “tough gun laws” is proof they’re not working.  Elderly people, young children and babies have also been killed by stray bullets fired in the process of a robbery or internecine wars between various drug gangs. It is indeed tragic.

There is no doubt there is a crisis in US society that is related to homicides, particularly among black youth in the inner cities, most of these deaths are young black males shot by other young black males. The influx of hard drugs, especially crack cocaine in to the inner cities, is considered to have been a major factor in the increased gun violence over the past 20 years.  There are numerous sources that claim the CIA was responsible for the introduction of crack cocaine into the inner cities in this period and the injury and death rate among black males tripled.

But in these very same communities there is an even worse crisis and that is the economic one.  In August 2011 the black youth unemployment rate was 46.5% according to Business Insider.  Some put the unemployment rate in some urban areas as high as 80%. The BLS reported that more than half the black males between the ages of 12 ands 19 were unemployed in 2010.  US society has prison for these young people, prison and drugs. No matter what race religion or color you are, putting this many young people on the streets with nothing g to do and no chance of a job will lead to trouble.

Mass killings like those at Newtown and Columbine are more often than not committed by the children of middle or upper middle class families. Adam Lanza’s father is a GM executive.  We can discuss gun control all we like but there is more afoot here.  Lanza’s family had come apart.  That his mother would have assault rifles and other weapons lying around the house where a son with known emotional issues could lay his hands on them is questionable but of secondary importance. 

I am no expert on family life or human psychology.  But I do know that life in the US is an extremely stressful one.  There is very little security here and when hard times hit, you are very much on your own. The constant reminder that the individual is in control of their destiny overwhelms you.  I often wonder what it must be like to be 20 years old.  We cannot escape the world around us.  We are told we should own this car or have that job, buy those shoes if we want to be respected.  Success is the hedge fund manager, the business owner, the actor or the baseball star.  We must have these things but most of us never will.  If we don’t have them, it’s our fault. And there are no workers here, just watch Hollywood movies, if we are portrayed at all we are non-thinking stupid, beer drinking slobs. Look at the houses people have, the opulence, this is not America.

The pressures of a materialistic, individualistic, winner-take-all society destroy personal relations and family life.  This is true no matter what one’s social position and for the executive types the competition becomes fiercer and fiercer in the race to the top so it’s no wonder the family fragments.  Someone wrote recently that in capitalist society, and we’re in the belly of the beast in the US, alienation, depression and a sense of emptiness are normal reactions.  The US mass media, afraid to show a breast on television glorifies violence as young children watch endless hours of murder and mayhem.  The US military is heavily involved in the design and production of the extremely violent video games our young people play.  They are good training for the hand/eye coordination needed for modern warfare. You’ll be a good drone operator if you can master the video games. One study found that: "70% of nine- to eighteen-year-olds report playing violent M-rated (for Mature players seventeen and older) games."  and that 89% of video games were found to contain some violent content. This is what should be discussed in a serious way. *

The crisis in US society is a result of how society is organized; it is a crisis of capitalism.  The millions of people that have lost their shelter; the millions who have lost all due to medical needs, the disenfranchised youth in the inner cities that have no future but the prison industrial complex that houses more human beings than that of any other country and the thousands of people thrown out of the country’s mental health institutions only to end up homeless---this is what there needs to be a national debate about, followed by action. I have been involved in campaigns for renters’ rights and have been stunned at times by the horrific conditions many of the slumlords’ victims have to endure, many of them single mothers with children.  Let’s talk about that.

In the shadow of the Newtown tragedy, the politicians responsible for this social crisis are now calling for a debate about gun ownership and magazine capacity.  These same politicians have instituted policies domestically eliminating social services that kill and maim more children than tragedies like Newtown.  They have supported a foreign policy that has murdered hundreds of thousands of children in other countries in their defense of US corporations’ profits. Obama cries no tears for Pakistani or Afghani children his drones have wiped out. There are some 18 suicides a day among veterans from what I have read. What causes that, a high capacity clip?

No sensible person opposes serious background checks and other steps to prevent firearms from ending up in the wrong hands. But let’s not let them use the issue of gun ownership to obscure the real cause of the sickness that pervades US society, the crisis of capitalism and their worship of the market.


No comments: