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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

Weapons of Mass Destruction

No, I’m not talking about nukes or ballistic missiles. What I’m talking about is yet another American mass shooting, another outcry of grief followed by mourning, another convulsion of rage and call to end the sale of automatic weapons, that will likely go nowhere. Why? Because this is a country with 326 million people who own and love their 393 million guns. The price paid for such adoration and worship of weapons that kill human beings is the highest rate of gun deaths and the most mass shootings of any country in the industrialized world.

Despite this shocking reality, Americans simply refuse to acknowledge that stricter gun laws and fewer guns means fewer gun deaths. Instead of seeing the ownership of guns as a privilege which carries with it certain obligations and duties most Americans see guns as an absolute 'right'. Consequently, gun control is viewed as taking away 'our freedom'--a violation of 2nd amendment rights. Of course, anyone who has actually read this latter amendment would be completely perplexed as to how it legally grounds individual gun ownership rights.

The simple truth is that fewer guns does mean fewer deaths and mass shootings--just ask New Zealand and Australia. After years of mass shootings Australia imposed strict licensing and registry requirements and banned (bought back) over a million semiautomatic weapons, rifles, shotguns, assault weapons. New Zealand followed the same pattern.

The result: a very significant reduction in mass shootings, and in the rate of firearm-related deaths (both homicides and suicides). Of course, these latter are parliamentary democracies where majority governments can actually govern, and, when they are pushed hard enough, can make laws in the public interest--something that is next to impossible in the gerrymandering, filibustering US republican system.

There are civilians who own guns in the US and Canada who are properly trained in the use of firearms, and use these weapons in responsible ways. The problem is that when access to guns and especially assault weapons is easy--when there are no meaningful firearm regulations and no robust requirement for background checks--then the potential for the irresponsible, the fanatical, the inexperienced, the suicidal, the psychotic or otherwise mentally challenged to gain access to lethal weapons inevitably leads to more accidental death and an epidemic of mass shootings.

But it is not just mental illness or religious or ideological fanatics that are the problem here. It is the American gun-loving and indeed imperialist war-saturated culture itself. There is a fascination and worshipful devotion to guns as symbols of power and invulnerability. Moreover, when mental illness is understood to be the cause of mass shooting events, what is not contemplated is just how profoundly the latter illness reflects at a deeper structural level, intractable social, cultural and economic problems--in other words how a worshipful gun culture in America arises out of xenophobia, cultural stereotypes, anxieties about economic well-being, political fanaticism, racism, and a long history of violence.

In the end, the ways that a society frames, connects and understands all of these various elements--the power of the gun lobby, the mass manufacture and sale of weapons, lack of gun regulations, mental, economic and health stressors, xenophobia, racism, political and religious fanaticism--reveals as much about the culture of gun-loving America as it does about the violent acts of lone, obviously troubled, individuals.

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