Massacres, the Gun Lobby, and the Crisis of Capitalism in the United States

August 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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With alarming regularity, gunmen have been shooting dead innocent people on college and high school campuses, movie theaters, and most recently in a gurudwara (Sikh temple) in the United States. Each gruesome event reignites the debate on gun control, and when the victims are largely from an ethnic minority, issues concerning racism. Gun control and racism, important in their own right, are however merely symptoms of a deeper malaise–the crisis of capitalism in the United States–that is seldom raised in the mainstream media.


In recent years, spurred by propaganda by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the right to bear arms enshrined in the US constitution by the Second Amendment has become almost inviolate. Yet, as Jill Lepore wrote in the New Yorker–in an article that was later plagiarized by Fareed Zakaria–the right to bear arms was seen not as Frankln Delano Roosevelt’s solicitor general argued before the US Supreme Court in 1939

not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state.

And this was unanimously upheld by the Court.
Later, when the Black Panther Party invoked the Second Amendment to procure guns, the US Congress passed a number of laws that restricted the sale of guns both in response to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and to solve what was still called the “negro problem.” Even the NRA grudgingly supported these measures, and it was only in the 1970s that the organization moved strongly to advocate the right of the people to bear arms. The subsequent success of this move has meant that the US has now the most militarized population on the planet: virtually a gun for every man, woman, and child. Of course not every one has a gun: 
Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.
Yet, the NRA’s powerful lobby makes any changes to the law, unrealistic as state after state further dilutes restrictions on gun ownership and sales.
If loosening restrictions–since 1980, Lepore reports, forty-four states have passed laws permitting the carrying of concealed weapons; five other states had such laws on the books before 1980 and Illinois is the only state still holding out–attacks on racial minorities has a long and sordid history in the United States. Yet, what was different in the news commentaries on the attacks on the gurudwara in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Ridge was its dominant theme: that the Sikhs were targeted because the gunman mistook them for Muslims because of their turbans, Just as Time magazine produced a racist article on how to distinguish the Japanese from the Chinese in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Chicago’s Red Eye printed an equally racist ‘Turban Primer” to help people distinguish between Muslims and Sikhs!
Even commentators in the mainstream media showed their complete ignorance! A CBS reporter said that Sikhism is based “on truth and nonviolence and the Muslim religion is just a completely different religion” while CNN’s Don Lemmon wondered whether Sikhs have ‘traditional enemies’–perhaps like a snake and a mongoose! The real question, of course, is not whether it was a case of mistaken religious identity but whether Muslims should be targeted–apparently in post-9/11 America, the targeting of Muslims is not considered as heinous, to put it mildly, as the targeting of adherents of other faiths!
Racism and the elimination of restrictions on gun ownership are merely symptoms of a much deeper malaise: the crisis of capitalism in the United States. As Vijay Prashad noted, in highlighting the white supremacist ideology of Wade Michael Page, the gunman who shot dead six Sikhs in the Oak Ridge gurudwara, commentators gloss over the economic malaise of the United States. Unemployment continues to rise while good manufacturing jobs disappear altogether, The gap between the rich and the poor are at an all time high. As good jobs are increasingly hard to find, young men turn to the military where they are trained to use lethal weapons, And after a few tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are demobilized and return to a civilian population with little prospect of finding a well paying job, Indeed, a 2009 report  by the US department of Homeland Security noted that
returning veterans who faced trouble reintegrating into their communities could “lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks
Faced with a violent backlash by veterans and the conservative right, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for the report and effectively gutted it–and yet the events at the Oak Ridge gurudwara makes it prescient. If the lesson is clear–that the US can lower the incidence of massacres only by promoting widespread economic growth rather than ensuring that most economic gains go to those at the very top: in 2010, 93 percent of the total income increase went to the top 1 percent in the United States (those with incomes over $350,000) and a mere 7 percent to the bottom 99 percent. Unless this vast disparity is reversed, as more veterans are demobilized, there will be more massacres!
The New York Times
March 26, 2012    

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Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company

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