GUN CONTROL - “Murder most foul” are the words uttered by the ghost of Hamlet’s father describing his death at the hands of his own brother Claudius,
who has usurped his throne and married his wife, Hamlet’s mother. Asked to avenge this travesty of justice, Hamlet reaches out to friends for help but is ensnared in the tragedy that bears his name, one in which almost all the principal characters die.
In a twisted parody of this, Kyle Rittenhouse needed help and asked his parents for help. Did he get it? No, he got a gun.
And it wasn’t because of the horrendous lack of access to mental health services which pervades the American for-profit care system. Kyle’s father was a vice president at General Electric. He just never reached out for the help his son deserved.
The root causes of this most recent school tragedy are many, but the one that stands out here, the one that tracks the Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine mass murders, is that every American has easy access to semi-automatic weapons.
On the same day as the Sandy Hook attack in Newton, half a world away in an elementary school in Chenpeng in China’s Hunan province, the same number of students were attacked but with a knife. Every child in Newton died. Every child in Chenpeng survived.
There are a number of reasons that gun violence is so pervasive in this country and it has a lot to do with money.
Landowners in the south relied on slaves for their good living, however, the sheer numbers of slaves needed – over one third of the population vs. less than half a percent in the north in 1820 – meant that whites inevitably felt threatened.
In 1836, Samuel Colt patented his Colt Paterson, the first practical mass-produced revolver which anyone could use to protect themselves. Or attack others. Soon law enforcement details were established to pursue escaped slaves.
Instead of policing these new weapons, it was left to those who profited off of them – the manufacturers, and those who used them to further their own financial ends – to self-regulate.
Guns were glorified in the literature of the day and, later, in film and television, becoming part of the American mystique with Pinkertons shooting bad guys, cowboys fending off the Indians, and cops chasing robbers.
In most of the developed world, handguns are generally restricted to law enforcement and the military while, in the US and less civilized countries, they are widely available to anyone and commonly carried, often concealed.
Currently, there are more guns than people in this country. As of 2020, civilians possessed 434 million firearms, including 20 million semi-automatics, and gun violence costs America $280 billion a year.
While the majority of Americans support sensible gun laws, a number of politicians, most notably our late and unlamented president, actively stir up hate. Members of the sitting Congress have made threats including graphic violence against groups and individuals.
The Republicans keep claiming they are the party of family values – let’s look at a couple of their Christmas cards sent out by Republicans shortly after the Oxford murders:
Thomas Massie of Kentucky tweeted: “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.”
Not to be outdone, Congresswoman Lauren Boebert sent the following in return:
Not only has violence and acceptance of graphic violence become entrenched in the US, but we export it through our video games, our movies and our television, and our weapons.
The US exported $175 BILLION in weapons in 2020 and, while piously championing the virtues of democracy, continues to provide war and suppression matérial for dictators and autocrats, including Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, the man behind the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Salman’s use of American weapons against Yemeni civilians has been widely condemned.
And now our elected officials have passed a $778 billion military budget bill for 2022.
No wonder we have school shootings.
There is never any Congressional debate over the social or economic impact on Americans or the geopolitical consequences by our elected officials – Democrat as well as Republican. Rubber-stamping huge investments in powerful weapons that have limited protection value and are all about smashing other countries has become the norm.
Military leaders, veterans of conflicts in Panama and Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan rotate into the Pentagon bureaucracy and then retire into consultant jobs with arms companies where they sell weapons to the next generation of generals. Instead of being held accountable for this insane waste of money, they then emerge as advisors to new administrations and as decision-makers in the purchasing of yet more weapons.
No wonder the Newtown Action Alliance which grew into a force in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings is sending out e-mails pointing out that guns don’t make people safe, they make people dead.
“400 million guns in America have not made us safer. Over 900,000 Americans have been shot and 350,000 have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook.
75% of school shooters use guns from their homes or relative’s homes and 77% of school shooters also learned how to shoot before the attack.”
I, for one will be joining them in urging our Federal lawmakers to pass “Ethan’s Law” requiring all gun owners to lock up their guns when minors can access them. Ethan's Law was signed into Connecticut law in 2019. It was most recently introduced in Congress as H.R. 748 in January and has been stuck in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security since March.
Could it have stopped Kyle Rittenhouse? No, it would probably have been too late, but it could stop future school shootings in towns similar to Oxford, Parkland, Newton and Columbine.
As its spokesperson Po Murray says, “It’s time for Congress to love its children more than it loves the gun lobby.”
And I also prefer their Christmas card:
(Liz Amsden is an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)