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gun violence: a symptom of a larger disease?

December 14, 2012

Jesus. Apparently there was a shooting an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, today where at least twenty six people were killed, eighteen of them children. Just three days ago, a guy walked into one of our local malls and started shooting, killing two people and seriously injuring another before turning the gun on himself. It’s pretty fucked up, especially considering the recent shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and a theatre in Colorado were only a few short months ago.

I just wonder how long it’ll take before I start seeing a flurry of gun advocates praising the right to bear arms and suggesting that if more people were armed, things like this would happen less and/or would be more easily prevented by armed citizens despite the fact that statistics seem to show the opposite to be true, i.e., a study done at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide,” while data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime shows that the US has the highest rate of gun ownership per capita of any nation, yet also has a higher rate of gun violence resulting in death than most other industrialized nations.

I know I’m going to sound crazy here, but maybe, just maybe, more guns aren’t the answer. Maybe the solution is a bit more complicated than that, and involves things like taking a good, hard look at the society of fear and violence we’ve created, or that we’ve allowed to be created for us—a society where things like a basic guaranteed income and universal healthcare are fought against tooth and nail, and starting wars and dropping bombs seems as easy as buying a gun at Walmart.

And because of this, I don’t think that simply instituting tougher gun laws will do all that much to help, even though easy access to firearms may be a part of the problem, since the roots of much of this violence go much, much deeper. As a friend of mine said on Facebook in response to the news, “No amount of gun control will do anything but make the problem worse until we change the culture. The United States has been in a perpetual state of violent war, both domestic and abroad, since it was founded.” It reminds me of something Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a speech he gave in 1967 called “Beyond Vietnam” that seems as relevant today as it did then:

My third reason [for speaking out against the Vietnam War] moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

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