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Issue #1644      June 25, 2014

Culture & Life

Guns, guns, guns

In a recent discussion in my Party Branch on the class nature of the spate of school shootings in the USA over the last few years, it was pointed out that a prevalence of guns in a community does not necessarily mean a prevalence of shootings. (Shootings of people, that is. It generally means the wildlife will be pretty well massacred.)

There are 270 million guns in the USA – 90 guns for every 100 people. Nevertheless, Switzerland has the highest number of guns per head of population, but the USA has far and away the highest number of gun fatalities both in absolute and per capita terms. So it is more than just the number of guns in a country. There must be other factors at play as well.

Michael Moore in his film Bowling For Columbine thought the cause of the many shootings in the USA was the pervading paranoia that blights every aspect of US life, often (bizarrely) without Americans themselves seemingly being aware of it. But paranoia alone does not explain close to 40,000 gun deaths in one year (of which about 12,000 were homicides involving a gun).

Back in 1963, when the Civil Rights movement in the US was in its infancy, two Black youngsters were attacked by a racist mob. They sought refuge in a church, but the mob burned the church with the unfortunate children it. Martin Luther King commenting on the killing of the children made the point: “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”

That philosophy very often looks to violence to solve its problems, whether local or global, social or economic, with the simple motto “Blow the bad guys away!” as the solution to everything. But it’s not just ordinary people who are being encouraged to take up guns to “protect themselves”. Just about every US government agency or department is doing so as well.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is buying .40 Caliber semiautomatic submachine guns. The US Postal Service has solicited proposals for assorted small arms ammunition. And the Social Security Administration has put in a request for 174,000 rounds of hollow-point bullets (they’re the ones that make a really big hole in the person who gets shot) but for me, the one that takes the cake is the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which oversees the National Weather Service. That’s right, the Weather Service. Incredibly, it wants to buy 46,000 rounds of ammo.

Government departments are not just buying ammo or guns, however. They are forming and equipping SWAT teams, in anticipation of – what? Civil war? Unprecedented terrorist assaults on the weather service? The Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Office of Personnel Management, the Labour Department, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service are just some of the US Federal agencies that have their own SWAT units.

When Nikita Krushchev made his state visit to the USA in 1959, he commented that the USA did not need an army, its police were so heavily armed that they could do the job instead. Since then “law enforcement” agencies in the US have expanded their arsenals and the number of special operations units they deploy have grown exponentially. Is it any wonder we now see images of “ordinary” Americans walking down the street or going shopping with a sub-machine gun strapped to their back?

That all sorts of Americans, from President Obama down, are alarmed at the country’s absurd (and near genocidal) infatuation with guns and gun culture is hardly surprising. Blind Freddie can see that a country with thirty to forty thousand gun deaths a year is spiralling down into terminal chaos. The problem confronting the ruling class of the world’s leading capitalist power is what to do about it?

However, not all sections of the ruling class even recognise that there is a problem. After all, keeping the populace fearful and at risk from gun-toting criminals and loonies makes it easier to take away their rights and freedoms “in the interests of public safety”. And there is big money to be made from the domestic arms trade just like there is from the military.

Symptomatic of the growing militarisation of policing in the US (and, by imitation, in other developed capitalist countries) is the trend for local police departments to acquire military-grade weaponry and armour, often to enforce regulatory law that was once punishable by civil fines.

“In 2003, federal law enforcement officers from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, clad in protective Kevlar and bearing semiautomatic weapons, raided the home of George Norris, forcing him to remain in his kitchen as the agents searched his belongings. Norris was indicted for ‘smuggling’ [what were in fact] legally imported orchids. In reality, though, his only crime was a paperwork violation; agents found that a small percentage of his documentation for the orchids was inaccurate.” – Truthout.

An over-reaction? Of course. A dangerous over-reaction? Also of course. Hyped up on adrenalin and trained to anticipate the “perp” being armed (as so many in the US are), all it would take is an unexpected sudden movement on the part of the suspect and he would be shot by a law enforcement officer terrified of being shot himself.

I do not know how it is today, but a few years ago armoured cars carrying cash for banks etc in Britain did not have armed guards. They were made virtually bomb-proof, but the crew carried only batons, because if they were armed the criminals would also start to carry guns, and that way people would inevitably have been killed.

Guns don’t make people safer. Quite the reverse in fact. That hasn’t stopped Tony Abbott from using armed police to “protect” Julie Bishop from those dangerous students. Changing her policies would be an even better option, of course.

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