MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT The killing grounds of America
In front of me on my desk is a March 9, 1992, copy of Newsweek. The cover photograph shows a student who had been shot being rushed to emergency care underneath the headline, "Kids and Guns: A Report From America's Classroom Killing Grounds."
It quotes me, since I was a leader in the national movement to reduce gun violence for more than 20 years, and was often sought out for comments on the latest mass kilings or daily shootings. This is my quotation:
"The school setting is almost impossible to police without tyrannical dictatorship," says Mark Karlin, President of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. "At what point do we create such a hostile environment that these are no longer schools?" The schools, Karlin says, "are in an impossible situation…we expect them to do what the rest of us cannot."
That was more than 20 years ago, but nothing really has changed, including the cycle of mass murders and the routine garden variety killings at home, in the workplace, in bars…at just about any setting in America. In those 20 years, more United States citizens have been killed with guns to the point that the death toll on 9/11 looks like a footnote in the annals of murder.
There was an assault weapons ban for 10 years, but the NRA made sure that it was phased out during the Bush administration. The shooter in Newtown used a Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle, a favorite among mass killers (including the DC sniper and narcos in Mexico).
As a nation, we have historically always been in search of killing the "enemy": Native-Americans, Mexicans, Blacks, "gooks" in Vietnam, drone killings of civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It's an endless list. It's a list of the "other," a list of anyone an angry male has a grievance against. In the last few years, more than a few Tea Party members have advocated armed revolt and killing of "liberals."
It is the subterranean river of America's history of violence, facilitated and made more effective with guns. It is the context in which Newtown and our regular litany of mass shootings occur – and the suicides in rural areas that happen with regularity and urban, domestic, and "routine" killings and gun injuries.
We glorify the violence of "how the West was won." We cheer for lone gun men in movies who mow down mobs of bad guys. Our teens wallow in the murder and mayhem of video games.
Most of all we see the rabid hatred that leads to violence in the faces and bilious statements of the gun guys who fear the government, who fear a non-white majority, who fear just about anything that psychologically threatens their male prerogatives and sense of manhood.
And then we hear from the hunters, but there's virtually no one whom I have known who wants to take away hunting rifles. And you're not much of a hunter is you want to make swiss cheese out of a deer with an assault weapon.
As technology has advanced, weapons increasingly kill with greater lethality. Most of them have no place in private hands, period.
Too many gun owners like the kill power of guns, the thrill of holding a machine gun at community shootouts with washing machines and old cars as targets. But that adrenalin rush of lethality takes its toll on a culture where the some of its penchant for violence is greater than its parts.
One look no further than the US colonial conquest of Native Americans, as this description of the massacre at Wounded Knee reveals:
The Seventh Cavalry — the reconstructed regiment lost by George Armstrong Custer — opened fire on the Sioux. The local chief, Big Foot, was shot in cold blood as he recuperated from pneumonia in his tent. Others were cut down as they tried to run away. When the smoke cleared almost all of the 300 men, women, and children were dead. Some died instantly, others froze to death in the snow.
This massacre marked the last showdown between Native Americans and the United States Army. It was nearly 400 years after Christopher Columbus first contacted the first Americans.
In his compelling, bleak journey through the dark underside of America, "Days of Destruction: Days of Revolt," Chris Hedges visits the impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, plagued by unemployment and alcoholism. In his background narrative, Hedges alludes to the Washita massacre of Indians in Oklahoma in 1868. He quotes a Major Scott Anthony of the United States Cavalry about the killing of a "terrified" three-year-old Native-American child:
I saw one man get off his horse at a distance of about seventy-five yards and draw up his rifle and file. He missed the child. Another man came up and said, "Let me try the son of a bitch. I can hit him." He got down off his horse, kneeled down, and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up, and made a similar remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped."
Nations create their own destinies. The United States expanded to the West via a right to violence based on a sense of entitlement.
We need to accept that, as a nation, we need to end our destructive love affair with the power to decide who shall live and who shall die.
What it reaps in blowback is an ongoing and growing death count, a trail of tears and lives denied.