Surian Soosay / CC BY 2.0

This piece first appeared at CounterPunch.

On December 2 2015, 14 people were killed and more than 20 wounded in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that both lives by violence and uses it as tool to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. Violence runs through American society like an electric current offering instant pleasure from all sources of the culture, whether it be the nightly news and Hollywood fanfare or television series that glorify serial killers. At a policy level, violence drives an arms industry, a militaristic foreign policy, and is increasingly the punishing state’s major tool to enforce its hyped-up brand of domestic terrorism, especially against Black youth. The United States is utterly wedded to a neoliberal culture in which cruelty is viewed as virtue, mass incarceration the default welfare program and chief mechanism to “institutionalize obedience.” At the same time, a shark-like mode of competition replaces any viable notion of solidarity, and a sabotaging notion self-interest pushes society into the false lure of mass consumerism. All of these forces point to modes authoritarianism and registers of state violence and an increasing number of mass shootings that are symptomatic of a society engulfed in racism, fear, militarism, bigotry, and massive inequities in wealth and power.

Moderate calls for reining in the gun culture and its political advocates amount to band aid solutions that do not address the roots of the violence causing so much carnage in the United States, especially among children and teens. For example, Hilary Clinton’s much publicized call for controlling the gun lobby and background checks, however well intentioned, have nothing to say about a culture of lawlessness and violence reproduced by the government, the financial elites, the defense industries, or a casino capitalism that is built on corruption and produces massive amounts of human misery and suffering. Moreover, none of the calls to eliminate gun violence in the United States link such violence to the broader war on youth, especially poor minorities in the United States. In spite of ample reporting of gun violence, what has flown under the radar is that in the last three years 1 child under 12 years-old has been killed every other day by a firearm, which amounts to 555 children killed by guns in three years. An even more frightening statistic and example of a shocking moral and political perversity was noted in data provided by the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), which stated that “2,525 children and teens died by gunfire in [the United States] in 2014; one child or teen death every 3 hours and 28 minutes, nearly 7 a day, 48 a week.” In addition, 58 people are lost to firearms every day. Such figures indicate that too many youth in America occupy what might be called war zones in which guns and violence proliferate. In this scenario, guns and its insane culture of violence and hyper-masculinity are given more support than young people and life itself.

The predominance of a relatively unchecked gun culture and a morally perverse and politically obscene culture of violence is particularly evident in the power of the gun lobby and its gun rights political advocates to pass legislation in eight states that allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons “into classrooms, dormitories and other buildings” on campuses. Texas lawmakers, for instance, passed one such “campus carry bill,” which will take effect in August of 2016. Such laws not only reflect “the seemingly limitless legislative clout of gun interests,” but also a rather deranged return to the violence-laden culture of the “wild west.” As in the past, individuals will be allowed to walk the streets openly carrying guns and packing heat as a measure of their love of guns and their reliance upon violence as the best way to address any perceived threat to their security. This return to the deadly practices of the “wild west” is neither a matter of individual choice nor some far-fetched yet allegedly legitimate appeal to the second amendment. On the contrary, mass violence in America has to be placed within a broader historical, economic, and political context in order to address the totality of forces that produce it. Focusing merely on the mass shootings, or the passing of potentially dangerous gun legislation does not get to the root of the systemic forces that produce America’s love affair with violence and the ideologies and criminogenic institutions that produce it.

Imperial policies that promote aggression all across the globe are now matched by increasing levels of lawlessness and state repression, which mutually feed each other. On the home front, civil society is degenerating into a military organization, a space of lawlessness and war-like practices, organized primarily for the production of violence. For instance, as Steve Martinot observes, the police now use their discourse of command and power to criminalize behavior; in addition, they use military weapons and surveillance tools as if they are preparing for war, and create a culture of fear in which militaristic principles replace legal principles. He writes:

This suggests that there is an institutional insecurity that seeks to cover itself through social control, for which individual interactions with the police are the means. Indeed, with their command position over people, the cops act out this insecurity by criminalizing individuals in advance. No legal principle need be involved. There is only the militarist principle. When the pregnant woman steps away from the cop, she is breaking no law. To force her to ground and handcuff her is far from anything intended by the principle of due process in the Constitution. The Constitution provided for law enforcement, but not for police impunity. When police shoot a fleeing subject and claim they are acting in self-defense (i.e. threatened), it is not their person but the command and control principle that is threatened. To defend that control through assault or murderous action against a disobedient person implies that the cop’s own identity is wholly immersed in its paradigm. There is nothing psychological about this. Self-worth or insecurity is not the issue. There is only the military ethic of power, imposed on civil society through an assumption of impunity. It is the ethos of democracy, of human self-respect, that is the threat.

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