With 31 people murdered at two mass shootings in less that one week’s time, US society seems spiraling into pathologically violent insanity. How did we get this way and what is the answer? In the most recent case – Uvalde, Texas, 21 murdered including 19 children – the shooter did not appear to have an overtly political motive; it seems it was entirely that he was crazy. But what in the end is the difference between individual insanity and overtly political motives like those of the Buffalo murderer?
Today, the media is full of discussion on the issue of gun control. Let’s start there, and a good place to start is a review of the book Gun Fight by Ryan Busse. Busse grew up in the rural hunting culture and became a top executive for Kimber gun manufacturer. He was nominated several times for the NRA’s Shooting Person of the Year award. So what he wrote is based on insider knowledge.
The frontier history of the United States, combined with the fact that the US probably has more wilderness area than other industrialized nations, has meant that hunting culture and gun ownership has deep roots here. These roots have been badly distorted by the present “Second Amendment rights” fanatics which is linked to ownership of an array of assault weapons whose one and only purpose is to kill other human beings. Busse explains how that fanaticism developed from the mainly rural, white conservative hunting culture.
In 1994, a ban on the sale of assault weapons was passed in Washington DC and signed into law by then president Bill Clinton. Basically, all it did was ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles that held ten or more rounds of ammo. A mild enough step. It was supported by conservative Republican former presidents Ford and Reagan (as well as by former Democratic president Carter).
Guns, religion, misogyny and racism
Every industry wants complete freedom to manufacture and sell what it likes when, where and to whom it likes. The gun manufacturing industry, represented by the National Rifle Association, had a special advantage: Its customers represented a large, white and especially conservative base. The NRA executives played to that base and turned to the religious right, which largely overlapped the NRA base. Guns and prohibition of abortion were linked together. “From that day [that the 1994 bill passed] forward, guns would be intertwined with other divisive political issues such as abortion, which resulted in religiously loyal single-issue voters,” Busse writes.
The other issue was racism. Busse, who grew up in a conservative, white rural middle class background, explains that he had felt “marginalization” from his earliest days. He explains that the NRA used “anger” to bond gun owners to the Republican Party. “People like me were grappling for a unifying point of resistance, and guns fit the bill perfectly,” he writes. (Opposition to a woman’s right to abortion played the same role for others.)
Early warning flags
In April of 1995, homegrown terrorist fascist Timothy McVeigh set off a truck bomb at the federal building in Oklahoma City, Texas, massively destroying the building and killing 168 (!) people. That event, largely forgotten today, should have set off warning signs, but it didn’t. “We all thought that warning flags such as McVeigh were just aberrations,” writes Busse. “After all, how bad could it really get?”
In other words, this wing of the US capitalist class was willing to ignore future possible dangers if that meant sacrificing some immediate profits. As for the other capitalists – they didn’t like it but were unwilling to create a big political split, especially since their favored party, the Republicans, were the home of the gun and bible fanatics. Their crude approach was clear a few years later (1999) when two teen agers killed 13 and wounded 20 more at Columbine High School in Colorado. Busse reports that his sales staff at Kimber met together the day after that shooting and engaged in “calculations about how [these shootings] would affect our work of selling guns…. [Then] our staff slowly trickled back to their offices [to sell more guns].” Busse writes that his boss, Les Edelman, called to suggest holding a “back to school sale”.
Around that time, Busse writes, “I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were heading down a dangerous moral road.” However, as he put it, “I wanted to make a living”. As a result, Busse continued right along with the industry for years.
NRA Imposes Discipline on the Industry
A signal event occurred in 2000, when gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson (S&W) cut a deal with then president Bill Clinton. They voluntarily agreed to put certain safety features in the guns they manufactured. By that time the NRA was totally locked into the coalition with the Bible thumping racists. They organized a dealer boycott of S&W. Busse was a key organizer of that boycott, which was so successful that the CEO of S&W was forced to resign, at which point S&W was allowed back into the fold.
By that time, the NRA coalition became a real power in its own right. Busse explains that many news stories claimed that the NRA was an arm of the gun industry. “In truth it is the opposite,” he writes. “The gun industry is an arm of the NRA.” With their wider political clout, they were able to impose discipline on the individual capitalists.
Busse explains further: “The NRA was reordering the country’s political solar system by placing guns in the middle of it, forcing everything else to orbit around them. Guns became the new center of mass.” Along the way, the NRA members’ inherent racism became more front and center. Busse describes the mood at the 2012 NRA convention, where some attendees wore t-shirts with the slogan “trigger the vote”. Another wore a shirt with the slogan, “Don’t blame me. I voted for the white guy.” This was a reference to a black man having been elected president. This sort of thing was perfectly acceptable to the rest of the attendees.
Around that time, the NRA conducted a campaign to popularize assault
rifles by linking them up with the past-time of hunting. Some in the gun industry, Busse included, resisted this campaign, as such arms had never been used for hunting before. They all capitulated under the pressure of the NRA plus the opportunity for enhanced profits.
Today, seeing society fragmenting into “senseless” violence and seeing imbeciles like Trump running out of control, Busse fesses up: “I helped the NRA perfect politics that bled into the Republican Party and conservative politics, and that ultimately crucified people such as former gun CEO Ed Shultz (of S&W) – but also more recently Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, national security expert Fiona Hill, Senator Mitt Romney, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. I thoughtlessly donated my personal power and boyish dreams to the NRA as it twisted lessons from 1994 into an authoritarian scheme that would be implemented by the political Right. I deeply regret the resulting horrible impacts to the country and to many of the things that I hold dear.”
In other words, he, and some of his fellow capitalists, see the immense danger of US society fragmenting into warring camps. They see how the inner rage of a sector of the white population, feeling its grip is slipping, can destabilize US capitalism. They see the danger of a potential “failed state”. The one thing they cannot do is prevent US society from barreling further down that road. As a result, they cannot afford to take a serious look at the real reasons for this violence.
Violence and Alienation
From the slaughter of an estimated 55 million Native Americans (90% of that population) to the kidnapping of of an estimated 12 million Africans (of which some 600,000 were brought to the North America), to the very fact of slavery itself, to the violence used to suppress all workers in the US (the Ludlow Massacre, etc.) – US capitalism has extreme violence built into its roots. Today, that violence is returning with a vengeance along with extreme alienation. The latter is linked to the utter confusion at all layers of US society along with individualism in the extreme. “Go for yourself and the devil take the hindmost” is the theme encouraged by not only the capitalist class, but even the US labor leaders, who do everything in their power to suppress simple class solidarity in action.
Are hundreds of children ripped from the arms of their parents at the US border? Is the Bible used as an excuse to force women to bend to the will of a layer of misogynistic men? Are cops beating and killing civilians – disproportionately but not only black people? In fact, is the world allowed to burn up so that we can continue to drive our SUV’s? “I will ignore all of that to keep my small business or my career on track” is the mantra of 21st century US capitalism.
Is it any wonder that the worship of the gun, the existence of an estimated 20 million assault weapons – whose one and only purpose is to kill other human beings – combines with inherently violent politics and complete alienation to lead to this? Is it any wonder that they cannot pass a national law to even require a simple background check on an 18 year old kid who buys not one but two assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition within a period of a week? The inability to pass such a simple piece of legislation is not the cause of this insanity; it is a symptom of it.
To return to our original question: The rise of racism in the extreme, of outright fascism, is but the organized political expression of the extreme alienation and generalized anger that the individual mass murderer feels. In other words, it is the ideological expression of individual insanity.The gun – and especially assault rifles – is the icon, the symbol of this. What we are seeing is a warning of what is to come as capitalism descends into unimaginable horrors… unless it is overthrown.
Update: Reports are now emerging that the police and other law enforcement waited for up to an hour before they rushed the building. Why did they wait so long? Was it simple incompetence? Was it cowardice? Or was it what oaklandsocialist explained in our article on the mass shooting in Buffalo – that the racists are deeply integrated into the police and the military? We wrote there: “Today we could see cops and sheriffs like those in the Constitutional Sheriffs and the Oath Keepers intentionally waiting long enough for racist murderers like the one in Buffalo to do even further damage and then escape.”
Further update: It is now being reported that the Republican and Democratic US senators may now be reaching agreement on some sort of new law requiring some sort of background check for gun purchases. This is a fraud meant to distract. Completely aside from the fact that gun control doesn’t get to the heart of the issue as the above article explains, any such agreement won’t do anything to stop the spread of these weapons of mass destruction. The Democrats are desperate to return to the previous status quo when they worked hand in glove with the Republicans, when they maintained a partnership in order to keep the corporate monopoly on politics. In order to accomplish this, they need a more “reasonable” Republican Party. That is what they are trying to foster here.