I recall a conversation that some friends and I were having more than twenty years ago, on the eve of America’s bombing of Iraq months after Saddam Hussein had moved into Kuwait. We all agreed that war was engineered into the American psyche: the country seemed then, as it is now, to be on a war footing. The bombing seemed imminent and thousands were bound to die, reduced to the indignity of being viewed as mere “collateral damage”. Someone then remarked that while the United States was busy bombing other countries into submission, relegating them (as one American official declared with much pride) to the stone age, enough people were being killed on American streets from gun-related violence.
The newspapers carry the story of yet another massacre, this one at a community college in Oregon. Lovely small-town America has had its share of mass killings and the end is nowhere in sight. The killer, Chris Harper Mercer, is now reported to have taken nine lives before being killed in a gun battle with law enforcement officers. Rather predictably, we are now being told that the gunman was a “loner” with quite likely a history of mental illness. A Washington Post headline sums it up, “Oregon shooter left behind online portrait of a loner with a grudge against religion.” The lack of “community”, the inability to forge relationships with others, the desire to go down in glory: all these are the stable ingredients of a story that has been foretold. Thus, we read, “Mercer was a quiet, withdrawn young man who struggled to connect with other people, instead seeking attention online or, ultimately, through violence.” In nearly all such instances—the Charleston shooting, most recently, comes to mind—there is mention of the killer’s real or alleged membership in neo-Nazi groups, or other so-called “fringe” groups which bear a grudge against the de-whitening of America, and the Washington Post is unfailingly true to form in this respect. The article states that “Mercer’s e-mail address referenced an iron cross, a symbol often associated with Nazis.”
The aftermath equally will hold no surprises. All of America will come together in grief, there will be much hand-holding and some soul-searching, and a few noises will be made about gun control. The country will be unanimous in declaring Mercer a “coward”: there are, of course, much stronger words to be used for a mass killer, but cowardice is always deplorable and one can expect consent around such a characterization even amongst those who might otherwise disagree about the killer’s motives, the relative responsibility of an individual and society in such cases, the desirability for gun control, and so on. In about a week’s time, or perhaps as soon as the funerals of the victims have been held, the news will have disappeared from the media. The Pope will no doubt be saying a few prayers seeking God’s mercy for Mercer, particularly since the killer appears to have borne a grudge against “organized religion”.
We are being told that at least one thing is already different about the aftermath of this shooting, namely that President Obama is now coming out with all his guns blazing. His acolytes, mindful of the ‘fact’ that he is no longer hobbled by the need to appease Republicans, argue that Obama is now showing true grit and determination, and according to some liberals he has already been redeemed by the political positions he has embraced over the course of the last year. His comments on the Oregon shooting have been described by the media as displaying his “rage” and frustration, as he asked the American people to reflect on how they could get the government to change gun ownership laws and give young people at least an opportunity to grow up. Obama, according to the New York Times, took a “swipe” against the NRA with these rather modest words: “And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt for sport, for protecting their families, to think about whether your views are being properly represented by the organization that suggests it is speaking for you.” But Obama, evidently still smarting from his resounding defeat by legislators from both parties to introduce gun control in 2013, admitted that he was powerless to change anything at all.
Only in the United States would Obama’s remarks be viewed as “radical”. They are in fact nothing more than another instantiation of the pussyfooting which for decades has characterized what rather comically and tragically passes for ‘debate’ on gun control. There will be the usual arguments about background checks and the desirability of keeping guns out of the hands of criminal elements and those who are mentally unsound; others will discuss whether schools and colleges should implement safety precautions; and there will be mention of a lengthier waiting period. Thus, in this fashion, the ‘debate’ will go on ad nauseam—not moved an iota by the news that thirteen firearms were found in the possession of the gunman Mercer, all acquired legally.
Meanwhile, the NRA will go on the offensive, though the sheer idiocy of its position may be gauged from the comment put forward by Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s long-time executive vice president, in the aftermath of the school shootings in Newton, Connecticut: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
One hopes that we will be spared the usual indescribably stupid remarks that are bound to follow from one spokesperson or another of the NRA and its supporters in Congress, something akin to this: ‘Guns don’t kill, people do.’ What has been indubitably clear for decades is that the NRA makes or breaks political fortunes, waging a jihad against its opponents that has taken far more lives than the acts of terrorism ordinarily termed jihad.
What is called for is simple: The National Rifle Association should at once be declared a terrorist organization. The preponderant portion of even those who favor strict gun control, whatever may be meant by that phrase, will at once ferociously object that many members of the NRA, whose membership in 2013 was announced at 4.5 million—joined by “tens of millions supporters”, according to the NRA’s own spokesperson—are not only law-abiding citizens but recreational sportsmen who use their guns for simple pastimes such as hunting. The rights of the hunter are, in America, described as sacrosanct.
Indeed, it is a reasonable supposition that Bernie Sanders, who represents Vermont in the US Senate and is now being projected as the radical or at least socialist wing of the Congress—the idea that there is a “socialist wing” is laughable, too preposterous for words—has often voted against gun control legislation because Vermont has a disproportionately large number of hunters and heavy gun ownership. The ethical arguments against the slaughter of animals for pleasure aside, the days of Davy Crockett are long gone. As for those who point to the Second Amendment, its anachronism must go the same way as those odious measures which for centuries kept women, African Africans, and native Americans in subjection. When religious-minded people are prepared to concede that passages from their scripture or holy works must be rejected if they are repellent to the conscience, absolutely nothing requires allegiance to a portion of the US Constitution that is obsolete.
When, moreover, an organization is deemed to be a terrorist outfit, consequences must follow. The NRA’s members might be given 30-60 days to comply with the ban on their organization and surrender their arms, and failure to do should lead to a freeze on their bank accounts and the issuance of an alert by Interpol which would prevent their travel outside the US. Perhaps a leaf should be taken out of the methods routinely deployed in Maoist China: a long stint, extending over several months and perhaps much longer, in a re-education camp for offenders would be highly desirable. LaPierre and his fellow gun enthusiasts might perhaps learn that in all of Japan, there were two firearm-related homicides in 2006; in 2008, the number had gone up to a staggering, comparatively speaking, eleven—about the number killed in Oregon. Private ownership of guns in Japan is nearly impossible. With a population that is more than 1/3rd of the US, the number for 2008 might proportionately be raised to about 30—compared to 12,000 firearm-related homicides in the US the same year. Lest the NRA dismiss the Japanese as “Orientals” who do not understand the spirit of American democracy, it is worthwhile noting that a background paper on gun ownership and gun fatalities released by the Council on Foreign Relations in June 2015 shows that the US has 88.8 guns for every 100 people, Australia 15, and the United Kingdom 6.2; the firearms-related homicide rate for every 100,000 people is 3.1, 0.14, and 0.07, respectively.
The NRA does not, of course, even remotely represent all firearm owners in the US: as Obama himself noted in his remarks some hours ago, there is “a gun for roughly every man, woman and child in America. So how can you with a straight face make the argument that more guns will make us safer?” Moreover, the problem of guns in the US runs exceedingly deep, and the same militarism that has turned the US into a lethal military machine has every relation to the pervasive culture of guns that has turned the US into a country of gun shows, ammunition shops, firing ranges, massive gun ownership, and of course the mass killings that mark the exceptionality of the US. The NRA is the most visible face of this barbarism and must be a dealt a blow which would render it extinct.