The USA stands out as the site of extraordinary gun violence. Mass shootings plague the country, with draconian laws protecting a right to own arms. These laws sanctify, allow, and ignore the violence, deaths, and communities wrecked by gun violence. From the Columbine High School massacre to the Charleston church shooting to Sandy Hook to Robb Elementary, mass shootings have become a fabric of American society, with little to no policy, legislation, or action to address gun violence.
The Robb Elementary school shooting that left 21 dead in Uvalde, Texas, and the Buffalo shooting, which racially targeted Black Americans and killed 10 stand as recent shootings. The weekend after the Robb Elementary shooting, there were more than eight mass shootings across the US where eight people were killed and another 45 injured. Just yesterday, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, four people were shot dead and many more injured at Saint Francis Hospital.
The frightening gun violence in America begs the question of why gun violence occurs and why policymakers do so little about it.
First, the why.
A recent NYT article found that out of the nine most deadly mass shootings in the US since 2018, six were committed by people 21 or younger. The two men who carried out the massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde both bought semiautomatic rifles after turning 18 and posted images that seemed to display their “strength.” These shootings are mostly conducted by white men, meaning that specialists, authorities, and policymakers are more likely to defend or offer explanations of why white men are committing gun violence and killing innoncents. Some specialists say that bullying, mental health crises, aggressive marketing of guns to boys are all aspects of why these men are prone to gun violence. Frank T. McAndrew, a psychology professor, tells NYT, “These are young guys who feel like losers, and they have an overwhelming drive to show everybody they are not on the bottom…In the case of the Buffalo shooter, it was about trying to impress this community of racists he had cultivated online. In the case of the kid in Uvalde, it was about going back to the place where you felt disrespected and acting out violently.”
So, if age and mental health are issues that perpetuate gun violence, what are policymakers doing to address these concerns?
George Abbott, governor of Texas, argues that instead of gun control, the state must do a better job with mental health, and that the shooter had a mental health challenge. In April, Abbott slashed $211 million from a department that oversees mental health programs. Texas ranked last out of 50 states and DC for access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.
Conservatives further resist efforts by other policymakers to raise the legal age to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21. In the US, there are 270 million guns, and 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012. The rest of the world has no more than 46 million guns and 18 mass shooters. Americans make up 4.4% of the global population, but own 42% of the world’s guns. We must further interrogate the ways in which the military industrial complex feeds into a culture of guns, violence, and military imperialism.
The culture of guns in America is obviously reflected with the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms; however, we often fail to provide a distinction between military violence and gun violence. The foreign policy establishment – defense ministers, government officials, academics, think tanks, have justified the murder of civilians abroad for American interests. The American imperialism that has wreaked and continues to wreak havoc on countries that it invades, occupies, and extracts resources from contributes to American exceptionalism, American violence. When soldiers are sanctified to kill children for fun, what is surprising about the culture of violence domestically? A recent investigation had found that nearly 1 in 5 assailants on the Jan. 6 Capital riot had a military past. Many of them wore military-grade body armor, just like the murderer in Uvalde.
When policymakers sanctify the murder of civilians and people across American shores, there is no expectation that they will address murders of children, innocents domestically. Promises to make a change are empty, thoughts and prayers do not offer tangible change. Politicians are busy tweeting their urge for change rather than fighting for it, and the survivors are left with crumbling communities that are stricken with grief, fear, and the horrific realization that this will continue to happen. America stands as a country that does not care for its citizens, over and over again, but as a country that will excuse the murder of the people who live in it. When looking at a country that spends $773 billion on its defense budget, more than the next 9 countries combined, we can see that the US cares more for upholding the military industrial complex that targets innocent people around the world rather than defending its citizens from draconian laws that have continued to allow for the murder of children, racial minorities, and innocent civilians.