DIS-ARM-ament: GUNS Purpose Are to Kill, Not Preserve Life

January 12, 2013

The horror created by the chronic pattern of US domestic and international violence is beyond the scope of any solution that can be alleviated through legislation. The psychological roots of our national obsession with violence reside in our origins as a culture derived from the rationalized forceful dispossession of hundreds of Indigenous nations whose people were demonized as “savages” – an historical genocide of huge magnitude – committed with total impunity.

Believing that we live in an “exceptional” democratic society committed to justice for all turns out to be a myth that has served so far, to mask our social secret of in fact living in an oligarchy committed to prosperity for a few, generally white men, at virtually any cost.


Severe Impact of Inequality

The consequences have produced a society burdened with extreme disparities of income and wealth between the few Haves and the many Have-Nots. Such inequality in class stratification – in social-economic relations – is the most significant source of chronic individual and social stress in modern societies such as the USA. Social epidemiologists conclude that the shame inherent in social inequality creates chronic patterns of depression and violence. The strongest evidence that the quality of social relations is related to income inequality is revealed from studies of violent crime and homicide. Homicides are consistently higher in countries with large income differences. [See The Impact of Inequality: How To Make Sick Societies Healthier by Richard Wilkinson (The New Press, 2005)].

Comparing US with Canada, studies show at least a ten-fold difference in homicide rates related in inequality. National Institutes of Health studies reveal US homicide rates 6.9 times higher than rates in similar “developed” countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that are 19.5 times higher.

The vast majority of guns possessed by individual killers in the US are obtained in compliance with existing laws. There is some uncertainty as to what percentage of killers are mentally ill at the time of a shooting, since apparent law-abiding citizens can suffer from sudden episodes of rage or feeling emotionally distraught brought on by changes in social or economic circumstances.


US Government Sets Violent Example

External Military Interventions

A major question exists as to whether a government founded on and maintained by the patterns of violence can seriously prevent personal gun violence? Since 1798, the US government has chosen to militarily invade with US troops into dozens of countries on more than 560 occasions, 390 of which have occurred since World War II. And since World War II, the US has bombed 28 countries, and covertly intervened in more than 100 countries. Millions of people have been murdered, maimed, and displaced by these interventions, virtually all grotesquely illegal.

Internal Military Interventions

Armed military intervention within the United States reveals its own sad history. Since our beginnings as a Republic, there have been well over 200 interventions by federal troops or state militia in quelling domestic civil or racial unrest causing hundreds of deaths and injuries. Between the 1870s and 1930s, more than 700 labor union organizers were murdered during their efforts to achieve justice in US workplaces, either by armed corporate-hired thugs, or state or federal troops.

For example, Blair Mountain, West Virginia. Logan County, West Virginia, was the scene of the third known use of planes to intentionally bomb civilians, during one of the largest civil uprisings in US history, and largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. Between late August and early September 1921, 10,000 to 15,000 coal miners were confronted by 2,000 armed sheriff’s deputies, paramilitaries hired by the coal companies, and a threat of US troops. Private planes were hired to drop homemade bombs on the miners in the towns of Jeffery, Sharples and Blair, using gas and explosive bombs leftover from World War I. Orders from General Billy Mitchell directed Army bombers from Maryland to provide aerial surveillance to oversee the battle against the strikers. More than one million rounds were fired. Up to 30 deaths were reported among the sheriff’s deputies and paramilitary units, with 50-100 miners killed. Federal troops arrived on September 2 to mop up. Nearly 1,000 miners were indicted for murder. The confrontation severely hurt United Mine Worker membership out of fear of repeated battles with coal companies and their trusted armed local police.

Racist Double Standards

In 1920, there were an estimated six million members of the KKK, nearly 25 percent of the adult male population with representatives in every state. They were rarely, if ever, prosecuted. In 1919, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation, precursor to the FBI, headed by young J. Edgar Hoover, collected personal files on 150,000 U.S. Americans labeled seditious radicals, often described as communists or Bolsheviks, many of them union organizers with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Thousands were rounded up and jailed, hundreds deported, many were murdered, virtually none enjoying any due process whatsoever. In the meantime members of the KKK were lynching with impunity African Americans at the rate of six a month, while murdering countless Black leaders and civil rights activists into the late 1960s. [Between 1882-1946, 4,715 African Americans were lynched, with a lesser number 27 lynched between 1947-1968.] The government did not consider this behavior terrorism, as it did those who were critical of U.S. domestic and foreign policy such as members of the IWW.

Furthermore, hundreds of massacres were committed by armed white citizens and riots raged against African Americans in cities throughout the U.S. throughout the twentieth century. The period 1917-1970 saw the appointment of 86 state or federal riot commissions seeking to identify the causes while recommending remedies. Consistently, these commissions found virulent racism and severe class differences as causes. Rarely was terrorism mentioned and few programs were instituted to address these structural causes aside from a brief period in the late 1960s when the 80-year-old Jim Crow laws were formerly outlawed. However, much of the Jim Crow spirit remains alive today as the criminal injustice system incarcerates nearly two million African American mostly males.

National Economy Dependent Upon Violence and Military Firepower: Endangers Children and Their Families Everywhere on the Planet

The US government and the corporations it protects, models from the top an extraordinary model of obsession with guns and all kinds of military weapons: (1) Possesses the vast majority of the world’s supply of weapons of mass destruction; (2) Assures a cabal that is the largest manufacturer and exporter of military weapons in the world; (3) Proudly carries out a policy of “full spectrum dominance” justifying placement of troops in 150 of the world’s 200 countries, sailing military ships in every seaspace, flying military planes in virtually every airspace, and dominating weaponry in space; and (4) Operates an economy almost totally dependent upon assuring profits from expanding and protecting the vast military-industrial-banking-executive-congressional complex.

With such modeling at the top it challenges one to know how to reduce the pattern of terrifying gun violence at home. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports almost 100,000 people in the US are shot or killed with a gun every year – 270 every day. Over 30,000 die from these shootings. Over 19,000 of these shootings are unintentional. The majority of suicides are committed with handguns – over 18,000 a year.

In effect, as our gun culture endangers children and their families at home, our culture of war endangers children and their families all over the world. In 2012, there were 17 major shootings in the US, murdering 100, injuring another 124, with an average of six murdered per shooting. In that same year, US President Obama directed 48 drone strikes against family members in Pakistan, murdering over 300 and injuring many others, with an average of six murdered per drone strike.


Looking at Just One Day

Taking just one day while writing this statement, January 10, 2013, I am reminded of our chronic gun madness: (1) Another school shooting, this one in rural Taft High School 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, where a student with a shotgun entered his own school with a target list of other students who had bullied him, severely injuring one before being disarmed by, interestingly, a dialogue with a teacher who possessed no gun; (2) At the same time of the news of the school shooting, Vice-President Joe Biden in one portion of the White House was facilitating a task force meeting with the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates such as Wal-Mart, discussing measures to reduce gun violence; (3) At the same time in another part of the White House President Barack Obama authorized a drone strike intending to assassinate families in a rural housing complex in rural Hesso Khel, North Waziristan, Pakistan, murdering as many as six, injuring several more; (4) Learning that just two days earlier, a 12-year-old accidentally shot and killed his cousin in a small town in rural Alabama, and a 15-year-old girl in Milwaukee was accidentally shot dead by her brother.


The Nonviolence Approach, Versus Violence


As the teacher at the Taft High School disarmed through dialogue the high school shooter pointing a shotgun at him, such example reveals there are likely safer and more effective ways to deal with gun violence than arming virtually everyone, including teachers. A recent Mother Jones study (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/armed-citizens-do-not-stop-mass-shootings, December 19, 2012), examined the details of the 62 mass shootings (4 or more murdered) in the US over the last 30 years. They found that not one was stopped by armed citizens.


A January 11, 2013 study by the Children’s Defense Fund, “Protect Children, Not Guns, The Truth About Guns,” (http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/state-data-repository/the-truth-about-guns.pdf) lays out the evidence that a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide, suicide, and accidental death: “A gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher. For every time a gun in the home injures or kills in self-defense, there are 11 completed and attempted gun suicides, seven criminal assaults and homicides with a gun, and four unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.” Additionally the report reveals that the number of children under five who died from guns was more than the number of law enforcement officers who died from guns in the line of duty in 2010 (82 children under five died from guns in 2010, compared to 58 law enforcement officers killed by guns in the line of duty.)

And three times more children and teens were injured by guns in 2010 than the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in action that year in the Afghanistan war (15,576 children and teens were injured by guns in 2010 –1 child or teen injured every 34 minutes, 43 children and teens injured every day, 300 children and teens injured every week.)


The California State Teachers Retirement Systems pension fund, taking all this information to account, voted on January 9, 2013, to divest itself from all investments in firearms holdings, arguing that ammunition clips and assault rifles “pose extreme dangers to public health and safety” and that “divestment from the makers of these products complies with the board’s fiduciary duty”.


Looking at nonviolence from a broader perspective, a major study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Chenoweth and Stephan (Columbia Univ Press, 2011), discloses that in the Twentieth Century, campaigns of nonviolent resistance around the world were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts in achieving their goals for more justice.

It is worth repeating a quote generally attributed to Gandhi: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” And we can extend that to: “a corpse for a corpse makes everyone dead.”



Other than perhaps a shotgun, .22 rifle, or a small handgun, we can sensibly choose to disarm ourselves by banning possession of personal assault rifles and guns with magazines of more than six rounds.

I am repulsed by the US American obsession with possession of personal guns. I do not possess any guns, and do not intend to acquire any. As a Viet Nam veteran who received a marksman badge for proficiency with various types of firearms, I served as commander of a combat security ground unit where I witnessed US atrocities against Vietnamese civilians. After the war I served as director of a veterans center during which time a dozen veterans committed suicide, mostly with personal guns. Guns are designed for one purpose – to kill.

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