Originally published at Latino POV. Republished by permission.
The periodic massacres that have occurred in Connecticut, Oregon, Wisconsin, Colorado and other states have particularly affected young people and are now becoming much more frequent and deadly. These mass killings tend to create front page headlines, discussions and massive media attention all across the country in combination with the usual incessant pleas for understanding, hope and so on.
As in the past, after a short period of superficial discussions about the need for stricter gun safety laws the issue is usually dropped and the violent status quo is maintained until the next mass murderer bursts upon the scene.
These types of mass serial killings can generally be characterized as white-on-white violence and the racial profile of the perpetrators of these ghastly acts depicts young white males who are either angry or mentally unstable and who had easy access to military assault weapons. The country is now saturated with over 300 million firearms and an almost non-existent system for licensing and regulating their ownership and use.
More than eleven thousand people in the U.S. die from gun violence every year and this volatile situation results in an average of 83 persons killed per day. The death rate for children under the age of fifteen who are killed by guns is now twelve times higher than the combined total of the next fifteen developed countries. The number of persons killed by gunfire in England and Japan is minimal as access to firearms in those countries is strictly limited to the public.
As the incidents of mass murders that affect white children become much more commonplace, so do the number of national rituals practiced by the politicians and media which involve prayers and rhetorical speeches. However, these calls for healing simply gloss over this growing problem and consistently fail to address and resolve the root cause of these killings.
Meanwhile, the deaths of minority youths which occur on a weekly basis tend to be ignored by an existing double standard that is practiced by the media, politicians and society as a whole. This hypocritical standard and warped perception responds indifferently to these deaths and places a different value upon their young lives that is based upon their ethnicity and social class.
Presently, the percentage of young people in the U.S. under the age of 18 who are killed by firearms are disproportionately African-American who comprise close to 45% of the victims while Latino youth make up over 20% of those slain. Thus, over two-thirds of gun-related fatalities involve minority children living in urban areas who were caught up in incidents where they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time or were involved in gang-related activities.
Serial massacres are periodic occurrences while gang killings are constant
While the mass killings of white victims receive the preponderance of attention from the media and government officials, the steady gun violence and killings inflicted upon working-class minority youth are not given the same level of concern and are generally ignored. The deaths of young Latinos and African-Americans do not elicit the national focus of politicians or TV specials which discuss solutions and a possible change to our present gun laws. Such superficial reporting and feeble reaction by the public simply views the deaths of these young minority persons and their lives as a form of collateral damage that is deemed to be dispensable and less worthy of mention and consideration.
This killing of young African-Americans and Latinos that occurs on a constant basis in the working-class communities of our major cities has its roots in poverty and a growing segment of economically disadvantaged young persons who see no future in their lives. While youth violence and deaths are down somewhat from previous years in certain cities such as New York, over 500 violent killings occurred in Los Angeles County during 2012 and were comprised of primarily young Latinos who died by gunfire. Meanwhile in Chicago, 2012 witnessed an eruption of killings that has surpassed those of 2011 as over 500 young people have died in in an epidemic of deadly shootings. The continuation of this loss of life by gunfire constitutes a tremendous loss of young human potential.
All of this killing within our society is also being supplemented by the spiraling increase in deaths in Mexico, Central America and now Puerto Rico by barrio gangs comprised of poverty-stricken youth using U.S. supplied firearms. Most of the murders in these countries are directly related to rival gangs struggling to control and provide drugs to supply the growing demand of the U.S. market. The majority of these young people being killed are uneducated and unemployed and drug gangs have increasingly become the only source of jobs and income available to them. Most of the murders that these young men commit are done with military assault rifles which are eagerly sold to these gangs by the large number of U.S. arms dealers who are "conveniently" located all along the U.S.-Mexico border area.
The growth in gangs, guns and violent deaths in the major cities of the U.S. is no longer primarily a traditional struggle over pride and control of one's barrio or neighborhood as before. These desperate young people are now competing and killing one another over control of territory for the profitable distribution and sale of drugs to both rich and poor customers alike. The growing demand in our society for illegal recreational drugs such as Marijuana and cocaine is a key factor that fuels the economic growth of these gangs and their increasing use of high-powered weapons in order to inflict death upon their rivals. Unfortunately, such firepower also ends up harming innocent bystanders.
The existing double standard that is based upon the social class and ethnicity of these victims whitewashes this growing tragedy and prevents it from being given the proper attention and discussion that it requires. These frequent deaths of young minority persons need to be viewed as also being important enough to hold a national dialogue where politicians and media hosts address and propose concrete solutions to the issues of gang membership, gun violence, and their integral relationship to the sale and use of illegal drugs.
Guns and violence are part of an ingrained American tradition
There has been an historically ingrained and widespread use of weapons in this country to suppress Native-Americans, rebellious slaves, uprisings by poor white farmers such as the Shays' and Whiskey Rebellions and against workers during labor strikes. The armed repression of these sectors of society by the wealthy American elite early in our history was also motivated by the fear instilled within them by the mass violence that was unleashed by the poor against the landowning nobility in France during their Revolution of 1789. This was the historical context and motive at that time for the creation of a strong federal government based upon the U.S. Constitution and the adoption of the Second Amendment which called for the right of the people to keep and bear arms and for the maintenance of a well-regulated militia.
The present-day propaganda promoted by the National Rifle Association opportunistically distorts the original intent of the Second Amendment for the sake of financial gain. Their misinformation campaign that the people have the "unlimited" right to bear arms and form "unregulated" militias is merely a cover to spread fear and resist gun safety laws that would require the legal licensing and regulation of firearms in our society and the outlawing of deadly military assault weapons. In reality, the NRA is a lobbyist for the arms industry and in 2012 they spent over 18 million dollars on political campaigns and lobbying members of Congress in order to oppose any type of regulation and thus encourage more gun sales and easy access to them.
The true economic motive of the NRA and its patrons from the arms industry is to sell more firearms and ammo as these sales totaled 128 billion dollars in 2012 with one billion dollars in profits. All of this was achieved without any type of strict government monitoring that involves an extensive system of regulation or licensing. It is much more difficult to meet the criteria to legally drive a car than to purchase and use deadly assault weapons which can easily be bought with no questions asked.
The NRA also profits by charging for weapons training as mandated by laws that they lobbied for and helped to enact. To achieve all of their financial and political objectives and increase their profits from the unregulated sale of even more weapons, the NRA promotes an irrational fear among people that they are in constant danger of being attacked and by spreading false conspiracies and rumors that the government wants to take away everyone's guns. A large number of the hundreds of thousands of firearms that are manufactured which include assault rifles will end up in the inner-cities and the unregulated black market of gun shows, internet sales and arms dealers along the border. It is this irresponsible behavior and quest for increased profits by the arms industry that provides the high-powered instruments of death for the drug cartels, youth gangs, right-wing militias and mentally unstable people.
We no longer need a 1700s style armed militia nor groups of armed vigilantes as claimed by the NRA's distortion of the Second Amendment as this role has long ago been filled by the federal military and state national guards. If someone wishes to hunt or have a gun to defend their home, then the weapon should be properly registered and licensed by the owner after an extensive background check has been completed for such reasonable use.
Such a procedure is required in order to safely drive a car and no one is going around claiming that the government is trying to take away our cars and resisting the licensing of safe drivers. Even the number of hunters has actually decreased during the last ten years due to the aging of the white male population who dominate this type of activity. Moreover, military assault weapons are not made for hunting as the AK-47, AR-15 and Glocks are weapons of war whose main function is to fire deadly high-velocity rounds as rapidly as possible in order to kill a large number of people.
Untreated mental illness and unregulated access to weapons
The U.S. has one of the highest rates of mental illness within the industrialized world as one in five persons suffer from this affliction while this rate is twice as high for young adults ages 18-25. This problem has been made even worse by years of continuous cuts to the budgets of mental health programs and services and the expulsion of tens of thousands of mentally ill people from state institutions and into the unsafe streets. Our society pretends that they do not see the mentally ill within our midst and simply allow them to be neglected and wander about without any proper care or medical attention. In contrast to this, most pets throughout the country are given more attention and better treatment than these suffering and ignored humans.
These numbers are being swollen by the addition of tens of thousands of young people who have untreated mental health problems and the influx of returning military veterans some of whom have symptoms of post traumatic syndrome whose effects have been ignored by the military. The lack of available drug treatment programs throughout the country has also contributed to this growth of mental health problems.
Another combustible factor that further ignites this situation is the saturation of young people's minds, especially males, with violent films and militaristic video games. These types of images when combined with untreated anger issues and the easy availability of heavy caliber assault weapons can easily result in expressions of mass violence against innocent victims. More sympathy and protection is extended by irresponsible politicians and government policies to arms vendors and owners than to the mentally ill and troubled youth within our society.
We need to treat the cancer in order to treat the patient
The contradiction that exists between the ongoing problem of guns and violence and the lack of a concrete solution continues to exist and fester. The usual response and ritual of hand-wringing and subjective rhetoric by politicians after these serial killings is hypocritical and is simply a cover for their combined fear of the NRA's powerful financial and political clout and of conservative voters from political swing states.
Heavy caliber weapons are easily available to young gang members and allows them to successfully compete in the vicious and profitable drug trade that satisfies the rising demand by U.S. society for recreational pot and other illegal drugs. While the smoking of Marijuana is now more readily accepted and even romanticized by the media and society as a whole, its supply chain is riddled with the death of young persons.
While the majority of people being affected by violence and killing by gunfire are low-income minority youth who live in inner-city areas, the political and public response to these ongoing deaths continues to be warped by the prevailing double standard. The majority of the public looks the other way with no emotion as these deaths are accepted as normal in our society and as simply the end product of the grim relationship between gun producers, middle-class drug users and their young suppliers. Violent acts committed by mentally ill persons are also simply dismissed as being unfortunate and isolated incidents.
While no young person should lose their life to gunfire regardless of ethnicity or social class, the steady and disproportionate number of Latino and African-American youngsters being killed needs to be concretely addressed with as much concern as that given to the deaths of young whites killed by the mass murderers. This double standard must be eliminated so that the related issues of illegal drug sales, availability of guns, a lack of mental health care and drug and gang prevention, which are at the root of this violence can be resolved. Laws are needed that will license, regulate and tax the possession of firearms as well as that of drugs as they are linked to one another financially and through deadly violence. This, in combination with increased mental health and drug prevention programs, will go a long way toward decreasing the constant gun violence that cuts short the lives of our young people.
Lastly, there is a need for a dialogue within the country in order to change our present world outlook and values which continue to condone the existence of militarism, violence and weapons as we have become a militaristic society conditioned by fear and continuous wars. This country is the largest seller of arms in the world and 53 cents of each tax dollar we pay goes to the military. A warfare society is not a healthy environment for the world nor for our young people here at home. History has shown that the implementation of positive social change and an increase in civil behavior can at times only be achieved by the regulatory forces of society rather than left to the crude impulses and selfish motives of individuals.