Gun violence in America reared its ugly head yet again in Uvalde TX. It can be scant comfort to those trying to comprehend this in Britain, where guns are uncommon and not part of the culture, to know that Americans are equally baffled and appalled.
The most cogent analysis I have seen so far comes from US journalist Heather Cox Richardson, from whose recent blogs the following is a shameless steal-and-edit job.
“Ninety percent of Americans want to protect our children from gun violence, and yet those who are supposed to represent us in government are unable, or unwilling to do so.”— Heather Cox Richardson.
During the Cold War, American leaders came to treat democracy and capitalism as if they were interchangeable. So long as the United States embraced capitalism, liberal democracy would automatically follow.
That theory seemed justified by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The crumbling of that communist system convinced democratic nations that they had “won”, that their system of government would dominate the future. In the 1990s, America’s leaders believed that the spread of capitalism would turn the world democratic, but they talked a lot less about democracy than they did about free markets.
In fact, the apparent success of capitalism actually undercut democracy in the U.S. The end of the Cold War was a gift to those determined to destroy the popular liberal state that had regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and invested in infrastructure since the New Deal. They turned animosity toward the Soviet Union toward those they claimed were bringing communism to America instead.
“Now the Soviet Union is gone and conservatives can redeploy. And this time, the other team doesn’t have nuclear weapons.”— Grover Norquist
Republicans cracked down on Democrats trying to preserve the active government that had been in place since the 1930s, increasingly demonising political opponents. In the 1990 midterm elections, Republican whip Newt Gingrich gave candidates a document called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.”
It urged candidates to label Democrats with words like “decay,” “failure,” and “corrupt,”, while defining Republicans with words like “opportunity,” “moral,” “courage,” and “freedom.” Gingrich later told the New York Times his goal was “reshaping the entire nation through the news media.”
Their focus on capitalism undermined American democracy. They objected when the Democrats made it easier to register to vote. Losing Republican candidates argued that Democrats had won their elections with “voter fraud.” House and Senate Republicans launched investigations that turned up nothing, but sustained coverage in the media, by insinuating voter fraud was kept an issue that helped Democrats win elections. hee “Big Lie” was not a Trump invention.
In 2010, the Supreme Court green-lit a flood of corporate money into our political system with the Citizens’ United decision of 2013, which gutted provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring the Department of Justice to sign off on changes to election laws, prompting a slew of discriminatory voter ID laws. In 2010, REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project) enabled Republicans to take over state legislatures and gerrymander voting districts in their own favour.
At the same time, the rise of a market-based economy in the former Soviet republics made it clear that capitalism and democracy were not inter-changeable. An oligarchy rose from the ashes, and U.S. leaders embraced the leaders of that new system as allies. The Conservative Political Action Conference met recently in Hungary, where Viktor Orbán was a keynote speaker. At the conference, he called for the right in the U.S. to join forces with those like him.
In the US, where focus on free markets has stacked the political system in favour of Republicans, the vast majority of Americans want reproductive rights, action on climate change, equality before the law, infrastructure funding, and as well as reasonable gun laws. Sadly, their representatives seem unable to secure such things.
Capitalism, it seems, is trumping democracy (pun intended).
A key driver of Republican policy is celebrating the ideal American, patterned on the American cowboy. if only the federal government would get off their backs. Those opposed to government regulation pushed the image of running cattle on the Great Plains, a white man who worked hard, fought hard against “imjuns”, and just wanted to be left alone.
Actually, government intervention in the Great Plains was more extensive than anywhere else, with the Bureau of Land Management railroad barons and the US Cabvalry. Also, laws defending black rights in the post–Civil War South were seen as Federal overreach, leading to “socialism”, according to white racists there.
The idea of a hardworking man taking care of his family and beholden to no one became an attractive image to those who disliked government, whether protection of civil rights or business regulation. Republicans played on this John Wayne mythology. Part of that mythology, of course, was the idea that men with guns could defend their families, religion, and freedom against a government trying to crush them. By the 1980s, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was no longer just promoting gun safety, but defended “gun rights”. “Shock jock” radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh fed the media with inflammatory warnings that government was set to destroy a man’s ability to protect his family by coming for his guns.
That cowboy image has stoked an obsession with guns and war training in police departments. It feeds a conviction that true men dominate situations, both at home and abroad, with violence which, in turn, protects society’s vulnerable women and children.
In 2008, the US Supreme Court said that individuals have a right to own firearms outside of a militia or hunting clubs. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority decision, was eager to erase decisions of post-WWII courts that had upheld business regulation and civil rights.
In 2004, a ten-year federal ban on assault weapons expired. Since then. mass shootings have tripled. The 400,000 AR-15 style assault rifles in private hands before the ban have increased fifty-fold to 20 million.
For years now, Republicans have stood firmly against any measure to restrict guns. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, Republicans in the Senate filibustered a bipartisan bill that would have expanded background checks, despite 55 votes in favour.
Since Sandy Hook, USA has suffered over 3,500 mass shootings. Republicans have excused them all by insisting on the need for MORE guns, so there will be “a good guy with a gun to take out the bad guy with a gun”., by arming teachers or having more police in schools. Fox News Channel personality Robb Elementary School had already been “hardened” with over 650,000 in security, including six armed security guards. The Uvalde (pop. 18,000) police cost 40% of the town budget even have their own SWAT team.
The story of what happened in Uvalde is undermining the Republican myth as it emerges. A fast response to Salvador Ramos firing outside the school for 12 minutes drove him inside where he barricaded himself inside two classrooms and shot his 21 victims while the 20 police outside stalled for almost an hour before Border Patrol (not local) officers unlocked the door and shot Ramoz.
Parents tried to get the police to go in found themselves accused of interfering with an investigation. US Marshals arrested Angeli Gomez, who driven 40 miles to get there. Gomez got local officers to release her, then jumped the fence, grabbed her two children and brought them to safety.
“The law enforcement officers at the school were reluctant to engage the gunman as they could’ve been shot, they could’ve been killed“.”— Steven McCraw, Texas Director of Public Safety
The heroes protecting Uvalde’s children were not the guys with guns.
In the aftermath of last week’s mass shootings in a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, Democrats had quickly passed a domestic terrorism bill and passed it to the Senate, where Republicans blocked it.
at a press conference, Texas governor Greg Abbott, who has signed seven new laws to make it easier to obtain guns said “tougher gun laws are not a real solution.” Standing against him for the governorship in November, Beto O’Rourke said:
“You said this is not predictable…. This is totally predictable. Until you choose to do something different, this will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed.”