It’s not very difficult to connect the NRA’s screeds against gun control in the United States with incidents of genocide in the world (Rwanda, Congo, Serbia, even the Nigerian/Biafran War in the late 1960s) or even as a call for jihad against those who would attempt to impose any controls on gun ownership. For many Americans (not for all gun owners but for too many), gun ownership has become just as serious an addiction and as out of control as alcoholism or the abuse of other substances. Addictive personality factors—potential harm to one’s self and others, the inability to admit that the addiction might, indeed, even be harmful, the need for increasing the actual number of lethal objects in one’s possession—all demonstrate co-dependency and an obsessive need for more guns, bigger guns, guns that have no justification outside of military contexts.
The paranoia of gun addiction often culminates in dangerous if not irrational beliefs (“Obama is going to take our guns away from us”) and the endless need for more and more guns, presumably to defend one’s self the day Obama comes knocking on one’s door. All of these aspects of gun ownership characterize an American society in which guns have become the means of dealing with the most trivial incidents of daily life. Those who do not possess them may conclude that they are becoming the victims of jihad and/or genocide conducted by dangerous fanatics who—according to recent incidents—will shoot to kill for the slightest provocation.
“Texter Is Killed at the Movies.” In a disagreement over texting in a Miami theater—during previews, but not the feature presentation—a 71-year-old man (a retired policeman), left the theater to complain about a much younger man who was texting. He returned to the auditorium with no reinforcements, argued with the texter, and killed him, after the younger man threw popcorn at him. The wife of the deceased man, who tried to protect him, was also injured by the older man’s bullet. The deceased man, it was subsequently revealed, was texting his three-year-old daughter.
Texting in movie theaters may be annoying to others, but is it criminal to the point of homicide? Why does a retired policeman need to take a concealed gun to a movie theater? Granted, he may have observed many killings during his career, but does he believe that he needs to carry a gun everywhere he goes? Increasingly, we all observe smart phones being used in theaters, but does texting limit one’s enjoyment of the presentation if the incident is during the previews? Did the ex-policeman believe that the popcorn tossed at him would harm him other than, possibly, stain his clothing? Did the popcorn invade the ex-policeman’s personal space and justify murder? Or, is it possible that the ex-policeman has become so paranoid about the activities of others that he sees all provocations, even one as minor (but annoying) as texting, that he could no longer act rationally? What is going to happen to the murderer? Was it worth it? Shades of road rage.
“Michigan: Boy, 4, Is Killed by Girl, 4, Who Found a Gun.” This is a version of a headline we encounter virtually every week, sometimes numerous times. A child, who hardly knows how lethal a gun is, picks it up and points it at another child, imitating what he or she has seen adults do. The result? One child dead, the other bewildered, with little idea of what has happened. Could anything be more horrifying for the dead child’s parents? And if they were the parents of both children, how will they ever look at the survivor without thinking of the deceased? But the problem here is not those parents’ shattered lives, but how they could ever leave a loaded gun in the proximity of a child and not also remain in that location. They won’t leave loaded guns around again, that’s for certain, but the lesson learned is too late. What can be done about such parents? There are plenty more of them as we already know. Loaded guns are left around everywhere, a reality that begs the simple question of why virtually anyone—any careless parent—can purchase a gun with such ease. Don’t even mention self-locking guns.
“Pennsylvania: 2 Shot at School.” This incident has a happy ending—no one was killed, though a boy and a girl in a high school gym were both wounded, one seriously by another boy who brought a gun to school. Often, the results are fatal, for ever escalating numbers of children, but the question is the virtually the same. How did the young shooter have access to a loaded gun? Was it another instance of a parent providing a gun to a child when the child was quite young (twelve, thirteen)? In rural areas, young boys (mostly) can’t wait for hunting season to begin—which is all well and good—but what happens when the hunting season segues into hunting other people? Who needs to be reminded that in every state in the nation a license is required to drive an automobile, which is also a lethal weapon, but no permit is required before an adult can put a gun in the hands of a child.
“Indiana: Police Kill Suspect in Fatal Shooting in Store.” Adults again. A twenty-two-year-old man randomly killed two women in an Elkhart grocery story and was killed by police before he could kill the store’s kneeling manager. The news report states that a motive has been sought by the police. Motive? Isn’t the motive the gun itself? A man has a gun; therefore, he can kill. Isn’t that true of almost all random murders where the killer does not know the victim? Isn’t this the core of the addiction? I need this gun so that I have the power to kill someone. And with more guns I can kill more people. Why should we be surprised? We don’t permit people to walk around with sticks of dynamite, so why should we permit them to walk around with guns? Obviously, we can’t prevent hardened criminals from killing, but all of the incidents mentioned here involve not criminals but ordinary people: accidents with children and the addictive fulfillment of adults.
“Oregon GOP Group Defends Gun Raffle to Honor Lincoln and MLK.” This is one of the more bizarre gun incidents from the past week but close to jihadist speech that Conservatives vilify whenever they disseminate their holier-than-thou rhetoric. “The Multnomah County Republican Party planned on raffling off an AR-15 to ‘celebrate the legacy of two great Republicans who demonstrated leadership and courage that all of us still lean on today: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.’” It’s news to me that Martin Luther King was a Republican. Lincoln was, but the Republican Party during his time was the Liberal party. Thus, the Republicans altered their original statement once they noted their errors, hitting back with typical Conservative rhetoric: “Our freedom to defend our lives under the Second Amendment—[we] all are under attack.”
So the correction came with another error. We are not ALL under attack—only those who do not possess guns. Ergo, gun owners—and especially NRA spokespeople who have never demonstrated one iota of concern for the innocent victims of gun violence who are killed every day in our country—have created such an atmosphere of fear that they have become blood brothers of religious jihadists, using virtually the same argument. And the thirty thousand deaths by guns (too many of them children) every year in the United States, what separates them from the victims of pogroms that kill off that many victims of ethnic disputes in Africa or even Europe?
American genocide is spread over the country: one child here, a few—or many—more in another town or another state; adults who are innocent shoppers in a store here, a moviegoer in another town somewhere else. But the numbers are the same. Genocide by another name. The NRA jihad against people who do not own guns has the same results.
NOTE: All of the quotations in bold are from gun violence this past week but only a tiny fraction of the total incidents.
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.