I knew the day before the gun control March For Our Lives rally (Guardian, June 11, 2022) (New York Times, June 11, 2022) that I would not travel to Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the horrific December 14, 2012 mass murder of 20 schoolchildren and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There were many reasons for choosing a rally closer to home and I decided to attend a rally a short way down the road in Salisbury, Connecticut.
Salisbury is a quiet middle-class/upper middle-class town in the northwestern corner of Connecticut in the Litchfield Hills, part of the same chain of foothills that extend up to Vermont and pass through the nearby Berkshire Hills where I live. All of these hilltowns are part of the relatively small range of mountains called the Taconics. One marcher in Salisbury commented, during that part of the larger rally, that he couldn’t afford to buy items in the local shops, a phenomenon that also has happened in the southern Berkshires.
The rally was extremely well organized with a series of speakers that included a moving speech by a local minister, who was able to draw from many religious traditions in her speech, including Zen Buddhism. Volunteers held large poster-sized photos of the children and teachers murdered in Uvalde, Texas, at Robb Elementary School. In Uvalde, where 19 children and 2 teachers were killed. Some of those holding posters of the murdered Robb Elementary School children read short biographies of those kids.
The heartbreak of seeing the posters with the murdered kids pictures, along with their biographies, was undeniable. Perhaps the outrage of the thousands who marched on Saturday moved the Senate to begin the process of moving toward a grotesquely watered-down version of an anemic gun control agenda (New York Times, June 13, 2022). The tentative agreement calls for better background checks and mental health checks of prospective gun buyers less than 21 years old, bars domestic abusers in dating relationships from having guns, provides funds for red-flag laws in states to take guns away from people judged dangerous, and provides money for mental health and safety initiatives in schools. Safety initiatives can be questionable in a right-wing environment.
That agreement does nothing to ban assault rifles or universal background checks on prospective gun purchases. The tentative deal also does not prohibit the sale of semiautomatic guns to those under 21, or ban the sale of large-capacity bullet magazines. Earlier, the House passed a bill that would make the so-called red-flag law a federal requirement.
Will any kind of gun control legislation create more demand for guns in the US? Will the fear factor and the insanity of taking guns out of “cold, dead hands” (NRA) drive new gun purchases?
In the US, 393 million guns are owned by civilians, or 46% of the worldwide total of guns. That, in itself, is a telling number about the insanity of just what mayhem has been ushered in under the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Much of this insanity is driven by fear, machismo (especially among young males), racism, and the lure of guns marketed by billion-dollar gun sales manufacturers. Americans bought 19.9 million guns last year, the “second-busiest” year for gun sales in the US (Forbes, April 14, 2022). Forbes also reports that in 2018, gun shops had $11 billion in sales and gun and ammunition manufacturers had sales of $17 billion, with some of those sales from arms sales to the US and foreign governments.
I compare the March For Our Lives demonstration that I took part in with the protest marches and actions from the heady days of protest of the 1960s and early 1970s, and it often seems that something is missing. Perhaps it’s the critical mass of people and protest from those days, or the youth culture, or the willingness to take risks in service to a better world? I often feel like a stranger at rallies and marches, and that sense has been a constant as far back as the rallies and organization around the Nuclear Freeze Movement of the early 1980s. Writing about a time a hundred years ago, the poet Kenneth Rexroth said “Something invisible was missing.” He spoke of the left politics and protest of yet another forgotten era.
There were many young people at the Salisbury rally and march and that is necessary. The society has moved so far to the right politically and the potential of a far-right minority government is more than conjecture. Democrats occupy a place to the right of center and their support for massive funding of the war in Ukraine without social spending here is obvious. Programs of social uplift are largely missing and few see the connection between guns and butter. The juggernaut of the right may ultimately dash any agreement on gun control, even this anemic one.
Toward the end of the rally in Salisbury, a pickup truck passed by on Main Street. Its driver yelled “NRA” (National Rifle Association) over and over again, interspersed with the words: “It was staged by actors! It wasn’t real!” Which gun massacre he referred to is not clear? Those words were part of the far-right cant about reality being fake and horror being contrived in the minds of those who crave for an authoritarian and sometimes violent answer to the needs of this society and the larger world.