In the wake of the high school shooting deaths in February in Parkland, Florida, students have reignited the debate about gun violence in the U.S. Among them are many who are squarely indicting the inhumane, militarized system that shapes our lives, one that starves public education while spending trillions on war.
Said one Chicagoan during the national school walkout on March 14, “Don’t arm our teachers! Arm us with books and resources.” Chicago students also called for the gun control mobilization to incorporate demands against police killings of Blacks in the U.S.
These students, and others like them, are getting at something fundamental. Guns, like just about everything else under capitalism, are a class question. Who profits from them? Who uses them and for what purposes? Whom do they hurt, terrorize and kill?
Youth involved in this movement are insisting on their right to be free of violence in school. And they should have the right to expect this. But the hard truth is that nobody on the planet is free from the threat of violence, and the wellspring of that threat is the U.S. government and its soldiers and police.
Yes, by all means, let’s control gun violence — and to have any real effect, let’s be sure to include the Pentagon and cops!
Issues confronting a new movement. The March 14 student walkouts were followed 10 days later with a March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. accompanied by over 800 protests around the world. Next came a National School Walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School.
From the get-go, demonstrators have demanded far more than gun control. In Philadelphia, for example, students called for protection from ICE and banning cops in schools. In Seattle, a Black high school senior pointed out the kinds of violence in the U.S. that go far beyond the abhorrent mass shootings at schools, churches, nightclubs, and theaters.
A constant refrain is frustration with politicians who have not done a thing to realistically protect young people in their schools. As some of these politicians now try to co-opt the student movement, drain it of its passion, and make it their own, their record on this issue is a red warning flag for the movement. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party is willing to truly confront the problems of violence, because the causes are too fundamental to how the profit system operates.
A violent birth begets more of the same. At the same time the politicians fruitlessly debate whether or not to impose stronger gun controls on the civilian population, they militarize society to the nth degree. They flood the military and police with assault weapons and armaments galore. These are used against people from Standing Rock to Ferguson at home and from Afghanistan to Cameroon.
Globally, Washington has 1,000 military bases in 80 countries to protect its geopolitical interests and the profits of U.S. corporations, including the weapons industry. It nurtures torture, terrorism and religious and ethnic antagonism in its endless wars and occupations, creating disasters of monstrous proportions in the Middle East and beyond.
This is an extension of the violence the USA was founded on — millions of Native Americans killed to steal their land and millions of Africans enslaved to work the land. The brutality necessary to speed capitalist development was then justified with racist ideology and cemented with racial segregation, meant to sabotage workers’ solidarity.
As the profit system becomes more crisis-ridden and decrepit, crackdowns on civil liberties and the right to dissent are backed by the force of arms, as attacks on strikers and radicals have been throughout U.S. history. Meanwhile, containing gun violence has itself been used as the rationalization for repressive policies like “stop and frisk,” criminalizing whole communities of color and worsening the social conditions that breed violence.
The world has become an even more dangerous place since the election of Donald Trump. The xenophobia and fascist ideology that he and his far-right fans trumpet have influenced a high proportion of mass shooters, including the killer in Parkland, whose magazines of ammunition were inscribed with swastikas. However, the media rarely reported this, or that 40 percent of the students at the high school he attacked are Jewish.
The National Rifle Association is a major part of the right wing in the U.S. After starting life as a mostly apolitical gun club, in the 1970s it became part of the backlash against the civil rights and other social movements and began drilling its members in the politics of paranoia. It set the stage for gun rights to become a main plank in the nationalistic, misogynist, and racist platform of today’s emerging mash-up of Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys, Confederacy diehards, outright Nazis, right-wing militias, and other ultra-rightists.
These outfits love to parade around brandishing their weapons and recruiting the disaffected. Encouraged by the NRA, they represent the potential for organizing fascist shock troops that, if things get bad enough, capitalism may rely upon to save itself.
What can be done? The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) supports the impulse of the students to demand less violence in their lives, especially when their demands point to the need for fundamental change.
At the same time, we see the need for workers, poor people and radicals to be able to defend ourselves from assaults by militarized cops and the armed far right. The right of people to be armed in self-defense and the right to overthrow tyranny are crucial. Militias were necessary against the English monarchy in the U.S. revolutionary war for independence. Soldiers, a great many of them Black, fought in the Civil War to abolish slavery. Armed Blacks have prevented Ku Klux Klan assaults and striking unionists with rifles have stood against gun-toting company goons.
FSP also understands that nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, not homicides, and that 36 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are attributable to social diseases like poverty, as a Columbia University study reported.
Moreover, we know that the arms industry will find ways to sabotage gun control measures, as they did with bump stocks that make semi-automatic firearms shoot faster.
For these reasons, we believe that many gun-control initiatives being discussed are not the answers that people need. But the vast number of firearms produced and sold in this country to mercenaries, drug traffickers, serious criminals, right-wing goons, cops and the military is a problem that needs to be rationally addressed — at the same time that underlying causes of violence are also addressed.
Why not push for a ban on the production, sale and use of assault weapons, whose whole reason for existence is to kill large numbers of human beings in a few seconds? The ban should apply to everybody — not only the public, but the military, cops, CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, ICE, and every government agency.
Another logical demand would be to reverse the gun industry’s absurd immunity from lawsuits and the gag order on gun violence research.
And the fight must continue for schools that are not only safer, but better all around. More funding for education to reduce class sizes, pay teachers well, update textbooks, provide more support staff like guidance counselors: these are things that will not only help to safeguard students in the present, but will also help to provide them with brighter futures.