“This isn’t who we are.”

This morning I heard those five words spoken by someone I respect — Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post — about the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. 

 

I wanted to jump through the TV and slap him. Let me explain. It will take a minute, so bear with me.

 

Clearly, no act of gun violence, no matter how heinous, will loosen the grip of the firearms industry on our Republican party. The majority of the nation wants to ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and to institute universal background checks. It would be a popular thing for a party to endorse. But in our two party system, we cannot get it done. 

 

Failing that, can we at least call it what it is? And can we stop saying that mass shootings aren’t the true image of our country? The fact is we are a country that tolerates the shooting of innocent people because we will not curtail the ability of a handful of gun manufacturers to maximize their profits. It’s against our religion — capitalism. It’s no more complicated than that. It’s all about greedy, unfettered capitalists controlling Republican senators and representatives through payoffs from the NRA. And not just in Congress, but in state legislatures, too. 

 

It’s as if we as a country have undergone a gradual but radical personality change, similar to the way a person who was once rational and stable descends into depravity. There may be only isolated signs of problems in the beginning, but over time, bizarre behavior becomes the norm unless treated. Likewise, we as a country have seen signs warning of a gun crisis — the mass shootings at the University of Texas tower in 1966 come to mind — but over the years, as mass shootings became more common, we never treated the illness, and now mass shootings are  routine. Like a patient with a severe psychotic disorder, we collectively have undergone a profound personality change. An obscene change, and one that has changed our national character. 

It is who we have become because a sizeable minority of our country so values unfettered capitalism and unrestrained access to weapons that it has managed to thwart the will of the majority. Who benefits from the minority’s successful thwarting of the majority’s will? The gun companies. 

 

Those merchants of death manage to pretty much avoid the spotlight. The top four, in order, are: Sturm Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Remington, and Sig Sauer. Each is run by middle-aged,white males who are richly compensated for their ability to sell lots of guns. Three years ago, Mother Jones magazine did a well-researched piece on the firearms industry that you can read here:

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/fully-loaded-ten-biggest-gun-manufacturers-america/ 

 

According to the article, the biggest gun merchant, Sturm Ruger, saw a 56 percent profit increase the year after the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Ironically, the company is headquartered only 27 from the school in Newtown, CT.) Sturm Ruger’s largest shareholders are the mutual fund giant Vanguard and a private investment fund called The London Company of Virginia, which invests not only in firearms but also cigarettes, missiles and caskets. (The firm basically invests in death.) 

 

These firearms corporations are shielded from liability suits by a law written just for them, passed by Congress at the behest of the National Rifle Association. The law allows them to market assault weapons with 30-round magazines with impunity. And, of course, that is exactly what they do; to hell with any collateral damage. And all this is quite legal because we worship at the altar of free market capitalism. God forbid ever interfering with the marketing plans of gun manufacturers. That would be BIG GOVERNMENT and we won’t stand for it. So young, white males amped up on ideology and testosterone — to say nothing of severe mental disorders — can go shoot up a Wal-Mart or a pedestrian mall. 

 

And when they do, here is what happens. 

 

  • A chorus of people everywhere send their “thoughts and prayers” out to the victims and their families.  (A vapid, meaningless inanity)
  • Supposedly sane commentators say, “this isn’t who we are as Americans.”  (A total untruth)
  • And finally, sales of assault weapons go on steroids because the whack jobs among us — fearing Congress might ban the weapons — rush to buy them. (They needn’t be in such a hurry. If assault rifles haven’t been banned yet,  there’s no reason to think they will be.) Meanwhile, our brave corporate citizens get richer. (An obscenity) 

 

What you won’t hear are powerful politicians questioning the morality of the way gun manufacturers do business. You won’t hear any call to make them stop making guns whose sole purpose is to kill people. 

 

Why not? Because we are capitalists and don’t want our government telling  corporate moguls what to do. If the average citizen understood that the tsunami of dangerous weapons on our streets enriched some people, who then bought off all the politicians on one side of the aisle and a few on the other side, would they still defend our form of capitalism — the uncontrolled kind? I doubt it. But almost no one focuses on these corporations as the genesis of the gun violence epidemic. And we should.

 

Likewise, we should focus on the arms dealers when we decry the killing of innocent civilians in Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Someone is making money selling the hardware of war. They don’t care about peace. It’s bad for business. 

 

In this same vein, consider corporations that benefit from pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. You guessed it: a handful of big companies led by Exxon Mobil, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to debunk the findings of climatologists. And don’t overlook the big drug companies that  brought us sky high drug prices and the opioid epidemic. They are milking their customers for all they can and no one in Congress will stop them. 

 

When will our country stop allowing corporations to act in anti-social ways? When will we say “enough!” to the “corporatocracy’ that wields the real power in our country? It certainly won’t happen as long as Republicans dominate Congress and state legislatures. It certainly won’t happen so long as “socialist” is a dirty word to most Americans. It certainly won’t happen as long as we allow rich corporations to buy political power through the parasitic lobbying industry. 

 

And it won’t happen until we quit saying, “This isn’t who we are” and realize it is exactly who we are. Only then, perhaps, will we be sufficiently horrified at what we have become to make meaningful changes.

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About Buck Close

Buck CloseDeacon Buck Close serves on the staff of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Newport, RI. He was born in South Carolina, graduated from Tulane University in 1972 with a BA in Economics and Latin American Studies.

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