Popular Economics Weekly

The tragic Newtown, Connecticut elementary school mass shooting is just the latest in a string of mass shootings that have contributed to more than 1 million dead by guns over the past 3 decades in the U.S.—an average of almost 32,000 per year.

This is when no other country in the developed world has had more than 400 documented gun killings in a year, outside of wartime. The problem in understanding the causes of such mass shootings may be that much gun violence has many causes that make it difficult if not impossible to understand in isolation.

But not if we look at the culture of violence that has made U.S. the most violent nation on earth. In fact, gun violence, as violence in general, has too many causes. Studies bear out that record income inequality, a poor social safety net and lax, almost nonexistent gun control laws all contribute to the U.S. record as the most gun violent culture in the world.

The Trayvon Martin killing illustrated this culture with the Stand Your Ground Laws being enacted in several states. And thereby we are beginning to see where the National Rifle Association, backed by some elements of Big Business, is leading this country—into a greater lawlessness, at the very least. For the Stand Your Ground Law enshrines the gangster code—shoot first and ask questions later.

As Paul Krugman said in a March New York Times Op-ed after the Trayvon Martin killing:

“Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.”

Krugman was exposing the links between corporations and the NRA that continues to push for guns to be worn by everyone everywhere, with or without background checks or even licenses.

Why the push by the NRA, and Big Business for more guns, as I said back in April? The reason most gun advocates and the NRA give, is that it is for the purpose of self-defense in an increasingly violent world. The NRA even asserts it decreases violence. But studies cited in an excellent book, Gun Violence: The Real Costs by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig show that gun use tends to increase gun violence—i.e., there are almost 4 times more fatalities in gun-related robberies than other robberies with knives, clubs, etc.

And a study cited in the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) on home invasions found that just 3 percent were able to use guns against someone who broke in (or attempted to do so) while they were at home, when 40 percent of households have guns.

So it turns out guns are not very helpful in self-defense. Also overlooked is the fact that criminals are predators, and predators prey on the weakest and most vulnerable, not those who look like they can defend themselves. So really, does the agenda of the NRA to abolish all gun controls do more than reinforce the fear factor, the fear that your neighbor may be your assailant?

“But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture?” asks Krugman. “In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.”

The culture of violence is not a pretty picture in our crowded cities in particular. Philadelphia averaged more than 30 gun-related deaths per month in 2011, when Europe as a whole had less than 300 per year. The last time U.S. gun violence was this high was during the Great Depression, when we had gangsters like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde.

English Sociologist Richard Wilkinson has brought this out in books and lectures, especially his TEDx lecture on the roots of violence and crime, in which he charts that countries with the most inequality in wealth are also the most violent countries. And surprise, the U.S. is now one of the most unequal countries—in terms of wealth and opportunities for wealth—in the world, as has been brought out by the CIA World Factbook. It is ranked 94th of the 136 countries ranked by the CIA for income inequality, next to Camaroon, Zimbabwe, which are some of Africa’s poorest countries.

There are many who will say that the deeds of a psychopath cannot be prevented. But is that the point when it is so ridiculously easy for an individual to purchase an arsenal without an alarm being set off? Why would anyone such as the Aurora, Colo. shooter need 6,000 rounds, for instance, said the New York Times?

“With a few keystrokes, the suspect, James E. Holmes, ordered 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for an assault rifle and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun — an amount of firepower that costs roughly $3,000 at the online sites — in the four months before the shooting, according to the police. It was pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon.”

Do we need another reason to require reporting such weapon sales, other than for war?

Harlan Green © 2012