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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

Our Dark Night of Guns and Money Isn't Over

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These days we outsource our madness to the movies. Cinematic violence channels our irrational rages, tantalizes us with our own dark fantasies, then fulfills them both in an explosive third-act climax. Some say Jesus died for our sins; film characters kill for them.

We don't fully understand the relationship between fictional violence and the real-life kind, but we do know that political and economic interests are preventing us from taking reasonable steps to protect ourselves. How high does the body count need to get?

Violence is done to our logic as well as our bodies when people say that gun control is "an attack on our rights." Next time you wonder why politicians or pundits turn reason inside out, remember the old adage: Follow the money.

There is a Lewis Carroll, looking-glass world out there:

It's a world where your "rights" are trampled by New York City's handgun restrictions, but not by its parking restrictions.

It's a world where people sacrifice the liberties they claim to love because they're afraid of terror attacks, but won't reduce the risk of future attacks by filling out a form.

It's a world where people want the government to spy on people who pray in the wrong language, but will speak of revolution at the thought of background checks for people buying instruments of death.

That world is the conservative vision of United States of America.

There are deeper economic forces at play in this dark political night. And the deeper we delve into them, the darker the vision becomes. These forces cast a shadow on our country, and it won't be lifted until they're overcome.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says that talk of gun laws is "scoring political points" at the expense of victims' families. But to win "political points" someone has to benefit politically. Who?

Not the Democrats in Washington who were eager to distance themselves from the issue. It's true that Christie's nemesis, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, introduced a bill to limit the availability of high-capacity ammunition magazines. But as Jennifer Bendery reported today for the Huffington Post, "A senior Democratic aide (said) on background that Lautenberg's bill ... isn't likely to go anywhere because of the Senate's busy schedule." The White House press secretary was so eager to emphasize the President's disinterest in new gun legislation that he used the phrase "existing law" three times during a briefing.

But existing law allowed an increasingly unstable 24-year-old man to purchase 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet, as the New York Times reports today, along with "a Blackhawk Urban Assault Vest, a knife and two magazine holders from a Web site called Tactical Gear" for which he "chose expedited two-day delivery."

Like Christie, the right-wing National Review isn't normally known for its tender sensibilities. Yet it hit the same "politicizing" theme over MSNBC's mention of gun control. It's a shame the issue isn't political, but neither political party is fighting for it.

They call it "political" to state the obvious: Reasonable gun laws would have saved lives in Aurora. It's not "political" or impolite to discuss construction safety after a bridge collapse, or disease prevention after an outbreak of swine flu. Why are guns treated differently?

For one thing, guns are money. Firearms and ammunition sales rose 45 percent between 2009 and 2010 alone. "Guns sales are a bright spot in a mostly depressed economy," Forbes reported without apparent irony. US weaponry is a four billion dollar industry that "has had nineteen months of growth in an otherwise anemic economy," as an industry spokesman boasts.

Neither the Forbes reporter nor the spokesman discussed the possible relationship between a depressed economy and soaring gun sales.

Gun money is increasingly other people's money - specifically, offshore money. Three of the top five manufacturers are non-US and, as industry researcher IBISWorld reports, "Imports will satisfy a growing portion of domestic demand, rising at a substantial rate over the next five years."

The more we shoot each other, the more of our wealth is acquired by other countries.

But the real money behind our gunplay isn't in the guns or ammunition themselves. The real money is in the fear and the hate. There's a reason why gun manufacturers called Barack Obama "the best gun salesman of all time" after the 2009 election led to a surge in firearm sales. Obama would "take away their guns," they said, and they want to "take our country back."

From whom, exactly?

"ALEC," the corporate-funded group rewriting our laws for corporate America, is a major promoter of "Stand Your Ground" laws like the one which resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin. These laws are a political circus, a distraction which helps elect pro-corporate conservatives.

If that's not "politicizing tragedy," what is?

Florida's economy was decimated by Wall Street fraud and a bank-fueled real estate bubble. An entire army of young men in hoodies couldn't carry all the wealth bankers took from Sanford, FL. George Zimmerman surrendered to economic exploitation the moment he picked up a gun.

After the shooting Michael Moore employed a mental exercise I've used a lot myself: viewing our world through the eyes of scholars from a more civilized future. "I fear anthropologists and historians will look back on us and simply say we were a violent nation," he said, "at home and abroad."

Well, yeah. After all, there's money in it - for some people, anyway.

I've had my criticisms of Michael Bloomberg, but he said what needed to be said this week. His plain talk was a welcome change from all the pious vagueness, even if it offended Chris Christie's delicate, shell-like ears.

"Soothing words are nice," said Bloomberg, but maybe it's time that the two people who want to be President stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it ... instead of ... talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place ..."

They didn't, of course. The President's initial statement was a predictable case study in moral avoidance: "What matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it's not the trivial things...  Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another."

But what also matters is the courage which we bring - or don't bring - to our responsibilities as citizens, human beings and, in the President's case, as a leader.

Do me a favor: If I'm ever lost to one of these acts of "senseless violence," please ask the platitudinous politicians to point out that one of the best ways we can "love one another" is by making it harder to kill one another.

There's big money behind fear, and guns, and death. "Violence isn't always evil," Jim Morrison once said in an interview. "What's evil is the infatuation with violence." What's even more evil is the exploitation of that infatuation for financial gain and political power.

But as another songwriter, Bob Dylan, once said: Money doesn't talk, it swears.

In The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross writes that "Spiritual persons suffer great trials from the fear of being lost on the road and that God has abandoned them." If we were truly a spiritual nation we would be feeling that way right now. And we'd be asking ourselves: Will our country be a project for the betterment of our individual and collective selves, as its founders intended, or just a playground for indulging our ugliest impulses?  

I hope Michael Moore's is right, and that future observers will note that after a lot of death and suffering "human decency won out and the violence ceased." Other societies have evolved beyond barbarisms like apartheid, so maybe we can move beyond our addiction to violence. We're in our dark night now, but it may be worth remembering that "Aurora" was the name the ancient Romans gave to the goddess of the dawn.

We know that's not much comfort for the people who were in the line of fire, or for those who loved them. Those innocent and sometimes heroic people may be among the many people who feel right now as if dawn is a long way away.

In the meantime, the best way to pay tribute to the victims of this tragedy is to save lives during the next one.

(Adapted from an earlier post in OurFuture.org.)

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