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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sacrificing thousands of kids on the altar of racist rightwing fantasies

by David Atkins

The statistics don't lie: guns kill thousands of American children every year. It is an epidemic of slaughter unparalleled in any other industrialized democracy, yet nothing is done. After every fresh massacre the public becomes further desensitized to the violence even as we are told we cannot and should not talk about the reasons why thousands of our children continue to die violent, bloody and needless deaths. American gun deaths are unique in their inability to generate political action: no one seemed to care much about the politicization of the deaths at Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center. Those thousands of needless deaths required major political action. But the needless deaths of thousands of children at the barrel of a gun barely registers a mention from elected officials.

Why is this? One reason is that the National Rifle Association has a powerful lobby. That's the story we are often told, at any rate. But it turns out that the NRA isn't remotely as powerful as their mythmaking claims. The NRA wasted $11 million attempting to defeat the President in 2012, and a full two-thirds of the incumbents who lost their House seats were backed by the NRA. The NRA boost to a candidate this election amounted to less that 2% of the vote if that. So whence comes this incredible lobbying power in the face of which the nation is collectively paralyzed in addressing the deaths of thousands of our children (and many more adults) every single year?

The evidence seems to point to the desire by both political parties to cater to exurban and rural white men who are deeply committed to gun culture. The vast majority of the opposition to commonsense firearms control comes from this group. The Republican Party cannot win without them, and the Democratic Party is still loathe to give them up entirely. The demographics of the country have shifted, but not far enough for Democrats to blithely consign themselves to losing the "bubba" vote.

But why do exurban and rural white men care so much about this issue? Most of them don't actually hunt for sport, and hunting rifles aren't on the radar for gun control, anyway. Fear that hunting will be outlawed cannot explain it. There is a lot of talk among the Tea Party crowd about the "defense of liberty" that undergirds the rationale for the Second Amendment in the first place. But while that sort of talk is satisfying and high-minded for self-styled modern patriots, the reality belies the fantasy: the vast majority of these men don't actually see themselves gunning down police and soldiers in a hypothetical Communist state takeover, and the puny small arms in question wouldn't begin to stand up to the might of America's high-tech standing army. Being an insurgent in Iraq or Afghanistan is a dangerous occupation at best fueled in part by anger at outside invaders, and it's highly unlikely that these passionate gun advocates are hedging against a future as guerrilla warriors shooting American soldiers from duck blinds.

But it doesn't take much time reading through conservative websites to see what actually drives the desperate need to own high-priced killing machines. There is a vast, festering paranoia in conservative circles about the "looters" and "parasites" coming to take their hard-earned material possessions in the supposed coming debt-fueled collapse of society. There is continual worry about some dark-skinned assailant attempting to enter their home and potentially steal their property. Radio shock jocks react to stories about carjacking by demanding that more people carry guns in order to litter the streets with more "dead urban thugs." There are large segments of the population that want nothing more than to eliminate subsidies to the poor and then await the desperate masses who will supposedly come to their doorstep with a lead welcome. Ron Paul and Alex Jones' legions of followers have been told to "defend your supplies from those who refused to prepare" for the supposed riots coming when EBT cards are canceled. It's doesn't take much investigation of conservative media consumer attitudes to discover that these sentiments are shockingly widespread.

It sounds too awful to contemplate, but reality is a cruel mistress. It's painfully obvious what motivates the rabidly pro-gun base: a deep-seated desire to unwind the social contract and cleanse undesirables who are allegedly stealing their tax dollars. These murderous fear-fueled fantasies have no bearing on any events that will actually take place in the real world (except possibly some decades on by climate change induced migrations), but they are strong motivators nonetheless. Unfortunately, both political parties are also motivated to hold onto the voters who carry these nightmarish visions in their heads.

What this functionally means is that we as a nation are openly allowing thousands of our children to die every year so that certain segments of the population can role-play racist murder fantasies. It's not awful to admit that this is true. It's awful that it's happening, and that we as a nation must pay the price for it with the torn and mutilated bodies of our innocence and our future.