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CI Special Edition: Of Guns and Bitter

December 16, 2012 at 10:31 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Intersectionality

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Of Guns and Bitter
by nancy a heitzeg

“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
~ Statement from The President on School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

In the face of yet another unspeakable tragedy - 28 Dead, 20 of them small children –  attention turns yet again to the ubiquity and ready availability of guns. There are more 300 million guns in private hands here — one for nearly every man woman and child in the United States. Since the 2004 expiration of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, some of these legally owned guns include semi-automatic assault weapons such as the AR-15.

In addition, these guns are more freely assessable due to a plethora of NRA/ALEC driven lax gun laws — some 99 reduced restrictions on permits, training, buying/selling, conceal and carry in the past three years alone. Their unfettered use is also increasingly supported by law; as detailed in CI last week, Stand Your Ground/Shoot First legislation allows shooters in 25 states to claim self-defense under situations that were once simply plain murder.

The expected result is a seemingly endless death toll. The United States ranks 5th in the World for murder by gun  – these shootings occur on the street, in homes and what seems to be a growing number of mass shootings at schools, places of work and worship, and public spaces.

And, in the face of these unspeakable tragedies, the reaction is often the same. Horror. Shock. The Tragedy of Silence is temporarily broken. Media attention that exploits individual and personal tragedy. Story lines that search for “motive” and individualized explanations. The “othering” of the shooter – labels of “mental illness” if the shooter is white; “thuggery” if not. The anger, the bitterness,  the blame.

And then the calls for tougher gun laws – certainly a renewed ban on assault weapons, but more improbable calls too, such as Repeal the Second Amendment.

A Word of Caution from Melissa Harris-Perry:
guns

“What I would caution–and I think it’s part of the lesson we learn as parents, and that we also have to learn as a country, vis-á-vis our children–is that we cannot make them safe at all times. And so we have to be careful about the reaction being, ‘Let’s build a moat, and a wall, and a metal detector around our whole worlds.’ We can, however, change the structural realities in which they exist that make them safer because there would be fewer available guns… we can’t exclusively lead with our hearts. We must also lead with our heads as we start thinking about reasonable reactions to this.”

I echo these concerns.

Full disclosure: I strongly support the reinstatement of the Assault Weapons Ban. I fully support the stricter regulations on the manufacture, sale and possession of guns and ammo, as well as the repeal of lax conceal/carry laws and Shoot First legislation. I am opposed to “sport hunting“, the tactics/politics of the odious NRA and the gun show loophole.

But I am not opposed to the Second Amendment, nor to the notion expressed in District of Columbia v. Heller that the “right to keep and bear arms” is an individual right. I support legitimate efforts at self-defense as both individual and collective community rights. By any means necessary – No Justice/No Peace.

I am also aware that “increasing criminalization would adversely affect certain populations”, most notably communities of color. Consider this:

  • The school security measures instituted post-Columbine ostensibly to “protect” students – security cameras., metal detectors, an on-site police presence  – became, in inner city majority Black/Brown schools,  a vehicle for  turning schools into mini-security states and  the grease for the “school to prison pipeline”.

We must be clear – the law has never saved us, calls for “law and order” and more more more criminalization never make us safer, In fact, for certain communities at least, it escalates the risk of institutionalized state violence.

So Yes, let us have that national conversation about reinstating the assault weapons ban, the repeal of Shoot First legislation and increasing the regulation of all guns and ammo.

But let’s make sure all voices are at the table and heeded too, especially those who will bear the brunt of our “solutions”. Let’s not replicate yet again our old “Law and Order” mistakes. Let’s discuss not just more legislation but an end to differential enforcement as well.

Let us remember too, that this will the beginning and not the end of the conversation —  guns are just another tool for violence in a culture that celebrates, commodifies and capitalizes on it at every turn.

The real conversation must ultimately be much broader – the  real solutions so much bolder.

I hope that we are finally ready…

namesGraphic: New York Times

26 comments
blueness
blueness

Good piece.

 

First remove the guns from the military. Then from law enforcement. Then from the citizenry.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

So grateful for this commentary, Nancy.  Thank you.  The depth of the heartsickness I feel over Newtown is matched by the heartsickness I've felt so many times when mass shootings are rightly grieved, but nothing changes.

 

Let's be clear:  the President can't change this by himself.  And Congress won't change it until there is sustained - let me repeat that:  sustained - public activism so that politicians of every stripe know that there is a critical mass of people who won't be swayed or silenced any more.

 

Or intimidated by big money.  The Koch Brothers have given so much to electing and controlling state government, and we can expect a doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on that front.  Will we have the will to face them down, as we did in 2012?  Everything depends on our having that will.  On Friday, I spoke to a friend who has strong liberal/progressive views, but until the last 2 presidential elections, wasn't politically active much.  He just told me that he now realizes he, and we, can't ever stop, not for a minute.  I was glad to hear him say so, because when he expresses such views, I know others are feeling the same.

 

This is a time to both mourn and organize.  But we must  not look for panaceas.  The problems are complex; the solutions will be just as intricate and complicated.  If we organize in that light and are relentlessly persistent,  we cannot fail. 

Bob Phillips
Bob Phillips

Morning, Nancy, all. (Wish I could have written "Good Morning", but there's nothing good about what brings us together this morning except perhaps the opportunity to change it).

 

As we all know the last couple of days the internets have been in a frenzy as at last the society kind of faces what's been going on. I can only hope it lasts. Two messages have particularly caught my attention:

 

One, in the debate about the "Right to Keep and Bear Arms" I've seen what is for me a useful phrase - the "Right to Keep and Bear Children".  Interesting juxtaposition.

 

Second, maybe closer to home for me personally, and, I believe, closely related to the violent basis of our culture which is the theme of today's essay, twenty kids dead at the hands of a shooter is all of a sudden a big deal when twenty kids dead at the point of a drone happens quite regularly, in our names, and we go about our business as if it's just another day. Little to no outrage, certainly no internets in a frenzy.

 

Can someone help me understand why twenty kids dead in Connecticut is so much worse than twenty kids dead in Pakistan or Afghanistan? No, it was a rhetorical question. All kids are equal but . . . .

prisonculture
prisonculture

@naheitzeg Nancy, thank you for adding your essential voice to the mix.

Seeta
Seeta moderator

Thank you Nancy.  Just weighted heavily with so much sadness.  As a supporter of the 2nd Amendment, I do believe the problem is multi-faceted.  One obvious solution, however, is the need for more regulation.  Gun ownership should be as regulated at least as much as car/vehicle ownership.  Liability insurance should be  a must.

 

The culture of violence/domination/subjugation must also change -- it permeates our system and has fueled it from day one.

 

Prayers and light to the family members of their fallen loved ones.  This should never happen.  And   I hope it never happens again.

Domino14
Domino14

Thankyou for this Nancy

 

R.I.P. to all   :(

so sad...

 

gun laws in Canada are so much stricter

it needs to be in the states too

 

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @KayWhitlock good morning Kay

 

agree per usual with all you have said.. thank you for relating the story of your friend -- yes we must be relentless

 

i am btw happy to see that Feinstein is reintroducing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban -- a good place to start

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Bob Phillips hey Bob -- yes.. I do hope the calls for action translate into some action this. 

 

and yes you bring to bear another important point -- our culture of violence and all of our weapons of mass destruction from guns to drones to more claim many victims in many ways.. All around the world

 

always good to see you Bob -- even under these circumstances..Thank you

Here is to a Better Day..

naheitzeg
naheitzeg

@prisonculture your Twitter Line/storify inspired me -- White Male Terrorists indeed.. So thank you as always

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Seeta it is sadly ironic that i had been thinking about all this more lately re the CI piece on Stand Your Ground/Shoot First laws. The rapid proliferation of eased restrictions is stunning

 

We cannot continue to treat Sandy Hook and Aurora as dis-connected from Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis -- this all a piece oif the same dilemma

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Seeta Yes to all you said Seeta..

 

and thank you as always for this space that allows for knowledge and we hope change

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Domino14 yes

the culture of violence is the root of it all i think -- we are a Gunfighter Nation

 

Needs to change

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @nancy a heitzeg Yes, kudos to Feinstein on this.  Let's see which politicians have the courage to speak to the culture of violence.

 

Indeed, let's see who among our social change organizations is willing to also take on the messier, more difficult cultural issues. 

blueness
blueness

 @nancy a heitzeg  @KayWhitlock 

 

Ayn Ryan needs a gun in order to be Manly. It is a new requirement for prospective 2016 GOoPer presidential candidates. The only thing that could be more bizarre than those 2012 debates, is if this time they fought duels. Watch for it.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @nancy a heitzeg Excuse me, Nancy, Ryan ran that marathon in UNDER three hours.  And he didn't strangle one grizzly with bare hands; he strangled one male grizzly, one enraged mama grizzly (see Sarah Palin for details), and both of her cubs.

 

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @KayWhitlock why does Paul Ryan need a gun?? He can strangle a grizzly with his bare hands..

 

I believe he did so -- several times even -- right after that 3 hour marathon

Bob Phillips
Bob Phillips

 @nancy a heitzeg  @KayWhitlock A first step in standing up: my new Congressman, Rep. Ron Barber (D AZ-02), Gabrielle Giffords handpicked successor and himself wounded in THAT tragedy, is ideally suited to lead a national inquiry concerning what we're going to do about senseless gun violence. 

Change.org is circulating a petition asking Rep. Barber to step up to the plate. He brings a special authority to this issue. The petition is here http://www.change.org/petitions/congressman-ron-barber-take-the-lead-in-congress-to-address-the-epidemic-of-mass-shootings

Please sign and share.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @nancy a heitzeg Yes, no pro-fun senators would appear on Sunday morning shows.  In the meantime, apparently even Lieberman supports the assault weapon ban.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @KayWhitlock not that i watch TV, but i see via twitter, some 31 pro-gun congress types -- who will not be named -- refused to appear on MTP

 

those who are against new laws are in hiding -- so yes let us who will stand up in favior