Its notorious military-industrial complex frustrates even the most modest gun reforms
Sreeram Sundar Chaulia
Even after the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States at the famed Las Vegas gambling hub killed 59 and injured over 520 persons, the country shows no readiness to confront the gun epidemic which has caused bloodbath after bloodbath for decades.
At the heart of the malaise is political paralysis driven by ideological and emotional attachment to the constitutionally enshrined right to possess weapons. From the highest offices of the presidency of Donald Trump and the Republican-ruled legislature to state-level administrations, an entrenched militaristic conservative stance encourages heavily armed citizens as the best guarantors of personal safety and security. The American Right-wing is stone-cold and unmoved no matter how bloody society becomes under the duress of a world record 30% of US adults owning guns.
American conservatives are historically suspicious of regulation and advocate individualistic and community-level choices without interference by the state, especially the federal government. ‘Small state’ dogma, which lionises ordinary white Americans as good and kind folks and villainises the government as an evil usurper of God-given rights, resonates in conservative parts of the US where owning guns is a matter of pride.
Apart from ideology, there are commercial motives for the Republican Party to be the ardent champion of the proliferation of guns. Its candidates and office-bearers are in hock to weapons lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Gun Owners of America (GOA). According to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, 232 out of 435 members of the US House of Representatives received campaign contributions and funds from gun lobbies in the year 2016 alone, with only nine out of these beneficiaries being Democrats.
The notion of deadly weapons manufacturers and their cultural institutions making elected politicians dance to their tunes and blocking minimal curbs on their autonomy comes across as crass influence-buying and corruption. But in the American system, such payments are legalised, justified and open. In the name of preserving defence sector jobs, corporate profits and capitalist freedom, the US’s notorious military-industrial complex prevails and the killing in society goes on unrelentingly.
If this permissive structure is not lethal enough, the extreme political polarisation in recent years has rendered all prospects of bipartisan consensus for limiting gun access futile. America today is so divided and fraught in terms of ‘liberal’ versus ‘conservative’ that one half of the society thinks, forms opinions and acts like a distinct tribe with which the other tribe has no connection. Any push by Democrats or civil society activists for stricter laws and policing of guns is met with vitriolic opposition by the Right – as an existential threat to the American way of life.
Racially-charged biases about crime being an exclusive domain of people of colour also subconsciously underpin the debate. Many Right-wing white Americans consider owning weapons as necessary to avert being mugged or burgled by racial minorities. Some conservatives also back ‘law and order’ calls for granting more weapons and powers to police personnel to crack down on transgressions by minorities. Military-grade semi-automatic and automatic weapons in the hands of law enforcement agents during racial riots in the US outrage liberals and much of the outside world as incitement for turning the country into a de facto warzone, but these tactics enjoy wide approval on the Right of the spectrum.
The US has a unique problem due to the organised might and mobilisation of its Right-wing forces. Less ideologically rigid countries like Australia and the UK used to have lax gun regimes like the US, until inflection points came in the form of gory mass shooting massacres and compelled their conservative parties to accept confiscation or retrenching of firearms from the hands of citizens.
But in America, the Right has deep roots and stymies modest ‘common sense’ gun reforms, leave alone a fundamental transformation towards demilitarising the society. When serialised horrendous tragedies cannot move the needle on policies and laws that enable gun rampages, America is doomed to suffer repeatedly. Las Vegas was not the first and will not be the last manifestation of an America hardwired for violence.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.