Column: US gun violence is an industrial problem

For the Valley News
Published: 6/9/2022 6:02:19 AM
Modified: 6/9/2022 6:00:12 AM

The seemingly unending tragedies of gun violence in the United States keep happening because the underlying cause is not being addressed; it’s outside political acceptability to even mention the problem. And that is the fact that the United States, more than any other country, depends on an economic model that exports war to the world.

It’s simultaneously true and an unacceptable thing to say. Even more unacceptable is what inevitably follows in consequence: Over time, Americans have come to tolerate the continual slaughter of innocent people — children, even — in our own country as token martyrs to our collective warmongering.

The American “military-industrial complex” President Eisenhower famously warned us about in his farewell address is by far the world’s largest. It commands the lion’s share of the federal budget. And “financial services” aside, it is the single largest driver of the U.S. economy. Politicians rail against the idea of a “social welfare state,” but if we’re being truthful, we should admit that the U.S. has one already in the Pentagon.

It’s hard to oppose militarism when no one wants the local base, hospital or research institution to close. From this point of view, the behavior of our much-maligned Congress makes a little more sense.

What is their No. 1 job? To bring federal dollars back to their districts. Where is the federal money? It’s no mystery; more than half of it is in the Pentagon. The system works so that our representatives either extract as much cash as they can, or we, the voters, vote them out in favor of somebody who will. It’s been this way for generations. There is no natural brake on this spending process, as the U.S. military budget expands reliably year by year.

Similarly, there’s no resolving America’s gun problem as long as it’s approached from a consumer perspective: the Second Amendment consumers vs. the Second Amendment anti-consumers. Described completely in terms of personal preference, the argument seems intractable; endless, too. Why is it being discussed in these terms anyway? Since the U.S. is a democracy, if personal preference were really a factor, legislation restricting guns would have been passed generations ago, reflecting consistent majority support. Why hasn’t this happened?

Some argue it’s because of America’s strong hunting culture. But other countries, such as Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, also have robust hunting cultures. All of them managed to enact commonsense legislation after gun massacres. What’s different about the U.S.?

The given, and misleading, answer is always our Second Amendment, with its curiously worded conditional clause. Like a Zen Buddhist koan, its true meaning can be endlessly debated yet never reached. It’s a big, shiny distraction from a more important, strenuously ignored difference.

The essential difference between the U.S. and all other countries is the presence and scale of the American war-making machine. It is so baked into the U.S. economy that we Americans hardly notice it, yet we all rely upon it to one degree or another.

This vast social welfare network of ours is fundamentally opposed to any restriction on U.S. consumer sales for a very good reason: the fear of a knock-on effect to the broader business of exporting war. To put it bluntly: The U.S. tolerates the death of American children so it can carry on the business of killing foreign children.

That’s a revolting statement, it’s politically unacceptable to say it and I wish it weren’t true. But reality is indeed revolting at times, like the day of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting. Refusing to face it only makes things easier to bear in the short-term. Or we can shrug our shoulders and carry on as usual. How’s that working out?

As long as the Second Amendment is the center of a consumerist debate on guns, no change should ever be expected, and the underlying industrial issue — America’s addiction to exporting war — will remain untouched. Until the U.S. is ready to re-imagine itself without that addiction, defenseless American victims will continue to be wiped out with our own weapons.

The most revolting, politically unacceptable truth of all is this: In the face of this pointless domestic slaughter, if we choose to continue to export war industrially, all those innocent victims of gun violence are only a down payment on the reckoning America will actually deserve.

John Payson lives in Thetford Center.

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