American Mass Shootings are Sadly Unsurprising

ZNet, December 7, 2015

Are you surprised to learn that the recent San Bernardino massacre was (by the statistical reckoning of the Washington Post) the 355th mass shooting episode to occur in the U.S. in 2015, well on pace to transcend 2013, when 363 such episodes occurred? You shouldn’t be. This terrible data is the predictable result of seven basic underlying realities.

First, according to reliable research, roughly 4 percent of the U.S. population — 1 in 25 people —are fundamentally without conscience. Factor in a total U.S. adult population of 245 million and you’ve got nearly 10 million people who can do pretty much anything without the slightest hint of remorse. Relatively few of those 10 million ever become mass shooters, but that’s a really big pool from which to recruit a mass killer or two every day.

Second, corporate media has saturated U.S. “popular culture” with desensitizing and sexed-up images of regular and wanton mass violence. I went to a movie recently where I had to turn away repeatedly from the previews since they were so savagely violent. The Hollywood heroes blew large numbers of their fellow human beings away with breathless impunity. As I went to the concession stand to get a box of Snowcaps, I beheld a 20-something mom helping her toddler shoot a rifle at some evil enemy invader in a coin-operated video game. Crowds in movie theaters can regularly be heard laughing and cheering as large numbers of people are blown to bits and riddled with bullets on the big screen. A young co-worker of mine is a “gamer.” He spends untold hours engaged in the simulated mass shooting of anonymous Internet enemies. (It’s not for nothing that the U.S. military has long partnered with video game manufacturers: playing the most violent popular games helps participants become more willing to kill without hesitation or regret.)

Third, the United States is permeated with guns, more than one per every American. (One government estimate puts the total number of firearms in circulation in the U.S. at 357 million)  The U.S. population owns millions of assault weapons, repeat-fire tools of mass havoc like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with which a psychotic lunatic named Adam Lanza gunned down 26 elementary school students and teachers in Connecticut in December of 2012. Thanks largely to the dedicated lobbying and propaganda of the proto-fascistic National Rifle Association, it is incredibly easy for ordinary citizens (included any number of demented psychopaths) to purchase large numbers of such weapons and to stockpile enough ammunition to wipe out large numbers of their fellow human beings. The widespread availability of guns is a leading factor behind the depressing fact that more than 30,000 people die at the wrong end of a gun in the U.S. each year. As the researcher Christopher Ingraham recently noted:

“More guns = more gun deaths. This is true whether you’re comparing countries or states, research from Harvard has shown. If people have easy access to tools that allow them to easily hurt or kill other people, a certain percentage will use them. Simple as that….. Guns don’t kill people of their own volition, obviously. But they sure do make it easier. And the sheer number of guns in circulation means that somebody who wants to get a gun to hurt a lot of people typically won’t have a hard time doing so….The corollary to this: small-bore legislative fixes, like increased background checks or assault weapons bans, will do very little to address the total universe of 33,000 gun deaths in the U.S. To do that, you’d need to severely reduce the number of guns in circulation — like Australia did, for instance.”

Fourth, the U.S. military regularly carries out mass killings of civilians via Special Forces, jet planes, and drones in numerous countries around the world. From Yemen to Somalia to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and other “sovereign” nations, Barack Obama’s personally coordinated and ordered “Targeted Assassination” hits have sent many thousands of innocents to  early graves. Listen to the following factually supported reflection from the antiwar activist and writer David Swanson:

“A young man who had successfully killed on a large scale went to his religious leader with doubts and was told that mass killing was part of God’s plan. The young man continued killing until he had participated in killing sprees that took 1,626 lives — men, women, and children…his death count was not the 16 or 9 or 22 lives that make top news stories, but 1,626 dead and mutilated bodies….This young man’s name was Brandon Bryant, and…he killed as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and… he was presented with a certificate for his 1,626 kills and congratulated on a job well done by the United States of America? …His religious leader was a Christian chaplain.”

Swanson observes that most of the people killed by U.S. drones are noncombatant civilians. He also reports that U.S. drone operators “ ‘double-tap,’ meaning that they send a missile into a wedding party or a house and then wait for people to try to help the injured and send a second missile into them….As a result one hears the injured screaming for hours until they die, as no one comes to help…”

Such terrible practices can’t help but encourage (as well as reflect) mass-murderous socio-pathology back in the American “homeland,” where mostly white police officers (and sometimes security guards and vigilantes) carry out the extrajudicial killing of a Black person on average once every 28 hours.

Fifth, the U.S. lacks a public mental health care policy remotely adequate to meet the remarkable degree of mental and emotional disturbance present in the savagely unequal, corrupt, and insecure plutocracy that is New Gilded Age America – a nation so maddeningly disparate that the top 1 percent possesses more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of the population.

Sixth, the nation’s broadcast airwaves and Internet are rife with right-wing proto-fascistic political noise that is accurately described as hate-speech. This viciously reactionary and authoritarian media is dangerously violent. It reeks with contempt for Blacks, immigrants, the poor, gay people, feminism, social welfare, ecological concern and more. It commonly celebrates violence on the part of police, the military, and vigilantes. A significantly fascist and white-nationalist hate-monger named Donald Trump currently stands well in the lead of the race for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, an organization based largely on racist, sexist, and nationalist hatred.

Seventh, everyday Americans’ basic senses of material, social, and emotional stability and belonging are constantly assaulted and all too commonly devastated by an amoral Casino capitalism that puts their jobs, homes, pensions, savings, and self-respect at horrific risk. Half the population is poor or near-poor and millions upon millions of Americans reasonably fear the elimination of their jobs (through technical displacement, globalization, and/or related business declines and failures) as the super-opulent and parasitic rich get ever more socio-pathologically wealthy. The hyper-opulent few include  the owners and top managers of “defense” corporations that profit from a permanent global war of/on terror that involves regular mass killings – and gun manufacturers who weep all the way to the bank as another mass-shooting victims gets buried in the ground.

Given all this, the sociopathic Islamic State (IS) can rest easy. It probably can’t kill more ordinary Americans than are already being defenselessly shot down by fellow Americans on the long-bloodied “homeland” soils of Gunfighter Nation.

The recent San Bernardino atrocity appears to be different from the usual American mass shooting in that the culprits may well have been so-called self-radicalized Muslims acting on the inspiration of IS and perhaps partly in response to perceived anti-Muslim ethnic insults in the workplace.  But what’s surprising about such an incident? Surely the U.S. imperial power elite understands very well that it puts ordinary Americans at grave risk of attack by Empire-radicalized “homeland” Muslims pushed over the edge by, among other things, Uncle Sam’s persistent mass-murderous policies in the Middle East, where the U.S. has killed as many as 2 million people (including 1 million children) just in Iraq alone since the first Persian Gulf War. The policymakers know about the risk but they really couldn’t care less. They are quite willing to endanger American lives in pursuit of their petro-imperial and geo-strategic objectives in the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia. And they are ready to exploit “homeland” deaths to justify the continuation of their endless global war, which only feeds more blowback at home and abroad.

Paul Street will speak in Chicago twice next week. He will talk (with Bruce Dixon) on U.S. Imperialism and the 2016 Elections with the Illinois Coalition for Peace, Justice, and the Environment on Thursday December 10, 6:30 pm, Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn. He will speak on Rahm Emmanuel, Laquan McDonald and the Racist Mass Incarceration State at the Open University of the Left, Saturday, December 12, 2:30 pm at the Logan Square branch of the Chicago Public Library, 3030 West Fullerton (North Side).

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