How the NRA is harming American Security: Mass Shootings as Serial Terrorism

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

As I write, the full story behind the heinous San Bernardino shootings, which left 14 dead and 17 wounded, is still not known. The names of the two shooters have been released, which may or may not be very pertinent to the incident. It may have been a matter of someone going postal over his work situation. There may be wider implications, though at the least it seems clear that this was workplace violence linked to some sort of grievance. We are all devastated for the families. But “praying” for them, as the politicians will say they are doing, won’t forestall further such massacres, or make us more secure.

One of the many wise things in the Qur’an is verse 13:11: “God will not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.”

What must not be lost sight of is that the shooters had legally bought assault rifles, and it was the assault rifles that allowed them to commit this carnage. That is, whatever else this incident may have been, it was first and foremost a mass shooting, enabled by the arms’ manufacturers having bought our national legislators to ensure their profits take precedence over our safety. While politicians and pundits make hay with the threat of “terrorism” (which they carefully racialize), the fact is that Americans are, as a matter of everyday life, far more at risk from gun crime, white supremacists, and mass shootings than they are from al-Qaeda-style terrorism.

But the shootings also underline at how much risk the assault weapons put us. In most countries, terrorists are blocked from having military-style weapons. They can sometimes smuggle them in, but not always. That is why mass shootings are vanishingly rare in all other economically advanced countries compared with the US.

I wrote at Truthdig last summer:

“In 1994, responsible national legislators including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California crafted, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, a federal ban on the manufacture and sale to ordinary civilians of semi-automatic rifles and of ammunition drums with more than 10 rounds. Semi-automatic rifles fire every time the trigger is pulled (they are not machine guns, which can go on firing as long as the trigger is depressed). They can, however, be configured to fire dozens of rounds rapidly and to be easy to reload.

The legislators faced enormous opposition, which they softened by putting in a sunset clause. The law was then allowed to lapse in 2004 by the George W. Bush administration. While it is true that some criteria used for assault weapons in the 1994 law contained loopholes that were sometimes sidestepped by manufacturers, it is not true that no tighter legislation could be crafted now.

Assault weapons are what make mass killings possible. They are not used in most of the roughly 14,000 murders committed every year in the United States. But they are used in half of all mass killings. Mass killings are traumatizing for the nation in a way that most murders are not. Individual murders are often not reported in detail on television news, and most are not national news.

A mass killing of 20 children, such as at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012, (along with six adult staff members), each riddled with multiple bullet holes, produces powerful social anxieties. This is a kind of evil worth avoiding, as Australia’s Parliament decided in the 1990s, and it can be avoided, as Australia has demonstrated. No hunters would be inconvenienced by an assault weapons ban, and if they are firing 100 rounds in rapid succession at deer, they should be publicly shamed.

. . . a society flooded with assault weapons is at special security risk. All U.S. military personnel and police are potential targets. NRA apologists argue that deaths of police by assault weapons did not decline after the 1994 ban, but they neglect to say that the ban applied only to new rifles and left the previously purchased stock of such weapons in place. Moreover, unscrupulous manufacturers exploited loopholes to go on making and selling some of the models. Therefore, the ban would have had a significant impact on police deaths only over many years, and only once the legislative language was tightened. For all we know, the experiment was on the verge of having such an impact when it was abruptly ended.”

( Read the whole thing).

In fact, the inability of American communities to protect themselves from the proliferation of military-style assault weapons is a further sign of how corrupt the American political system is. Four arms manufacturers and their retailers, who make billions by spreading around the means for this chaos, have been allowed to buy your congressmen, who should be making laws that you want, on your behalf. Instead, they are serving a handful of billionaires.


Washington Post: “Did the last assault weapons ban work?”

Posted in Featured,Guns | 27 Responses | Print |

27 Responses

  1. Human beings will take pleasure from wherever they can find it, even, perhaps especially, from the barrel of a gun.

    Perhaps this latest terrible and unreal incident was pleasurable fantasy disguised as vengeful indignation, the sort that likely eventually also fuels the psychopathy of the many young persons recruited or conscripted by ISIS.

  2. This is, alas, one of those situations that seems hopeless. It’s not due to just one faction that has temporarily gained ascendancy and can be removed. There’s an interlocking triad (at least): the manufacturers, the god-and-guns voters along with their representatives, and the rightist elements in the courts, especially of course the Supreme Court, with its bizarre interpretation of the amendment relating to a “well-regulated militia.” The effect is that we can’t even have safe areas in the country, where rationality is allowed to prevail. If you see even a glimmer of a way out, I’d like to hear about it.

  3. The dialog on this subject uniformly neglects the primary reasons for support of weapon ownership in this country.

    1. This is a nation of extreme selfishness and lawless bullying, from sea to shining sea. Those who are less able to intimidate bullies must own weapons or live in gated communities. Otherwise the number of deaths, rapes, and robberies in a nation of 320 millions would be vastly greater than the number killed in mass shootings.

    2. The mass media cause most of these shootings by idolizing killers with generic enemies as patriots and defenders, and by warmonger propaganda for the right wing tyrants of the rich, who must create public enemies to pose as defenders and accuse their enemies of disloyalty. Obviously it is this right wing media propaganda and US foreign military wrongdoing that has caused these shootings, not the availability of weapons, which is lower than ever before.

    3. Those who think that weapons will be responsibly used if monopolized by a government controlled by oligarchs are childish and foolish. They are arguing for totalitarianism based on this fool’s assumption, the same assumption under which they fail to oppose commercial and government spying.

    Let’s address the root causes here and have no more of this foolish propaganda for totalitarianism.

  4. You’re right to compare the 8,124 murders by firearms in the United States to the 144 equivalent murders in the UK. I have no doubt that the fact that the British, as a society, have agreed to give up their guns in order to be more safe has virtually eliminated murder by firearms in that country. I wonder how they reached consensus on the issue. Maybe the relatively small size of England’s population and geography made that easier to do over there. Or maybe the lack of a Wild West myth.

    I’ve struggled for some time with the question of whether crime prevention is mainly a law enforcement or a mental health issue. I seem to be coming down on the side of law enforcement, meaning the right laws and right methods of enforcing them.

    It does seem to me that a couple acquiring not only firearms but body armor, a black SUV and the materials to make IED’s should have turned up on somebody’s radar. But, when I consider what it would take to make that happen, it gives me pause. In the face of that, it seems to me that severely restricting the future production and sale of firearms in the United States is a reasonable step.

  5. Sure there is a significant difference in the incidence of murder by shooting between the US and those countries that have laws against gun ownership. I am fairly confident, however, Europeans simply don’t want to own guns unless for specific hunting purposes, which are anyway in serious decline, and if proffered a gun many would react like an arachnophobe in the presence of a spider. European laws against gun ownership are not onerous because they precisely reflect public opinion. Gun ownership was never widespread in the UK although a fair number of weapons did come home as souvenirs from WWII and later active service; I myself had a 9 mm Luger which I became increasingly concerned of owning in case of burglary. Fortunately the government periodically offered amnesty for weapons handed over within a period and I took it to the local police station where it gave me mixed comfort to witness the admiration with which it was received! I offer this anecdote because one must not just look to arresting further sales but to ridding society of existing weapons. There is a greater division of trust between police and public in the US today which might make this a more challenging task, and legislation might simply encourage the concealment of weapons while adding another ‘crime’ for zealous police to pursue. Further, one might wonder if gun legislation of itself would arrest an alarming urge to mass slaughter fellow citizens or simply divert it in some chemical or incendiary direction? Such speculation is not offered as opposition to legislation, rather to suggest that, highly desirable as it may be, it may not of itself prove a panacea for all current ills.

    • Also in the UK, Parliament took action quickly after our two worst mass shootings, with semi-automatic rifles being banned after the Hungerford shooting in 1987, and handguns after the Dunblane massacre of 1996. Guns are in such short supply for criminal gangs that they tend to be held by “quartermasters” and hired out.

    • The Supreme Court adjusts our interpretation of the Constitution to accord with changing conditions and necessities. That was the intention of the Founders. It has done it from the beginning, from the time of the great John Marshall. There is no reason to believe that it can not advance our interpretation of the 2nd Amendment today.

      Militias were government organisations. They no longer exist. They have been long since replaced by standing armies which do not take their rifles home at the end of the day. Sooner or later even the Swiss will follow our lead.

      The least politically feasible gun control legislation is, of course, precisely what it will take: to make WRONGFUL POSSESSION of whatever types of “arms” we must ban a felony and to provide for vigorous prosecution with lengthy prison terms–after a buy-back amnesty provision runs its course. The 2nd Amendment does not expressly permit the right to “bear” any and all arms.

      Our government makes military style weapons. It has a monopoly on Hydrogen bombs for example. Extend that principle to modern infantry weapons. There is no inherent right to manufacture and sell the damned things in competition with Uncle Sam. I should think that the analogy should be to eminent domain, a government right the Court approved in the 1920s.

      Force the Supreme Court into the politics of the matter. It has a monopoly on interpreting the 2nd Amendment. It has shirked its responsibility. Put the burden for these unnecessary deaths directly on its collective shoulders. They can be forced to act. The judiciary has been political in fact for most of its existence. Sometimes benignly, other times not. You’ll recall Mr. Dred Scott’s experience.

      During WW II, which posed a clear and present danger if ever there was one, the Administration was enabled to essentially take over the manufacturing sector of our economy. That had all sorts of Constitutional implications. Yet we did it. We also imprisoned American citizens who happened to be Japanese. The same was true there. To claim that analogous things can’t be done regarding the proliferation of guns in the US is nonsense. We have to face the consequences of what we’ve done to ourselves.

  6. This is a nation that exploits the sale and use of military hardware to compensate its inability to provide good jobs for the necessities needed for normal human existence.

    It’s easier to kill your neighbor with a gun than a wind turbine. Just ask any hard line capitalist.

  7. Please, don’t get too distracted by the guns or the mental illness causality for the mass shooting.
    The mas-shooting, an American phenomenon of the last 20 or so, correlates with the deep anger of the “99 %” and may have a cause-effect to it. The shooters are pathetic, self-appointed messengers for the masses.
    Our people are very very angry because they are being “slowly boiled”, by the corrupt political system which is supported by the corrupt MSM.

  8. Of course this killing with Muslim-sounding names will remove all talk of the “Dear” white man of the “body parts” killing who could not be a terrorist as he is a troubled white man.

  9. The business of America is business and morality has nothing to do with it. But if we are, as alleged, the greatest nation in history, the world, etc. why do tens of millions of people live in such fear that they feel a need for guns to protect themselves?

  10. This is a matter of Heart. Everybody feels terrible and the NRA is a big, nasty special interest group that undoubtedly bribes our Congress. However, the animals capable of this carnage will acquire the ‘tools’ necessary to accomplish their deeds. Moreover, if we did ban assault weapons, there are so many of them existing in the black market (once a weapon is stolen it cannot be registered or sold on an open market) that the few individuals capable of this carnage will have no trouble finding the weapons needed. They’re committing multiple felonies they have absolutely no concern for the laws. Laws are for the law abiding, criminals are not daunted in the least, to them a law is ‘words in a book’. Buying stolen weapons is as easy as buying a meal for them.

    This is a matter of the Heart, we cannot legislate a Heart’s conditioning. I do not agree that Prayer is as useless as the author. I do understand why he may be concerned about the impotence of prayer, This Heartlessness is a matter of core beliefs and as such is developed by an individual throughout their lifetime manifesting in a watchtower on a college campus, maybe. If you have a better way to address this issue – the World is Waiting

    • Dont’t call them “animals.” They were living, thinking human beings, just like the rest of us, but with some very different motivations and beliefs. And what they did was a crime, not some act of evolutionized instinct.

      And don’t pooh-pooh the very idea of “laws”, just because some people will break them. EVERY law has been broken at one time or another. Hey! People have been killing one another for tens of millenia, so let’s just abolish the laws against murder, right? They clearly haven’t worked.

      What laws – whether to control access to firearms or limit killings – do is:

      * Impose barriers, making it more difficult for people to impulsively commit the crime.

      * Impose penalties for lawbreaking, such as fines, confiscation, imprisonment, and in some jurisdictions, even death.

      It would, as you suggest, be helpful if there were a stronger societal disapproval of the action. A lot of people consider the Columbine school massacre to be “cool” (or whatever the current term is); potential mass killers study past mass killings and learn, as well as doing homage (“Catcher in the Rye”, anyone?) Unfortunately, we in the US appear to have given up hope of change: the Republican-run Congress won’t do anything, and will block any executive action.

      Given that we’re coming up on a presidential election year, the opportunities to change our federal government will never be better. Candidates could run on this issue. (not to mention global warming)

      • Hi Zandra,

        I don’t believe these crimes are ‘impulsive’ in the least. The perpetrators have planned where, when and how as any predator might.

        I notice U deny they are animals, yet admonish society for their lack of disapproval.

        Finally, Zandra U are no criminal, I commend U. I however have some understanding of a criminal mindset and can confirm that U can make all the gun laws U like, carrying a death sentence and the animals perpetrating these crimes will NOT be swayed.

        The statistics might compel a thinking person that more gun laws might help. Europe culture is very similar to ours and tighter gun laws prevail, but statistics alone can be deceiving. Ice cream sales collates very tightly to murder, but nobody would spend much time and resource pursuing this notion. However, statistics and a closer look and better understanding of the rationale and mental component behind these crimes might better explain why and how this happening.

        Seriously, why do we see an order of magnitude higher killings in America vs UK?

        Assumption: exclusive of GUN Laws

  11. With all the money that they spend and all the surveillance, why can’t Homeland Security stop these damned terrorist attacks?

    • Homeland Security doesn’t need to do anything to stop domestic terrorism because we are fulfilling our entire antiterrorism obligation by sending our forces overseas. Remember that we fight them there so that we don`t have to fight them here.

  12. Unbridled money and external influences directing our Congressional politics is harming National Security.

    The NRA is merely one of the “external influences.”

  13. Is it too extreme to call out the NRA and their sympathizers and refer to them as terrorist enablers? (Like some congressmen today?) Are they not moved that two terrorists did this because of how easy it is in this country to get the guns and ammo? (And just to clarify, I consider any mass shooter to be a terrorist… I find it laughable that the media begins calling this “terrorism” when the suspects start sounding asian and islamic… The PP shooter was a terrorist – Roof was a terrorist…)

    It’s just sad how rightwingers are always so scared and concerned about terrorism, but now that it comes closer to home and involves their “precious”, they’re still willing to hang on to their “do-nothing” – “everyone-should-be-armed” nonsense. Even one of the things they supposedly loath the most doesn’t cause them to reconsider their idolatry/obsession…

  14. One of the more ludicrous justifications for the possession of guns comes from the self-styled “Patriots Against Tyranny.” They claim they need their guns to oppose tyranny if it should ever threaten the people. Well, what the hell are they waiting for? Can’t make up their minds about which tyranny to oppose? How about when small groups of people across the nation under the banner of Occupy Wall Street rose against the tyranny of Wall Street and Establishment thugs abused peaceful protesters? Where were these windbags then?

    The other aspect of this BS is, if they were serious, they would be talking about a civil war. Given the numbers of people who can’t be bothered getting out to vote, it would be highly unlikely there would be much of a turnout for Civil War II.

    • Actually the evidence is that Farook was subjected to considerable workplace bullying. If this were something primarily beyond workplace rage, why not hit a target with security implications?

      • If the attack was triggered by something said at the party, the conversation between Farook and Malik while he was suiting up must have been something to hear.

        Brilliant article in The Nation by the way.

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