U.S. and World Politics

Capitalist Decay and Child Gun Deaths

By Brian Schwartz

Firearms are the number one killer of children and teens in the United States. This unbelievable statistic was quoted by National Public Radio, concluding a news report on the April 28, 2023, Cleveland, Texas mass shooting that left five people dead including a nine-year-old boy. Firearm’s link to child and teen mortality became an accepted statistic when the John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions published their findings for the year 2020—this statistic still stands today. The only way to render this statistic inaccurate, according to the cynical on-line fact checker, Snopes, is to leave 18- and 19-year-olds out of the equation—then the number one killer is automobile accidents.

No other wealthy country has a child mortality rate caused by firearms that comes close to the United States. KFF Health News, an organization serving as an independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, posted a chart showing the U.S leading other countries in 2020 with 4,357 child deaths from firearms. France and Canada tied for second with 48 child deaths from firearms. And on December 26, 2022, ABC news reported that over 6,000 had been killed by gunfire in the U.S. that year.

Failed state

Yemen and the United States share the dubious distinction of being the two countries with the highest percentage of private gun ownership in the world. Yemen, enduring years of warfare waged by a U.S-backed Saudi Arabia, shredded by civil war, hunger and poverty, came in second only to the United States, a nation with astronomical wealth held by a few, wracked with social-economic inequality. The United States is fond of bandying about the term “failed state,” describing countries like Yemen, floundering in economic and social chaos. What could be a bigger indicator of failure and chaos when your nation’s children and youth will more likely die from gunfire than an automobile accident or cancer?

The NRA and militarism

Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine, was a groundbreaking attempt to fight back against a future of school massacres. Moore’s documentary took on the National Rifle Association, U.S. militarism, rightwing paranoia, and gave us some background into the mindset of the Columbine students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 12 students and a teacher, and injured over 20 others at Columbine High School April 20, 1999.

Twenty-four years after Columbine, active shooter drills in schools are commonplace in United States. National Public Radio reported 27 school shootings for 2022. That was the year 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers. It took police over one hour and 15 minutes to stop stalling and finally respond and confront Ramos.

How to sell more guns

Ryan Busse, a former superstar gun salesman and executive at the prestigious Kimber Manufacturing, an American company that designs, manufactures, and distributes small arms, wrote a book that provides some answers as to why the United States is saturated with tactical weapons utilized in mass shootings. The book’s title is Gun Fight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America. In chapter 16 of Busse’s book, entitled “Couch Commandos,” National Rifle Association CEO Vice President Wayne LaPierre addressed an NRA convention shortly after 911. Busse remembers LaPierre pounding his podium and, as the audience joined in his anger, he shifted to racist slurs, sarcastically warning, “Now, we don’t want to risk offending an Islamic ex-con with two aliases, no job and no luggage, paying cash for a one-way ticket whose shoes are packed with plastic explosives,” he added, imploring the crowd to fear “people who are not citizens of our homeland, who don’t belong in our homeland along with aliens on work visas, or green-cards, or student passes.” Busse explains, “The country had a new tragedy and new villains who conveniently fit into a frightening racial and religious profile. It all added up to a simple solution for the industry’s dipping gun sales and sliding NRA membership.”

Protection for gun industry, not kids

In 1994, Senator Dianne Feinstein and her co-sponsors introduced a bill banning assault weapons. The assault weapon ban was rolled up into President Clinton’s reactionary crime bill that gave billions to additional police funding. A sunset provision was added requiring legislative action in ten years to maintain the ban. On September 13, 2004, President Bush allowed the sunset provision of the law to take effect. On October 26, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.” This bill shielded firearms companies from liability claims arising from unlawful use of their guns. Ryan Busse summarized, “…cities no longer had standing to sue for the impacts of gun violence in their limits and victims of mass shootings were barred from suing manufacturers and dealers.”

Busse points out, “Even Wall Street took notice. For professional money managers, the risk of investing in companies that might be sued because of urban gun crimes was gone. Eventually, financial gambles like the one made by the small group of investors who bought Smith & Wesson paid off with incredible growth and lucrative public offerings. Within a decade, retirement funds and 401Ks included stocks from Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and Alliant Techsystems—an American aerospace, defense, and sporting goods company selling small-, medium-, and large-caliber weapons, that owned several other weapons-industry companies.”

In the summary sentences of Busse’s “Couch Commandos” chapter he points out that before the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” the gun industry sold between five and eight million guns per year. After 9/11 and George Bush’s wars, annual firearms sales would shoot up to between 13 and 16 million per year between 2013 and 2016.

Guns and war—the American way

Michael Moore took on U.S. militarism as being a contributor to mass gun violence in his film, Bowling for Columbine. Moore was onto something as Ryan Busse also cites in his book, “America sent hundreds-of-thousands of troops to fight in what the gun industry pejoratively called the ‘sand box’—a derogatory term used for the Middle East and Afghanistan. The impacts of war on our country were immeasurably terrible, but the upsides to firearms sales were huge. For nearly a decade, pictures of soldiers fighting with or posing with AR-15s, and other tactical weapons, dominated the cable news shows, creating an entire generation of Americans who became fascinated with high-powered firearms.” Busse continues, the “NRA immediately understood the power of the patriotic messaging—the use of military weaponry and returning American heroes. Just like that, gun sales became synonymous with supporting the military. Conversely, opposing guns or even supporting gun control became, to many Americans, unpatriotic.”

Guns for some but not for others

The 2nd Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Back in the 1960s, Oakland Black Panthers carried guns legally, shadowing the police to discourage them from beating and killing African Americans in their custody. Republicans and Democrats retaliated against the Black Panthers, passing a 1967 California bill that prohibited the public from carrying firearms. The NRA supported this gun control measure. It was signed into law by then Governor Ronald Reagan. The NRA had no problem with gun control if it disarmed Black people using firearms, symbolically carried, to prevent police brutality.

On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man, was pulled over by St. Anthony, Minnesota police. Castile, using NRA guidelines, informed the police that he had a weapon and a license to carry. Castile reached into his pocket to get out his documentation and was shot dead. Author, Carol Anderson, was interviewed about her book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, on June 2, 2021, on NPR’s ???Fresh Air.” Anderson gave this opinion, “One of the things that I argue throughout this book is that it is just being Black that is a threat and so, when you mix that being Black as a threat, with bearing arms, it’s an exponential fear.” Anderson continues, “this is not an anti-gun book or a pro-gun book. This is a book about African American’s rights.”

White privilege

August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse 17, white, joined with the Kenosha Guard, a militia mobilized by Kevin Mathewson, a former Kenosha city councilman, to come and protect businesses during the Kenosha protests on behalf of Jacob Blake, a Black man paralyzed by a cop who shot him seven times. Rittenhouse killed two protestors who confronted him for carrying a tactical weapon among unarmed people. According to a USA Today fact check published August 29, police gave bottled water to Rittenhouse and another armed man saying “We appreciate you guys. We really do.” After the murders, Rittenhouse walked towards police officers with his weapon slung behind his back and hands up, the crowds yelling to the cops that he was a shooter. The cops jumped into their cars to tend to other business. Rittenhouse was arrested the next day at his home. Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges of murder. In Kenosha, Wisconsin it is not illegal to carry around weapons like his Smith & Wesson M&P15 tactical rifle.

Encroaching fascism

Cops, neutral or friendly towards armed militias poised against protestors, as they were in Kenosha, are embryonic indicators of fascism—a social phenomenon occurring in the most democratic and wealthy countries where the rulers and owners are losing ground keeping disparate interests in that society contained within a congress or parliament—using civil law and its sworn enforcers to keep order and corporate profits protected.

The ruling class of this country does not want a fascist caretaker government to ensure their profits and maintain their class rule at this time. Fascists are uncultured, criminal thugs, demanding high payment for their services. The U.S Congress and law enforcement institutions, governed by the Democrats and Republicans, are effectively maintaining a satisfactory, though very shaky equilibrium. Yet the social rot in the U.S. political body is festering, and in this rot comes the corpse-fly outriders of fascism, whose legal cover is the Second Amendment, protecting their right to endanger us with their tactical weapons at our democratic assemblies, churches, schools, and public places such as shopping centers.

There are many gun control advocacy non-profit organizations in the United States. March for Our Lives was founded by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Highschool massacre survivors. On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz, using an AR 15 rifle, killed 17 students, and wounded 17 others. The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas students organized a march and rally in Washington, DC, and other cities, making it the largest demonstration against gun violence ever. But March for Our Lives squandered a living mass movement into the dead end of lobbying, voter registration drives, and supporting Democrats—same as other gun control organizations—which could gain public notice if they organized mass activist organizations, rather than sending a few privileged individuals to pressure politicians behind closed doors.

The importance of independent mass movements

Mass actions by the working class that took place outside the control of the two capitalist parties, laid the foundations for long lasting change in the United States. Students, in alliance with an ever-antiwar American public, marched against the Vietnam war. Yes, the U.S. does wage imperialist wars today, but they can only do it with a volunteer army since every U.S. campus would explode into antiwar organization centers if they utilized the draft.

The massive, grassroots, women’s liberation and civil rights movements brought about change for women and Blacks. The 1969 Stonewall uprising brought gay rights to the forefront and laid the groundwork for LGBTQ people to demand their rights.

We are a very long way from ending war and winning rights, freedom and justice for women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and the working class.

The need for an ongoing
mass anti-capitalist party of the working class

Relying on the Democratic or Republican Parties—or any parties of the capitalist class—leads to a dead end to building a better society.

When mass actions and revolts recede, as they are bound to do, workers need to be organized into a mass, independent party built on the victories of all past worker’s struggles and in direct opposition to the Democrats and Republicans who represent the capitalist class —who are committed, first and foremost, to the interests of profits, and getting reelected.

The time is now.

The majority of the working class supports a ban on assault weapons and supports compensation to victims of these massacres by the manufacturers of these weapons. Only a united, independent mass movement of the working class can break the partisan logjam preventing an assault weapons ban. Only the power of working people organized independently and in opposition to the capitalist power structure will bring the arms manufacturers, politicians, and right-wing criminals and mass shooters to heel.

In March 2023, a student “walk-in” at the Nashville, Tennessee State House organized by March for Our Lives, in solidarity with victims of The Covenant School massacre which killed three children and three staff members in Greenhill, Tennessee, Trey Madison, a student at Martin Luther King Jr Magnet Highschool, recited this poem:

I’m Tired

I’m tired of turning on the news

And seeing another bloody massacre

That could have been stopped

The ball is in our court

As long as the bullet is in the chamber

Do not let those precious children

Have died for nothing

Do not let those selfless teachers

Have died for nothing