America, the Violent: Banning Semi-Automatic Weapons Is Not Enough

I’m all for Pres. Obama’s and Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to ban semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is going to make much of a dent in the gruesome gun death toll in America.

Every year, about 31,000 people in the United States die from gun violence.

When you examine that shocking figure, a few surprising facts pop up.

First, almost two-thirds of those killed by guns are people who commit suicide. About 19,000 in total.

Then, of the 11,000 homicides, the vast majority of these are with handguns, not semi-automatic rifles.

And of the 600 fatal accidents with guns, semi-automatic rifles are not responsible for many of those, either.

As a result, much of the effort, following the horror at Sandy Hook and Aurora, won’t really get at the underlying problems of gun violence in America.

One of those problems is the illegal drug trade. If we legalized drugs, the gun violence in our cities would go way down.

Another problem is the lack of awareness of the warning signs about suicide. As the saying goes, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and the Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should do a public education campaign to make us all more attuned to those warning signs.

And finally there’s the violence-soaked culture we live in—and I’m not taking the easy way out by blaming Hollywood or video games.

No, I’m talking about our blood-soaked history: the extermination of Native Americans, the imposing of slavery on African Americans, and the running of an empire that lives war to war and inures us to violence.

Starting with the war against the Philippines in 1898, when Pres. McKinley vowed to Christianize the Filipino people and killed 500,000 civilians in the process, the U.S. empire has stacked the corpses high. The multiple U.S. invasions of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the U.S. support for dictators there, cost hundreds of thousands of lives over the last century. The atomic bombing of Japan was a muscle-flex of empire, most recently demonstrated by Oliver Stone in his epic “Untold History of the United States.” During the Vietnam war, the United States killed between two and three million people in IndoChina. U.S. support for the dictatorship in Indonesia in the 1960s and 1970s cost close to a million lives. George W. Bush’s war on Iraq also killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. And Barack Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan—and his all-out use of drones—has caused many innocent people to die, even as he bemoans gun violence.

Knowing somewhere deep down of the atrocities we are responsible for has corroded our collective conscience and helped make violence the American pastime.

So yes, by all means, let’s ban semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition.

But let’s get to the bottom of America the violent, while we’re at it.

(Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine. He is indebted to Kevin Alexander Gray for helping him think through this issue.)

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Farewell to Four Progressives Who Died in 2012."

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