By Matthew Rothschild on January 11, 2013

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."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.

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After the voter ID ruling, progressives try to reclaim politics for ordinary people

His bombing campaign is legally weak, and his rhetoric weaker.

By Harvey Wasserman

 

The most hopeful, diverse, photogenic, energizing and often hilarious...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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