Gun Control is the Key Question

Virginia Tech massacre is probably the biggest such incident in the US history. But if media reports continue to term it as only thus, it will turn out as even a bigger tragedy.

School shootings are neither new nor infrequent in the US. In fact, hardly a year passes us by when we do not encounter the grim realities of gun trotting on campus areas. And yet, each time there are shootings, the prompt official methods turn out to be “offering prayers”.

There is nothing wrong in offering prayers, and indeed when deep sorrows affect people collectively, all we seek for is healing. But once the hours pass us by, we must reflect back in order to repair and prevent the crisis from recurring. And even as all of us are still shocked over the tragedy, let not the crucial issues go unaddressed.

Weapons of Mass Destruction:
The truth is guns are the biggest weapons of mass destruction. They are like cigarettes. No matter how much we brand certain drugs to be injurious and no matter how many of our celebrities come forward to “Say No to Drugs”, the problem is not so much with the drugs as they are with Cigarettes.

Why? Because cigarettes are consumed by the masses. It is cigarette smoking that causes more deaths per year than drugs can cause per decade. And yet every 7-Eleven and every gas pump in the country has a corner for cigarettes.

Likewise, its not some unknown WMD in a North Korea that should raise so much hell as should the millions of gun-trotting people on this very land, who are “licensed” to own “private” weapons.

And yet, like cigarettes, guns are quite legal in the US. Because both of these weapons of mass destructions are actually products of biggest profiteering industries.

Armament industry flourishes through legalization of weapons in a country where most hard working human beings are considered to be illegal. Corporate investments in guns rather than humans make big business sense because guns earn dual dividends. In fact, the dividends are so lucrative, because they are going to make sense only for the manufacturers, not the consumers.

One, the overpriced costs of weapons are borne by individual customers, and two, the consumers do not get any returns from their own investments. For instance, one could spend money on buying a dictionary and get returns from this investment for a lifetime, whereas spending money on bullets is the stupidest form of disinvestment that there ever is. Neither the bullet can be reused, nor will it server any productive purpose.

This is not such a complicated scenario. And yet, what might appear baffling are the reasons why the federal government and state administrations cannot implement a policy of complete gun-control in an individualized capitalist society.

Top Guns:
Let alone controlling the guns, capitalism thrives on the gun-culture. Flaunting guns becomes an obsession for a system of political governance where private properties are considered yardsticks of human esteems. Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger schools and bigger guns: the craze for exhibitionism spans television sets, Hollywood flicks and political debates. What is worse, the movies and leaders that depict more guns and warfare in their periods emerge more popular and ‘victorious’.

Because of these perverse instant gratifications such as guns and muscular heroes and wars of terrors, guns are advertised as being akin to freedom in many ways. One is “free to” own guns. Of course one has to prove residency: which eliminates the possibility of illegality of human beings. Of course one has to answer few questions: thus making sure that the future gun-owner is declared smart. And then the gun is handed over as the ultimate releaser of pent-up emotions.

Guns under market economy are not necessities. They are not going to be handed over to people en masse. For if, every citizen of the country owned a gun, it would be far more necessary to challenge the system than to kill people in frustrations. In our highly individualized society where social security numbers remain lifelong secrets, any collective endeavor or thought is perceived to be unlikely. Therefore, it is individuals who take up their frustrations in blatantly anarchic fashion. The difference between revolution and reaction is the difference between gun as emancipating tools of social justice and guns as private properties for individual gains. A “free” market economy works towards eliminating the freedom of people to have guns for collective consensus, but promotes to “license” guns only to individuals who meet the power structure criteria.

Just like freedom for none is implied when freedom for all cannot be ensured, the guns have severe limitations when they are wielded by few chosen ones. Instead of emerging as a collective responsibility, gun becomes a tool of individual prerogative.

Point Blank:
In continuance of a macabre history of shootings in school (by much younger kids in the past), Virginia Tech suffered the worst that was yet. So far the question that needs be raised are not being raised. Yet in a capitalistic sensational fashion, the media more or less have been covering reports about the shooter, his racial ethnic background, his class essays, the location of his parents’ house, his assumed girlfriend etc. Many theories are surfacing too: that he was the most lonely soul in the world, that he did not look his roommate in the eyes, that he wore a cap, and even was taking pictures of his classmates in the class. Even famous poetess Nikki Giovanni offers views about her former student.

Now, Cho Seung-Hui, “resident alien from South Korea” has a Wikipedia entry too. Hold on, the assumed girlfriend is a Wiki entry as well.

Whereas, his individual profiling is necessary for the investigators related to this case, there is no reason why this needs to be an issue of concern for the rest of us. Only in a perverse celebrity-driven society would everyone want to have a piece of the camera and soundbyte to describe a person who committed murders. Scores of people now are up in airtime describing this student to be a psychopath. He is being described as a South Korean whose green card renewal was done in 2003 and had been referred to a mental facility for harassing students.

Issues vs Non-issues:

The tragedy is so large scale that it will take really quite some time for the dust to settle down. But once it does partially (that is when the media shift their headlines), it will be a good idea to ponder over several unanswered issues.

a. Racial profiling: It is pointless to call a person by his/her country of origin if she/he has been in this country since early childhood, attended American schools and college and even secured a seat at a prestigious university as a resident student. Such characterization only will stand to create further stereotypes for racial minority populace. Considering the 9/11 memories, such media stereotypes can be extremely dangerous.
b. Personal profiling: Media should probably report sensations, but must refrain from sensationalizing reports. Its one thing to report about the death of 33 students, its quite another to create slideshows of the girlfriend of the murderer. Racial profiling should not be allowed, but personal profiling should be left to the investigators of the case, and not fed to the public.
c. Abnormal Profiling: To consider the case of shooting at campus as either exceptional or a handiwork of a psychopath from an alien land is really undermining the larger issue at question. Indeed the act itself renders one mentally unwell. But the fact is most gun related violence are caused by people with average intelligence. In this case, despite media reports, one will tend to understand that a university such as Virginia Tech would admit students that are above average.
d. Gun control: Whereas the background of the shooters in such cases should be left to investigators, the real issue must be highlighted in the press for the people to critically reflect upon. How many of us own guns? And what purpose do they serve? What is the genesis, and necessity of gun practice? Why are guns being made available for commercial purpose? Who benefits from the sale of guns? Who loses from the sale of guns?

Our world was always unpredictable. Now it is even gloomier if our educated youths mindlessly commit suicides and murders. But what is even more disastrous is if we investigate no more than their health records, and provide no more than some religious prayers.

For the sake of a safer world, renouncement of guns, and other military weapons on the part of state and individuals is a necessary first step. And it must begin from the mighty ones among us. To exemplify that we care for the future generation of brilliant youths, we must implement legitimate gun-control practices in every place. To set this example, we must take every measure to prevent the press from highlighting gory aspects of criminal world (which merely showcases guns—even as they belong to cops—as the tools of solution), to stop preferring violence over sex (all the hoopla over Janet’s breast as opposed to top ratings for cop serials), to check the video game industries that showcase crime and masculinity for children that grow up with those sick ideas, to stop glorifying wars as a solution to anything—where youngsters pick the threads to consider violence as victory.

In case of this young student shooter, either of the two things might be true. One, he had a motive: the girlfriend question, that has been raised, which he might have found an answer to through the powerful guns. Two, the fact that he was mentally unwell and was the loneliest of people, and found that suicide was the path.

In either of the situations, the most glaring instance of alienation in a competitive capitalism surfaces. It is the crisis that we need to address, now that the incident has already taken place. Gun is a consequence, not a cause.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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