IT would be easy to pass by the latest mass shootings on the other side of the pond. US citizens shooting US citizens is hardly news these days, even when they do it in large batches.
It might be thought axiomatic that one of the world’s most developed capitalist states, where individualism, competition and material possessions are celebrated more than anywhere else on Earth, would also be a major breeding ground for seemingly pointless mass murders by the frustrated, defeated and self-obsessed.
Yet other highly developed capitalist societies — in some of which gun ownership or availability is quite common — have nothing like the number of mass shootings.
By any measure, the US accounts for more than a third of civilian mass killings by firearms that have nothing to with the commission of another crime such as theft, smuggling, sexual assault or drug dealing.
That said, it would still be too easy to dismiss the weekend’s massacres in El Paso and Dayton as simply the result of the easy availability of guns in the US, including semi-automatic assault weapons.
What, then, can be said about them? Even more importantly, what lessons can be learned from them, not just in the US but also here in Britain?
US politicians and pundits — some of them the paid stooges of the powerful National Rifle Association — are once again rehearsing the arguments for and against various gun control measures: tighter background checks on would-be owners, a comprehensive licensing system, a crackdown on rogue gun dealers, a ban on private ownership of semi-automatic weapons, an amnesty with rewards for turning in weapons and a statutory federal requirement to keep all guns under lock and key.
Most people would regard these measures as merely common sense. They are already in force in many civilised countries. US states with greater controls have lower levels of mass shootings, but just as much gun use in the commission of other crimes.
In the US, Democrats and commentators are pointing out that a growing number of killers are racists, gripped by notions of white supremacy and driven by fear and hatred of Afro-Caribbean, Latino or Muslim minorities who are seen as interlopers or invaders.
US presidents, British prime ministers, other politicians and media figures who stoke up such fear and hatred are creating the climate in which the advocates and perpetrators of murderous violence can believe that their hatred is normal and justified.
Nor can the role played by the internet be ignored. It beggars belief, for instance, that the film taken by the anti-Muslim mass murderer of his grisly work in Christchurch, New Zealand, was still available online on the neonazi Stormfront website for days after the massacre.
In the US and Britain, the police and other state authorities should switch their attention fully from environmental, peace, left-wing and trade union bodies to the violent racists, fascists and their organisations. But this will not eliminate the mass shootings which arise from different motivations.
The 165 or so mass shootings committed in the US since 1967 indicate that many of the killers have been driven by real or perceived bullying or loss or denial of status in school, college, the workplace or the family. Some have been perpetrators of domestic violence, or victims of it, or both. A minority have a history of severe drug and alcohol abuse.
This underlines why the hallmark of a civilised society should be the priority it gives to investment in the quality of education at every level, in children’s and youth services, social care, counselling, occupational health and the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction — and why workers must be effectively represented by strong trade unionism.
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