Feb 262018

  by Bill Onasch

The Golden Ring of Death

I’m delaying a planned look at infrastructure and hope that you will bear with me for some thinking out loud about a different crisis that has also become chronic—and far more complex with no obvious short term solutions.

Another mass shooting reminds us of a deadly attribute of the degeneration of American capitalism. But there is a difference in response this time. The surviving students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started organizing while still mourning. They may not have read Guardian columnist Steven Thrasher’s piece When injustice leads to death, protest is an appropriate way to mourn but they quickly pulled together a mass demonstration at the Florida state Capitol that sparked similar solidarity actions by students and teachers across the country.

Trump gave up golf for a weekend and, with cue cards in hand reminding him to say “I hear you,” held “listening sessions” with vetted students. His solution is to arm teachers and pay them a bonus for training to blow away intruders—almost universally rejected by teachers and students alike.

Most governments are wary of proliferation of guns. But in the U.S. there are few profitable products that are out of bounds. A leader of the Russian revolution once said that a capitalist would try to sell rope to his executioner at the gallows.

The Guardian recently profiled a British expat, James Debney who made his bones in corporate management at the UK’s biggest manufacturer of plastic garbage bags. Since 2011, he has been the CEO of American Outdoor Brands—formerly known as Smith & Wesson.

S&W became famous for powerful magnum hand guns through product placement in Clint Eastwood’s 1970s Dirty Harry films. Today their most successful product is their version of the AR-15 assault rifle–favored by mass shooters.

Debney acknowledges some culture shock came with his new American job. Legal firearms are not nearly so common in his native Great Britain where even regular Constables on Patrol are still not routinely armed. But Debney proved he could be a merit worthy immigrant by adapting to the culture–and championing the current interpretation of one of ten amendments known as our Bill of Rights.

He’s always ready for a photo op sporting a yellow blazer adorned with a National Rifle Association patch proclaiming him to be a member of the Golden Ring of Freedom. It takes a donation of at least a million dollars to get that jacket and insignia. While not goober peas, he—or more likely his company–can afford it and supporting the second most powerful lobbying and electoral campaign funding group is surely a worthwhile investment

Liberals are again proposing to ban assault rifles like the AR-15 used by the deranged shooter in Parkland, Florida–who first became familiar with weapons designed solely to kill people in high school ROTC. There was such a ban in place from 1994 until it “sunsetted” in 2004. It’s not clear how a resumption of a ban on new sales of ARs would affect the estimated 5 million AR-15s already in civilian hands.

But most firearm fatalities are inflicted by handguns. Whether used by criminals, spouses or police, those too are of crisis proportions. As long as most of those victims were poor people of color in urban cores they seldom made headlines. But playing on fear, a number of states, including Missouri where I live, have enacted concealed carry laws to promote proliferation of handguns. Not coincidentally, they have been accompanied by a spike of “road rage,” domestic violence, and accidental shootings in homes.

The NRA is fond of saying “guns don’t kill—people do.” There is no argument against that truism. The crisis is not the result of inanimate objects but is profoundly social. The 18 year old who mowed down former classmates wasn’t born to be a killer—he is the product of a society that repeatedly failed him. For every cop accused of cowardice in Parkland there are ten more elsewhere ready to shoot first and ask questions later.

The NRA accuse their critics of trying to repeal the Second Amendment. The socialist tradition that I’ve been part of since my teenage years defends all of the Bill of Rights and a workers’ government we seek would preserve them–and add even more.

We use those cherished democratic rights to try to win a majority to our program for a revolutionary transformation of society. That would include not only measures to win jobs and decent wages for all, begin to tackle all forms of bigotry, and stop climate change, but also deal with the alienation and despair of individuals that in so many cases lead to suicides, drug addiction—and mass shootings.

We aim to do this peacefully but are well aware we face not only the richest but most violent ruling class in history. We will defend ourselves not with assault rifles, which are in any case no match for the armor and air power the boss class presently control, but through mass action by the working class majority—including workers in uniform.

That’s a tall order that won’t be soon accomplished. I wish I could recommend a quicker fix to those high school students rallying against violence but I can’t honestly do that. Many teenagers are expressing an interest in socialism. And there are worthwhile battles going on around climate change, single-payer health care, free college education, and the Fight for 15 that can make a real difference now.

Thanks for listening.

That’s all for this week.

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