Above: Protesters hold a rally against gun violence outside of New York Public Library in response to recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Denton, Ohio on August 4, 2019, in New York City. (Photo: Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
By Howie Hawkins
The US is in the midst of an epidemic of mass killings. In the 215 days so far this year, the US has seen 252 mass shootings – an average of more than one a day.
The reasons why this is happening are pretty obvious: too many guns, inadequate gun laws, a culture of militarism that glorifies violence, misogyny, and racism emanating from the White House that is whipping up white supremacists.
Below I put forward a series of specific policy changes to address gun violence and white nationalist terrorism. The policies I recommend already have widespread support among the people in the United States. In addition to laws, we must also change our culture as we live in a society that glorifies and celebrates violence. It is justified and accepted in our lives. US imperialism exports violence and it blows back home as a culture of militarism and returning service members who are emotionally wounded and statistically the highest perpetrators of armed violence.
It needs to be understood that the roots of the Second Amendment come from slavery and the slaughter of indigenous peoples. In Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz puts forward a history of guns and gun laws in the United States and ties it to the “settling of America”; i.e. taking land from indigenous people, and keeping their property; i.e. their slaves, people forcibly brought from Africa against their will. The racism of gun laws included disarming Black people during slavery, during the fight over Reconstruction, and during the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of the Black Panthers. The racist roots of gun laws are playing out today with a president who has made racial division central from the first day of his 2016 campaign, when he described Latinx immigrants as “rapists,” “criminals,” “drug dealers,” and “terrorists” and in 2019 when he said of the country’s first elected Black Muslim congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, “send her back.”
A history of misogyny and violence toward women is another common characteristic of many mass shooters.
Two Mass Shootings Rock the Nation
In less than 24 hours, dozens were left dead and many more wounded in two mass shootings. The first in El Paso, Texas was perpetrated by a white supremacist whose racist motives were outlined in a bigoted “manifesto.” Then early Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people before police shot him dead. These incidents occurred a week after another mass shooting in Gilroy, California.
White nationalists expressed solidarity with the man who police say killed at least 22 people in El Paso, Texas. Kevin MacDonald, an antisemitic former academic, popular with white nationalists, tweeted that he “agreed” with the El Paso shooter and said, “This won’t be last bit of violence from people concerned about the Great Replacement. Political elites are playing a very dangerous game.”
The “Great Replacement” refers to a conspiratorial belief that white Christians are being systematically replaced in Western countries by people of color and Muslims from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Earlier in the year, Trump smeared all immigrants approaching the US-Mexico border as invaders when he said, “People hate the word ‘invasion’, but that’s what it is.” These right-wing extremists are not only channeling white nationalist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theories, which frame demographic change as a threat to white Europeans but also taking a cue from the words and policies of Trump.
It is no coincidence with Trump’s racist discourse that far-right extremists were responsible for 100 percent of all terrorist attacks on US soil since the end of 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League, and why hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, and other historically-marginalized people are at unprecedented levels.
Making matters worse is the fact that Trump and his racist supporters are hyping themselves in what can best be described as a positive reinforcement loop, in which his supporters reward his racism with approval, and he, in turn, rewards them, whether that be by calling for a ban on Muslim immigration or channeling funds from the Pentagon to the construction of his border wall. Meanwhile, the Trump administration gutted the resources of the Department of Homeland Security office on domestic terrorism.
I’ve continually spoken out against racism, imperialism justified by it, and the gun violence it predictably spawns throughout my political career, and I’ve been a consistent opponent of Trump and his open racism.
Hawkins’ Policies Against Gun Violence and White Nationalist Terrorism
I defend the individual right of law-abiding citizens to own pistols, rifles, and shotguns for self-defense, hunting, and sport shooting while also supporting the public right to regulate the ownership and operation of guns in the interests of public safety.
I advocate the following specific gun safety and law enforcement reforms to address gun violence and white nationalist terrorism:
- Ban and buyback military assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks.
- Universal background checks for gun and ammunition buyers, including closing the loophole for private sales and sales at gun shows, with sales and background check records maintained indefinitely in a central registry.
- Require all gun owners to pass a gun safety test, a visual test, and be licensed by a government agency, similar to the requirements for obtaining a driver’s license.
- Institute a 28-day waiting period after license application before firearms can be possessed.
- Expand the prohibition on the purchase and possession of guns by people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes to include people convicted of menacing, assault, or unlawful imprisonment.
- Enact a red flag law that permits the police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.
- Encourage government research into the health impacts of gun violence, including high rates of suicides from handguns.
- Nationalize gun manufacturers. Take the profit out of gun production.
- Stop the acquisition of surplus military-grade equipment by police.
- Support citizen review boards and community control of the police.
- Federal intervention against local police misconduct.
- Support police tactical training in de-escalation and conflict resolution.
- Monitor the enforcement of gun safety laws to ensure equal treatment of all social groups by law enforcement.
- Increase resources and staffing for the Department of Homeland Security and FBI units focused on white nationalist terrorism.
Beyond Laws, System Change
The US is an empire built and sustained by capitalist expansion, racism, brutality, and violence. The roots of US violence come from the founding of the nation in the crimes committed in the ethnic cleansing of Indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans. Violence continues to sustain the US empire in never-ending wars that have killed and displaced millions this century. Part of the consequences of this permanent state of violence is seen most recently in El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy.
The culture of militarism, which inculcates the fear of other types of people and glorifies the military, police, wars, and violence as the answer to those fears, promotes civilian gun violence. Militarism also reinforces toxic masculinity throughout our culture that regards women as objects to be dominated rather than equals to be respected. This shows up in public policy, like abortion bans, lower pay, lack of good policing for rape victims, and victimization of transgender women. We need broad egalitarian system change as well as gun safety laws to radically reduce the extremely high rate of gun violence in the United States.
Beyond gun control, we must attack the causes of gun violence rooted in social inequalities and militarism. Gun safety laws are not enough. Inequality kills. The high rates of murder and the increasing number of mass shootings in the United States are indicative of a society engulfed in fears fueled by racism, xenophobia, misogyny, militarism, and growing inequalities in income, wealth, and power. Economic inequality is the strongest correlative factor to rates of murder and gun violence among the nations of the world.
Trump’s repeated threats of violence against other nations as well as his fear-mongering about immigrants, Muslims, and people of color are making matters far worse.
One thing that won’t fix our problems is handing over even more control to an authoritarian government that has already begun floating high-altitude, mass-surveillance balloons over our nation without our permission.
You reap what you sow; let’s NOT sow racism and hate – or that is exactly what we will grow and harvest to our mutual despair. But don’t let the fascists bully or stampede us with fear into giving away more of our liberties, either. This is a time for well-considered ACTION, not just intemperate REACTION.
Howie Hawkins is seeking the nomination of the Green Party of the United States for president. Hawkins was the first candidate to run on a fully developed Green New Deal in 2010, combining an Economic Bill of Rights to jobs, income, housing, health care, and education with 100 clean energy by 2030 in order to reconstruct the economy for economic justice and climate safety.