On February 14, 2018, it happened again. Young people, full of potential, their futures before them, shot down… at school, supposedly a place for learning, growing, having fun, making friends, even falling in love. This time the murderous violence struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A former student wielding a semiautomatic rifle massacred 17 people—14 students, a teacher, a football coach and an athletic director. A huge hole has been torn in the hearts of those who’ve lost friends, relatives, and loved ones—and everyone who cares about humanity. Millions are filled with anguish, despair, and increasingly anger.
Just one incident like this would be utterly fucking outrageous and intolerable.
But in this society, under this system, school shootings are an epidemic. In the six years since the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012, there have been 239 school shootings. Some 438 people have been shot, and 138—overwhelmingly students—killed. These shootings have become so frequent, youth today regularly have “Code Red” drills to prepare for a possible attack. One Parkland student said, “I’ve been told these protocols for years.” Her younger sister had been drilled since elementary school. “This is life for the children of the mass shooting generation,” the New York Times reported.
Time and time again when these gruesome atrocities take place, the powers that be tell grief-stricken students, parents, community members, and society at large that it’s time for prayer—not for “politics.” Some argue that it’s “too soon” to dig into and debate why students and youth are being gunned down all across this country. And for this country’s rulers it’s never time to dig into the real roots of these unending massacres.
But Stoneman Douglas High students and parents spoke out and demanded answers and actions. A teacher told MSNBC she felt “our government, our country has failed us and failed our kids and didn’t keep us safe.” Protests have reportedly been organized at other schools in solidarity. “I’m fed up with vigils, candles and moments of silence,” wrote one father whose son was murdered in another school shooting. “Perhaps my next sound bite should be a snarl.” (“A ‘Mass Shooting Generation’ Cries Out for Change,” New York Times, February 16; “A Message From the Club No One Wants to Join,” New York Times, February 17)
Getting to the Roots of the Problem
These students, their parents, and others now speaking out are totally justified in their anger, and their refusal to accept that school shootings are inevitable, and that nothing can be done about them. They’re right to be frustrated and enraged at this society’s inability to take any serious action to stop them. And they should pursue this and other outrages, dig deeply into them, and fight to end them.
But first we have to answer: Why are mass shootings such a prominent feature of American life? There are many factors at work here, but the real answers don’t just lie in the number of guns in America. Digging into and answering that question takes you right to the foundation of American capitalist society and its bloody history of genocide, slavery, patriarchy, and American expansionism.
Mass Murder: As American as Apple Pie
Mass violence is how America was forged and how it’s maintained to this day! The violent genocide of millions of this continent’s native peoples to steal their land. The violent enslavement of millions of Africans to fuel American capitalism. The everyday, domestic violence to enforce patriarchy and male domination. The violence of American expansion—like its 1846-48 war to steal land from Mexico and its 1898 war to seize Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines from Spain.
These were mass slaughters carried out with society’s backing—and the mass participation of armed white men: slaveowner’s militias, slavecatchers and bounty hunters, and later lynch mobs to enforce Jim Crow. White settler-small farmers who were enlisted in the genocidal slaughter of Native peoples. Mass, mob violence against Mexican people in the Southwest and Chinese miners and railroad workers.
This ugly sadistic violence has been glorified and enshrined in American culture through the idealization of the “rugged individualism” of the frontiersman whose “homestead” rested on stolen land, and whose duty it was to defend “his” woman against so-called “savages”—with guns! Then there’s the great American “classic” Birth of a Nation—a film glorifying the Klan.
Other major capitalist countries like Britain, France and Belgium committed mass violence against people in Africa and Asia. But they weren’t built as settler states, on stolen land, or on the basis of slavery, with mass systematic violence against oppressed peoples internally, like America was.
This violence—and the right to be armed and commit it—is integral to white male supremacy as an ideological glue of this system and the fanatic culture of gun ownership is bound up with all this.
All this got a huge boost in the 1960s, when white people would flood the rifle stores every time Black people rebelled. This type of response was fostered by demagogic ruling class politicians like George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, often in code words, who began building a base of angry white people as part of a growing fascist core.
The pillars of American society have always been white supremacy, male supremacy, and American global supremacy. But because those pillars are in some important ways being undermined and eroded by the workings of this system, and the big changes taking place in the world, dominant sections of the ruling class have acted in other ways to reinforce them in an even more virulent way. Economic uncertainties and disparities are growing, many people are rootless and suffering, and there is great anxiety about the future. All this provides fuel for fascism and fascist movements—as well as for a lot of random violence and craziness.
Guns In the Era of Fascist Ascendancy
At this moment, Trump and the Trump/Pence fascist regime further concentrate this violent reassertion of what Bob Avakian calls “the triad of fascism”—the unapologetic aggressive assertion of white supremacy, male supremacy and American supremacy, and this is having an enormous impact on the political, social and cultural terrain in the U.S.
The NRA plays a big role in this as well. They don’t simply or mainly represent the interests of the “gun lobby.” Last summer, the NRA released a “recruitment” video that was a barely disguised call to arms to its five million members and to fascist ground troops more broadly. When there was an uproar over the video, the NRA doubled down with a second video attacking some of its critics by name. Such mobilization of white supremacist, America-Number-One, fascist forces is deadly serious—and must be taken very seriously. Just a few months before this, Trump had appeared at the NRA’s national meeting and declared, “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”
It’s not because they need the votes or campaign contributions, but because they aim to keep weapons directly in the hands of their racist, white supremacist social base.
Coursing through all this are the economic and social relations of capitalism. This is a system driven by ruthless competition for supremacy and maximum returns. It’s a system that promotes the dog-eat-dog outlook of “looking out for number one.” It forces people to be selfish and compete with others for grades, for jobs, for housing, for partners and relationships, in every facet of their lives.
These relations, this ethos, and this wanton culture of gun violence are relentlessly celebrated and promoted in American culture from violent video games like “Grand Theft Auto,” to countless TV shows and movies where the payoff is individual vengeance.
In short, a number of factors drive the massive distribution of high-powered guns and the use of some of those guns in seemingly random massacres. The point is not that every mass killer, or even most, consciously acts out a political agenda (though some do). But the economic and production relations of a society, and the dominant ideas that flow from them, do set the stage on which people act. In that sense American society and culture is guilty as hell.
Revolution newspaper/revcom.us, the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, provides the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the whole process of carrying out our strategy for revolution. Through publishing works of Bob Avakian, and through many different articles, interviews, letters, graphics, and other features, Revolution enables people to really understand, and act to radically change, the world.
Originally published at revcom.us