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Gun Violence in America:
Whom do we Blame?

By Michael Castellano

To say gun violence and mass shootings have gotten out of hand is a gross understatement.

Are you angry? Mad as hell? If not, you should be. No where in the world are there as many random mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. Parents kiss their kids good bye on the way to a rock concert, or accompany them to a religious service or the local mall, and wonder if their dead bodies will be part of the next massacre casualty list. Whether it's the movies, a bar, the Las Vegas strip, a grammar or high school, your place of work, or on your own front porch in your own community, you may one day find yellow police tape around the body of a loved one, or maybe your own.

The political class of Democrats has done little or nothing to improve the situation, and the Republican Party has worked tirelessly to make matters worse. It's time for us to ask the questions that politicians like to avoid. We don't need them to pray for our souls or attach adjectives like "psycho" or "evil" or "deranged" or "hardened criminal" to the shooters. By then it's too late. According to the most recent stats, about 11,000 Americans die each year from gun or rifle fire. 95 to 100% of them each year die at the hands of other Americans.

That is more casualties than in some of the wars we have fought.

We Have Met The Enemy, And They Are Us
There are two fronts which give America the possibility of reducing this carnage. There are more than two of course, but for the sake of brevity I will focus on the two they could have immediate results. And both are rarely mentioned as something to try. And I'm not talking about gun control. The first is perhaps the most controversial, but the biggest single source of gun killings in America, which is extreme poverty.

What is needed is action and a policy from the government to address the massive amount of poverty in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Rather than a tax cut such as the current Republican plans in Congress, taxes on the upper 10% and the corporate world should be increased to finance a large infrastructure improvement plan. One which can employ millions of workers and produce sustained growth. Funding for significant infrastructure development requires revenue from the government in the form of tax dollars.

Private investment cannot be counted on in a profit oriented system. You will note that Trump's promises of infrastructure investment have gone by the wayside. Even someone as dumb as Trump knows that a massive tax cut is not compatible with infrastructure investment. The obstacles to progress are both political parties and our own lack of unity on such a project. It's time we recognized both the man-made causes of poverty, and it's distasterous consequences and costs to the average American.

The Crushing Costs of Poverty
Mass killings get a lot more of the attention, but there are numerous daily shootings in poor and destabilized communities and elsewhere all over America. To give you an idea of how the poverty rate effects the murder rate, I'll use a rather troubling example. In the 1970s New York had a record murder rate of about 2,000 a year. Today it is about 300 a year. What's the main reason for this? It's not gun control or community policing as often claimed, it's the country wide process of gentrification and deindustrialization. Which has driven the poor and working class out of many cities in large numbers, and drastically altered our economies. Apartments alone average $1500 - $2500 a month in NYC, assuring a mostly middle to upper midde class city.

"Today's answer to poverty is mass incarceration along with massive neglect."

There was a time when it was acknowledged that goverment and business should work to address the national curse of perpetual poverty, despite being one of the richest countries in the world. That sort of public acknowledgement and awarness has largely been buried. Today's answer to poverty is mass incarceration along with massive neglect, allowing many of the poor not in prisons to wither and die. Our cities have become places primarily for the middle and upper classes, with a much smaller sector of working class people in service industries. It eliminates poverty by eliminating poor people themselves, not by elevating their economic status. Some would call it creeping genocide.

Under the gentrification processes in effect throughout America, many people living in our cities pay 50% or more of their incomes for rent. Jobs that support families remain scarce, and so-called unemployment rates are both inaccurate and misleading, and greatly under estimate the numbers of under and unemployed. While 60% of those in poverty are described as "white" people, historically and today the worst poverty and living conditions are faced by blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans -- the only people in America who are NOT immigrants. These conditions trace back to the Civil War era and before. It should never be forgotten that our society is saddled with a huge financial burden to support mass incarceration and the criminal justice system and gets no real benefits in return. In some states, it costs $100,000 a year for each prisoner. The failure to address generational poverty has led directly to having the most men and women incarcerated in the entire world, including Russia and China. The severity of poverty, especially when concentrated into large communities, coincides directly with broken families and high unemployment and incarceration rates. This simple fact has been known to the world since the early days of the industrial revolution in 19th Century England. It is disgraceful that today. more than a hundred years later, we still have to debate the truthfulness of this connection and remind our leaders of this fact.

"More tax paying jobs can address the scourge of poverty and gun violence."

Poverty and Racism = Death
This is not to suggest that such problems such as gun violence are not found in other settings, they are just more concentrated among very poor people, white, Hispanic, or black. As has already been pointed out, these conditions have been much more prevalent in non-white communities due to extreme poverty and destabilization conditions. The death rate from gun violence in a very poor community is often 10 times those of a more stable community. This is true to some degree with any neighborhood that falls into extreme poverty, and forms youth gangs to replace weakened or non-existant stable family support.

A national policy committed to addressing poverty in a structural way is one of the few practical ways to lessen the number of killings and reduce the tremendous cost and moral bankruptcy that incarceration, the courts, and extra police generates. It has the added bonus of creating tax paying jobs that build the economy and truly attack the scourge of unemployment and gun violence at their roots.

The second way to reduce the number of gun deaths has to do with an improvement in our mental health system. Creating one that recognizes a national need for increased and improved mental health services as well as better strategies to keep guns away from unstable individuals. Starting in the late 1960s, a major shift occured in the mental health arena which emptied the mental health hospitals and substituted an increased use of drugs and a massive reduction in longer term mental health care and hospitalizations. Many of the mass shootings which have occured have been done by the mentally ill, suicidal individuals and crazed white supremacists or militia types (Timothy McVeigh). There are many individuals who need the type of long term treatment that requires good food, sleep, time, and counseling therapies more than they can benefit from a drug. That form of treatment has been severely reduced and is no longer covered by most forms of affordable insurance.

Why it's too Late for Gun Control
It is likely that there are more guns in America than Americans. And converting a perfectly legal rifle (the above weapon is the exact one used at the Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, this year that killed at least 26) into a military grade automatic can be done by any 12 year old. Note that the manufacturer calls this a sporting rifle. I guess hunting people is now an official sport. Or perhaps it's intended for rapidly killing entire herds of animals? When the Constitution guaranteed the right to bear arms, both hand guns and rifles contained one or two shots, and rifles took 30 seconds to a minute to reload. Bearing arms was also thought of more in terms of state militias, as the founding fathers feared an invasion by Britain. Which did indeed come in 1812.

In any case, fire arms today are much more deadly. And won't protect us in the event of Nuclear War. They also kill mostly innocents, and police are often outgunned by civilians in controntations. The percentage of those folks that still hunt has declined over the years. But the numbers of gun collectors and gun lovers has dramatically increased. And gun violence in the movies, video games, and T.V. is rampant, and those who decry this sort of infatuation with violence are often frowned upon by the Clint Eastwood characters who are a dime a dozen these days. They are also likely to be useless against a government which menaces its own people given the current numbers of police, those in the military, FBI, etc. - an excuse used by many modern militias to have and keep their guns.

Guns obviously make it easier to kill. Using a knife is much more personal, unreliable, messy and unpleasant for most of us. Aren't guns the weapon of choice for murderers? That said, guns are not going away. One idea is to restrict gun carry laws, since most people should not be trusted anyway to walk the streets with them. They are especially dangerous in our larger towns and cities. Whomever authored these carry and conceal laws in public places is insane. Only those at serious risk of workplace robbery sould be considered for a carry permit.

"Necessary improvements in our mental health care system seem impossible with the current 19th Century Congress."

I don't think there is anything else in the short term that can significantly reduce the number of mass slaughter incidents, given how long and how many rifles that have been sold like the Rutger AR-556. Perhaps they will now even have to change the criteria for what constitutes a mass shooting? It is currently at least 4 dead. Perhaps they can lower the statistical frequency by raising that number to 10, or 20? 12 years olds in many of our poorer areas also have easy access to handguns thanks to lax gun laws. It would take a suspension of all Constitutional rights to put a dent into this sort of gun use. And I'm not for that or stop and frisk.

So we have seen how a desire to put a dent into the frequency of gun violence has led to a call to address the massive amount of poverty in our country. Our failure to address structural poverty has led to a skyrocketing murder rate, much of our gunviolence, mass incarceration, and a prison budget rivaling the defense budget. As far fetched as it may appear to some of us, the best practical place to start reducing gun violence of all types is with a serious structural committment to address poverty and unemployment, and to start using reality-based criteria for calculationg the unemployment rate. Necessary improvements in our mental health care system, such as single payer and equal consideration being given to mental health, would certainly help as well, even if they seem impossible with the current 19th Century Congress.   

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