In a beautiful celebration of human dignity, the Confederate flag, a blatant symbol of white supremacy, was removed from its place outside the South Carolina statehouse. It took a while, but it happened through democratic means – the people voiced their views, their representatives debated, and the right side won the day. The success of democracy in advancing social progress is depressingly remarkable because while state legislatures and governorships led be democrats are putting forward modest reforms, legislatures and governorships controlled by republicans are making huge strides in accelerating regressive laws, and the main locus of federal power is the judiciary, which passes judgments that are more often repressive of the underclass. Democracy in action is rare these days, but its success in Charleston should steel us to renew our methods of democracy and take on another pillar in the institution of black suppression: the gun culture.
There is no arguing against the claim that the gun culture in America is predicated on the notion of “protection”, but who the culture thinks they are protecting themselves from is shrouded in vagueness until we look the de facto laws of gun ownership – that white men may own guns, but black men may not. This de facto law is made clear by the actions of our roving execution units that kill black children with toy guns, fire erratically at adult men reaching for their drivers’ licenses, and shoot to death black men who’s existence just is frightening to them. It is a criminal offense, punishable by death, on the spot, for a black man to have a gun. Gun ownership is a privilege reserved for white people, not people of color, and once we see that this is the law of the land, there is no avoiding the realization that the American gun culture as a culture of “protection” is a culture of protection against blacks, based in profoundly racist fears and mistrust of blacks.
The corporate power elite encourages the gun culture because pushing the gun culture implicitly stokes fears of blacks, a fear which is used to justify waging war on black America in the name of a war on drugs and crime. Prisoners are forced to labor for little or nothing in deplorable conditions, with no authority to unionize, and in private prisons corporations as government contractors charge the state for services for basic human needs that they undersupply and turn into profit. (President Obama has announced that he will visit a federal prison in Oklahoma next week, a first for a sitting president, but he must visit in turn a private prison to see the abhorrent direction our prison-industrial complex is taking). The corporations have found a way to profit off of America’s fear of blacks, a condition of slavery which Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow”, and these corporations turn around and invest in the perpetuation of our slave system by funding our televised media in order for them to bombard viewers with stories of violent black men – again, stoking the fear that makes possible the maintenance of the unjustifiably harsh sentencing laws for blacks that give corporations an infinite supply of slave labor.
The state has no interest in challenging the gun culture because it benefits from the war on blacks — the neoliberal worldwide police state uses continuous war to create existential threats, internal and external, that justify a poor quality of life from lack of social investment in order for billions to be spent on a war machine that enriches the power elite in charge of arms manufacturing, and who provide ample kickbacks to their politician enablers. The state welcomes the gun culture and its rootedness in a fear of blacks as a justification for turning its war machines inwards, galvanizing patriotism against the Other, the non-white population, and therein justifying state power, and the money used to prop it up, as necessary and inevitable in response to the threat of a black uprising.
We have a moral duty to abolish the gun culture because it is an existential threat to black America. The gun culture mythologizes the power of the gun to such an extent that it becomes a power so awesome that one is justified in killing blacks to prevent them from attaining it. Those that aren’t killed are to be thrown in cages, from which they will never truly emerge – stripped of rights and opportunities to reintegrate into society, as a felon their legal prohibition from owning a gun is the last of their worries, but the only worry of members of the gun culture. Now is the moment, having successfully struck at a symbol of white supremacy, to use our political momentum to continue the fight against the institutionalization of racism in our culture, by challenging our relationship with guns.
Enacting stricter gun control now will be necessary, particularly because of how long we can expect the fight to defeat the gun culture to take, but it will not be enough to end the genocide of black Americans. That Roof was able to purchase a gun when he shouldn’t have been able to due to his criminal record — and that this was possible because the rules are essentially that if the background check doesn’t come back within three days in opposition then the seller can make the call whether to go through with the sale — is unacceptable. One wants to say that of course waiting periods should be longer, and more resources should be spent to ensure there are not the shorts of failures in communications that took place in the Roof case, but at the end of the day it is absurd that we should have to say any of this at all. That we should spend more money researching whether a person is legally allowed to own a gun is not a solution, ending the sale and purchasing of guns is a solution. We must end the gun culture and rid ourselves of guns.