After the Charleston massacre, let’s not give up on better gun laws

How can we ignore the role of guns in the Charleston shooting?

President Obama at the Charleston AME Church (YouTube)

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., June 25, 2015 — We are in the aftermath of another mass killing. Nine citizens of Charleston, S.C., lost their lives at the hands of a self-proclaimed white supremacist.

The killings, not incidentally, were committed in one of the most revered places of worship for African- Americans in the South, the Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. The killer’s intent was not subtle. No one with an ounce of historical knowledge can ignore the message.

Dylann Roof intended to bring his message boldly to the American public. According to his own “manifesto,” he wanted to start a race war. He said as he began his slaughter that blacks were raping women and taking over his country.

Roof is by no means an outlier. A significant number of Americans have similar beliefs. According to the FBI, there are more than 1,000 white supremacist groups in the United States, and the number of supporters is in the millions.

The advent of the civil rights movement and the large immigration of Latinos and others have completely changed the racial configuration of our country. What past generations called a melting pot in mid-20th century America was not even a light broth. Today’s melting pot is more like a thick stew.

Sixty years ago, when Americans met in public places, they were greeted by people who looked very much like them. Separate but (not) equal was the law of the land. The Caucasian Western European—white American—majority felt comfortable going anywhere as the rules of the game were clear and there were no interlopers from another ethnic backgrounds to muddle the waters.

Today, white Americans have to mix with people they don’t know much about, who look very different from what they are used to seeing.

Some would have expected even a stronger reaction by the white majority as the country became darker, or at least many non-whites came out of the shadows. With some rather obvious aberrations, however, those who had previously been subjugated did not retaliate with violence when they started gaining social and political strength. Historians in the future may find this an amazing fact, mainly that the transition has been so peaceful.

The Charleston shootings may ironically pave the way for the betterment of race relations in the country. In his eulogy of Reverend Pinckney, one of the victims, President Obama talked about this fact. His speech has been classified as one of the best in his political career.

But let’s not start patting ourselves in the back just yet. While the majority has accepted the changes and tried to make the best of them, a significant minority has not and probably never will.

Immediately after the massacre, right-wing pundits tried to spin the facts to being the act of a mentally ill person, a lone wolf and a freak. Their condemnation of the killings were directed at the fact that they had happened in a place of worship, which in their eyes was the overwhelming crime. They also took the opportunity to proclaim that racism no longer exists in the United States, so Roof must have been acting completely alone.

After more facts were known, the emphasis shifted to a piece of cloth. When by any logical analysis the events could not be attributed to anything but racism, the right-wing apologists shifted. Some started stating that maybe it was the fault of the Army of Northern Virginia flag that segregationists have used as their symbol since 1962. After all, Roof had exhibited it in his manifesto.

All of a sudden even the governor of one of the most entrenched Southern conservative states in our land was joining the band wagon for the removal of the flag. Little by little, all the significant politicos from the right have joined her.

Too little, too late. We cannot let ourselves be distracted from the real goal, eliminating racism in our society. This requires much more than taking down a piece of cloth.

The other half of the knee-jerk reaction by the right after the massacre was that “gun control was a non-starter.” They and most of the corporate media started putting forward the idea that since Roof had purchased the gun and ammunition legally, any thought of a debate about gun control should be abandoned.

These fanatics want us to believe that wide availability of guns should not be a factor in condemning the actions of Roof.

In a Logic 101 discussion, this argument doesn’t hold any water. The problem is in the legal acquisition of fire arms by anyone. In other words, anyone can obtain a gun, even those who are mentally ill or violent, as long as they pass a very low threshold. That allows anyone with a grievance to use gun violence to “settle the score.” By keeping the threshold low for anyone wanting to acquire a gun, we are hiding behind what is legal, ignoring what would be logical and safer.

Why is it that this type of mass murders is not so prevalent in other developed countries? Maybe in the same ways booze and speed are killers for drivers, guns and the individualistic, vigilante mentality of many in our country are killers for Americans.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, believes that a gun doesn’t belong in the hands of those who can’t justify a dire need for them. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LindedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).

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  • Chris Todd

    Wow… What a racist, ignorant clown Mario Salazar is…

    I would bet anything you never for one nanosecond considered that the transition “has been so peaceful” because racism isn’t even close to as prevent as you think it is, did you? And that will remain a factor you will never take into account.

    So nobody without a dire need can have a gun eh? Okay I can go along with that, here is my dire need: it is a civil right I wish to excersis, that is all the reason a free society needs.

    • Kate Kennealy

      I’m Ur number one fan,Chris! Keep being envious of white people,Salazar.

  • John Velisek
  • Monique DC

    Racism? How about the comment below about being envious of white people?
    We have clearly moved from overt Jim Crow Laws to more subtle, but in some ways, more dangerous modern Jim Crow. (Book “Better off without ’em” discussed the way southern politics and the fundamentalist churches have combined to achieve this).
    We have never fully acknowledged the impact of economic dis-justice nor the pervasive racism in our institutions (housing, criminal justice, employment) despite empirical study after study that proves this structure exists.
    Nor do most white people recognize the privilege they have in our society just by virtue of their skin color.
    That said, Mario, I agree that we have urgent needs to heal our country, our attitudes and our structures. Gun law is part of it, but while very important, only a part.
    I also do not want to see us distracted over the Conferate Flag, but I cannot abide the racist and hateful symbol it is. Why is the South still fighting the civil war? Why are they re-inventing the logic that created the conflict? Why are so many schools ignoring the factual history around the civil war?
    Were I a person of color in our society, I doubt that I was be so patient.
    When the terrorist Roof writes about black people taking over the country, that is excessive and extreme. The reality is that we are a more diverse population than ever and the bastion of power formerly controlled exclusively by white MEN will change – is changing and should change.
    I think this makes for improvement, but if you have a myopic, segregationist perspective, you would view it as a loss instead of an evolution.
    Thank you for your views, Mario. We need more and more people to confront the conflicts we ignored when we lost Martin Luther King. His next focus was to have been for Economic Justice (living wages, the right to unionize, the right to fair housing). Since our current economy is a mirror of the 1890s, we have much work to do in this area. Personally, I think the Republican party (and other groups who are extremist) are pitting people against each other over the issue of race, when the economic foundation is of working/middle class versus the economic elite (Economic Policy Institute just published a study that documented the average CEO has increased their pay by over 54% since 2009. This is a structural problem that affects all of us.)

  • Stanley Hill

    They never talked how the shooter using the same technique, shoot them all but leave one as a witness to tell the story of what happened. This was how the TV show that played the week before the church shooting took place, In the show (Murder in The First) season 2 Episode 1). The mass shooter shot 10 kids and left One witness to tell the story. I guess they were too busy pushing the race card to make the connection.