by Preston Taylor Stone
i. The White Supremacist in Walmart
Today marks the 250th mass shooting in the United States in the 213 days since 2019 began. In a Walmart in El Paso, a white nationalist killed almost two dozen people and injured 26 more. Families doing their back-to-school shopping in a largely non-white city were the victims. The city, which sits at the border of Texas, Mexico, and New Mexico, brags about being a diverse and welcoming haven and safe place for migrants. The shooter, after posting a four-page document detailing his reasoning for massacring immigrant families, drove from his home just outside of Dallas to El Paso (a 9-hour drive).
ii. The White Supremacist at the Local Festival
A man who had posted more than once about his distaste for miscegenation killed two children and a young man in his 20s, injuring almost a dozen others. After the shooting at a local festival, the gunman killed himself. Police found a white supremacist text in the man’s home in an investigation, providing more context to the xenophobic and white nationalist rhetoric he used on social media.
iii. The Process of Buying a Gun in America
To buy a gun in the US, one can go to a gun show and purchase it with cash (this is illegal; however it is rare that every person entering and exiting a gun show is required to prove legal ownership of each gun they have on their person and in their vehicle). Legally, a US citizen can purchase a gun after an instant background check that identifies red flags if the customer has been charged with domestic violence or other criminal charges. For context, purchasing guns in Japan or South Africa can take months; in Australia and New Zealand, it can take several weeks; and in Mexico there is only one location authorized to sell guns and it is located in the capital city. Most of these countries require investigations into past ownership of guns and safe storage of the potential purchase as well as gun safety classes and required examinations and mental health consultations.
iv. The NRA in Congress
The National Rifle Association makes roughly 360 million dollars each year. As it is classified as a civic organization, the NRA pays no federal taxes. The NRA donates roughly 5 million dollars each year to politicians, political action committees, and political parties. Candidates in the 2018 midterm elections were given anywhere from $15,000 to $250 each. 287 Republicans and 10 Democrats received donations.
v. Money Over Murder
While there have been calls for reform for at least two decades, no gun reform bill has been made law since 1993 when background checks were instituted for most purchases of firearms. After each mass shooting, activists lament calls for prayer and solemnity over legislative movement. According to most polls, the majority of Americans are in favor of gun law reform. However, it seems gun advocates put their money where their mouth is. Whether by luck or distraction, gun law reform gets pushed aside or is denied a vote in either or both chambers of Congress.
While some gun advocates do not see a problem both advocating second amendment rights and gun law reform, others see any restriction on purchase of a firearm as unconstitutional. The sad truth about America is in purchase data, which indicates that after mass shootings are widely covered in media firearm sales increase. More people buy guns after mass shootings than any other time. The NRA, therefore, actually benefits from the coverage of mass shootings by media since many gun manufacturers donate part of profit for each sale to the organization.
There has been no study into why data indicates a rise in gun sales after mass shootings since studying mass shootings is neither profitable nor legal in the US (the CDC has been legally barred from studying gun violence since 1996). However, the marketing message used by gun advocates and groups like the NRA has often been that gun violence will actually be prevented by easing gun restrictions rather than tightening them. The “people kill not guns” and “good guy with a gun” narratives inculcate the belief for many Americans that guns mean safety rather than danger.
There is data on this, however, and it shows that it is more likely someone in a household will be accidentally shot than will be protected when a gun is present. Safety and guns, it would appear, do not coexist. However, since the NRA makes untaxed money and politicians make money and gun manufacturers make money there has been no profitable (read: successful) combatant to gun advocacy in America.
Gun policy, like all US policy, may actually point to a very apparent problem with American politics: money. Americans like money. Americans in power like money more than anything. More than safety from consistent and inevitable mass murder. More than saving children from trauma or brutal murder.
At the next massacre, Americans will remind ourselves of the reality we have now accepted: an ever-present danger of (preventable) mass murder.
Preston Taylor Stone is an English PhD student at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, where his research concerns diaspora studies, contemporary literature, and comparative ethnic studies.
Twitter: @ptstoneofficial // Instagram: @prestontaylorstone