By Nap Pempeña
We mourn the most recent deaths brought about by gun violence in the USA. Widespread gun violence is something deeply known to the Filipino community. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called “drug war” — officially known as “Operation Double Barrel” — has already claimed the lives of an estimated 20,000 people, including young people like 17 year old Kian delos Santos, mostly at the hands of police officers and vigilantes empowered by the government. Meanwhile, in the U.S., mass shootings have claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in that last 50 years. The murder of 17 high school students and staff in Parkland, Florida last month accounted for the 20th mass shooting at a school, the 150th mass shooting overall in this same time period, and contributed to the 7,000 gun-related youth deaths since 2012. In fact, in 2016, the U.S. ranked 31st in the entire world for rate of gun deaths (just under half the rate in the Philippines). The killings seem senseless at face value, but when one looks at the architecture of this country, it makes full sense.
Imperialism and the Arms Industry
When we think of gun violence we must connect the dots to imperialism which is the economic, political, and social system dominating our world today. Imperialism has been termed the “highest stage of capitalism” due to its ruthlessness in the hunt for profit. Where does the gun industry fit into imperialism’s blueprint?
In 2016, ten companies alone produced more than two-thirds of the total guns put on the U.S. market. In 2015 alone, the industry made $1.5 billion in profit. Since then, revenues have risen by almost $4 billion. While one might think that gun sales would decrease following mass shootings, they have actually skyrocketed.
A research report on guns and ammunition manufacturing by IBIS concludes that “[t]he current administration’s intention of increasing defense spending has led to a drastic surge in demand for industry products.” The gun industry cannot be separated from the multi-billion dollar military-industrial complex. Manufacturers like Sturm Ruger, Remington Outdoor, and Smith & Wesson belong right up there alongside companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon.
As part of the military-industrial complex, the U.S. gun industry (backed by the federal government, as we’ll see below) actively seeks a market internationally. Last year, the Philippine military — notorious for their human rights violations against indigenous youth, poor farmers, and activists — received 300 M4 carbines, 200 Glock 21 pistols, 100 sniper rifles, and other weapons from the U.S. Short of the actual sale of weapons, U.S. military aid also enables violence in other countries. President Duterte’s bloody drug war has benefitted from $15 million in U.S. aid. Meanwhile, soldiers of the Zionist state of Israel use the billions of dollars in U.S. funding they receive to shoot Palestinians “for fun.”
As the Trump administration and U.S. imperialism maintain wars abroad, there will always be a market for war products. And as long as the gun industry overproduces for the sake of profit, lethal weapons will be readily available for mass shootings around the country or wherever the industry finds profit.
The State of Gun Violence
Gun violence is woven into the history of the U.S. and it has been inextricably linked to the State since the first settlers led the first mass shootings of indigenous peoples of this land. Since then, the State (i.e., the U.S. government) has actively and selectively wielded the Second Amendment to protect the status quo and silence its dissenters.
Today, government agencies themselves have become one of the most valuable customers of the gun industry. In 2012, 40 percent of industry revenues came from purchases by government law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military. Police forces across the country are becoming more and more militarized, with high-powered assault and sniper rifles on display at weapons expositions like Urban Shield, which brings together dozens of police agencies together for “war games.” Thus, we cannot begin to speak of gun violence in this country without bringing to the fore the militarization of our communities and accompanying police killings of Black and brown people like Stephon Clark, who was shot 20 times in his own Sacramento backyard by the police just weeks ago.
The history of the State’s gun control laws is one of classism and racism. While white supremacists remain armed, communities of color and the poor are imprisoned for arming themselves for self-determination. For example, after the Civil War, laws were implemented in the South that banned Black folks from owning guns, which people feared would be used in self-defense against white supremacist violence. Even the NRA supported the Gun Control Act of 1968 in response to the armed resistance of groups like the Black Panthers. In reality, gun control laws serve as tools of the State to control who has the rightto use violence. As political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, the State will suppress anyone who arms themselves to challenge it.
Loading the Barrel of Gun Culture
The arms industry and governments that sponsor it have entrenched gun culture into U.S. society to protect the profits of the former and maintain the political power of the latter. It is a culture that reserves words like “terrorist” for Black and brown people, and instead depicts white terrorists as “challenged” young men. And while this culture has been present for centuries, the development of neoliberalism starting in the 1970s has fed modern American gun culture, which includes the culture of mass shootings we see today.
Neoliberalism is an economic system — and just the latest face of imperialism — espousing the deregulation of industry, liberalization of trade, and the privatization of almost everything, from education to water access. In line with this “free market” approach to the world, neoliberal ideology prizes the individual actor above all else. Neoliberal values of individualism, fear of ‘big government,” hyper-masculinity, free market ideology — combined with deep-woven racism — all contribute to the violent gun culture.
The NRA, which began as a sporting club in the late 1800s, became more and more right-wing during the Reagan era and has now become neoliberalism’s lobbying and PR machine for the gun industry. Appallingly, trends show that gun sales actually spike after mass shootings as gun-rights advocates rush to the stores in fear of stricter gun control laws that may follow. Thus “gun rights” under neoliberalism are nothing more than the rights of capitalist manufacturers to profit off the racist, patriarchal gun culture at the expense of Black, brown, and poor folks across the country and all over the world.
Disarming Gun Culture and Imperialism
The wounds of youth and their loved ones from gun violence — from the survivors of the Parkland shooting to the family of Stephon Clark — are still raw and deep. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of this, more and more young people across the U.S. understand that building organized, grassroots, political power — as opposed to relying on a government that benefits from such violence — is necessary to confront the murder of our communities. Today we are seeing just the latest example of the revolutionary potential of the youth. It was this same potential that flourished in the mass movements for civil rights and to protest the Vietnam War. And as we in Anakbayan-USA join with youth on the streets calling for an end to gun violence in our schools and communities, we hope that we can wield our political power against groups like the NRA and in the struggle against imperialism itself.
This piece only begins to unravel the tangled knots made by imperialism, under which the interplay of economics, politics, and culture can have seemingly endless violent permutations. By exposing the smoking gun behind gun violence in the U.S., we hope to contribute to the youth and student movement for justice, as well as the mass movement to disarm imperialism and the violence it unleashes on exploited and oppressed peoples all over the world.
Anakbayan USA is a grassroots organization of Filipino youth and students with 13 chapters throughout the U.S. Anakbayan USA educates, organizes, and mobilizes around issues of Filipinos in the U.S. and in the Philippines towards the goal of genuine sovereignty and democracy in the Philippines. Anakbayan USA is an overseas affiliate of Anakbayan Philippines.