Letters from America, take seven: Dark Irony.

The fact that a country western concert in the US was the target of yet another mass murder spree by an automatic weapon- toting white man is darkly ironic given that country western fans tend to be ninety percent white, predominantly middle and working class, republican in political orientation and a core demographic of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Trump support base. They are known for wearing and displaying US (and confederate) flags along with cowboy boots and hats, and indeed many of the victims were clad in patriotic-themed apparel.  The guns used were apparently US-made semi-automatic assault rifles converted to fully automatic by the use of converter kits known as “bump stock” kits (which provide an anti-lock override mechanism attached to a short stock that allows the shooter to hold the trigger down and use the recoil to simulate an automatic setting). The shooter used extra capacity magazines, which are legal in Nevada, as are the conversion kits. In fact, the weapons, ammo and conversion kits can be purchased at the same time in any gun store. Truth be told, a converter kit is not always necessary. A simple file can be used to file down the spot welds that often are the only thing preventing a semi-automatic weapon from becoming fully automatic, especially on older model combat weapons like AK-47s and M-14s.  In any case, semi-automatic weapons are classfied as hunting weapons so purchases do not need to be entered into a federal databank (as some states require automatic weapons to be).

The entire cache of weapons, amunition and acessories stockpiled by the killer were legal. And since he had no prior criminal convictions, so was his possession of them.

With the exception of some rightwing conspiracy types who claimed that the killer was a Muslim convert, and Daesh, which tried to claim credit for the attack, no one in a position of authority is claiming that this was an act of terrorism.

I tend to agree with this assessment even though people in the killing field were clearly terrorized and many more traumatized by what they experienced. Beyond the motivation-versus-effect argument about how to define terrorism, the hard fact is that here again we have another example of a white male getting a pass on the “terrorist” label. Be it in Sandy Hook, Charleston or Colombine, white males who commit mass murders, even when motivated by racial, political or religious animus, are described as mentally ill, insane, maniacs or lunatics. They are not called domestic terrorists.

That is not the case when people of color engage in similar acts, even though the majority of mass murders with guns in the US are committed by white males. Plus, by definition someone who undertakes such acts has to be at least a little bit mentally out of kilter. So why call some US mass murderers crazy and some cold-blooded terrorist killers? Given the level of planning put into the Las Vegas attack, it can be argued that the perpetrator was much less nuts than many other murderers. Yet the “T” word will not be used on him even though what he did was deliberate, calculated, well-planned and executed and designed to have the maximum lethal effect on what was a carefully chosen mass target.

We shall see what set off him off.  It might be gambling debts, a romantic breakup or a psychopathic meltdown rather than a political or musical grudge. He clearly knew what he was doing, and he acted in premeditated fashion. So the forensics on the event will be interesting. Less so is the tragedy porn now playing 24/7 on US television screens, where tales of human misery and pathos, be it man-made (Las Vegas) or natural in origin (Puerto Rico) are on repeat loops for the morbidly obsessed (I am in the US on an extended sabbatical so am getting to live this in real time).

What is noticeably absent from the official police statements and pretty much all of the hourly “news” coverage is any discussion of gun laws that allow an individual to amass 30 or so automatic firearms, thousands of rounds of combat grade ammunition and precursor chemicals for explosives. Instead, the coverage is all about the shooter, his motivations and the wonderful character and/or heroism and/or sacrifice of all of his victims. Leave it to the “liberal” talk show hosts to address that elephant in the room, and leave it to the rightwing media and politicians to make the discussion about gunowners rights as opposed to the victim’s rights that were so brutally violated.

That is why I have no illusions that anything good will come of this. If nearly 30 kids can be murdered in Sandy Hook and nothing gets done in terms of gun control, and instead rightwing freaks saturate social media with claims that it was a government conspiracy hoax done to take away guns from law abiding people (like the Las Vegas shooter), then there is little hope that the president or Congress are going to do anything to change the status quo just because some good ole boys and girls got the hot lead hose down by a disgruntled accountant. This is especially true since Republican congresspeople and the president have received large sums of campaign (if not other) money from the NRA.

It is, however remotely, possible that because of who he targeted, the Las Vegas killer might have sparked a pang of conscience in the gun lobby and the politicians who pockets are lined by it. If that is the case then the victims will not have suffered and died in vain. But for the moment one can only repeat what has been said many times before: the time for thoughts and prayers for the victims is over. The time for action on gun control is long past due.

6 thoughts on “Letters from America, take seven: Dark Irony.

  1. Just another mass shooting in the USA, not much to talk about really, it’s just a fact of life.

    I will give my definition of terrorism though, which I don’t think this guy fits based on what little I know of him. Terrorism is an act or acts taken to terrorise a population to further a political agenda.

    I doubt that this guy will end up fitting the bill, he just seems mad about life in general. There are plenty of white terrorists though (Timothy McVeigh, Dylann Roof, etc), pretty much all are white conservative men.

    The news media of fear that pervades the US is certainly one of the biggest cultural problems over there. There is always at least a dozen that you are supposed to be afraid of.

  2. This shows how much the notion of gun ownership and control is an ideological construct. Most US respondents in public opinion surveys believe in the right to bear arms (presumably because it isa constitutional guarantee taught in schools), but most of them do not believe there is any right to possess military grade weapons, ammo or acessories, to include the semi-automatics sold as “hunting” weapons. So the narrative spun by the NRA is to focus on the 2nd Ammendment as a catch all guarantor of weapons ownership as the last defense against tyranny regardless of the changing context and circumstances surrounding gun ownership in the ensuing 200 years since the ammendment was promulgated.

    And, because the US is a nation heavily populated by unthinking idiots who, as Obama so rightly noted in his first presidential campaign, cling to their guns as a hedge against the changes going on around them, this false NRA narrative prevails in many red states, and very specifically prevails in the pockets of the politicians who do its bidding. This is neither normal or acceptable, but in the age of Trump this is the normalization ploy now being promulgated by the US rightwing, to include its media mouthpieces as well as GOP politcians.

  3. The problem is more general in the sense that small interest groups care about their specific issue, in this case automatic rifle rights, more than the majority cares about opposing that issue.

    Another example: 99% of Americans don’t like pennies, but the 1% who do are copper and nickel miners or coin collectors. The hate for pennies is defuse and weak while the love for them is concentrated and strong, the majority suffers because they aren’t willing to pay their politicians to get rid of pennies.

    I think reason this problem is much worse in America might be because of the amount of money in politics there.

    I know the problem of minority-wins is more than just too much money in politics, but I think it is a big part of it.

  4. There is a definition of terrorism in the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Although, as New Zealand law, it applies only within the New Zealand jurisdiction, it is probably not too different to the legal definitions employed in the US and other western states. Under this definition, and on the facts as known at this time, the Las Vegas shooter would not be classified as a terrorist. It is interesting to note, however, that certain actions undertaken by people close to the NZ government would be caught under the Suppression of Terrorism Act – if the New Zealand government would allow them to be brought to justice, which is, to put it bluntly, very unlikely. The point is that “terrorism” as legally defined, is concerned with motive and intent rather than outcomes, however heinous those outcomes may be.

  5. The NRA wasn’t always like the neo-Confederate mob it is now. Up until the late 1960s, it was just another social club that offered genuine gun safety and training.

    The turning point started with the Black Panthers wielding rifles in California while “policing the police”. Over the next decade, NRA hardliners eventually took control of the organisation and made it into what it is today. Either they were browning their pants at the images of black radicals with guns, or they were browning their pants over the thought of being the next target of the authorities. Or possibly both.

  6. To the ordinary American it might seem immaterial whether a loved one is lost to a mass murderer filled with inchoate rage after being fired from his job, jilted by lover, or given a failing grade at college, or whether that same loved one is killed in a mass murder perpetrated by a person who is ideologically hostile to secularism, capitalism, imperialism, liberalism or some other key aspect of contemporary civilisation and who has come to the conclusion that mass murder is an appropriate or justifiable response to the iniquities of the world. Both actions and states of mind reflect a deep feeling of injustice, and alienation from all those people and authorities who are perceived to benefit from the current state of the world. So does it matter whether the perpetrator is merely an individual filled with blind rage or a person consciously motivated by an ideology? It probably doesn’t matter that much to the victims, or indeed to the ordinary person who follows events through the mass media, but it does matter to the state which needs to keep a clear distinction “terrorism” and “mass murder” for two reasons. Firstly because the state does not wish to acknowledge that there could be more than a superficial similarity between the two phenomena. In other words it cannot accept that secular, liberal capitalism may be generating frustration and homicidal rage at all levels and in all quarters of society. Second, because while the motivation and political consciousness of a random mass murderer may be of little consequence to his victims, it does matter to the state. While mass murder hurts people, terrorism threatens the state. That is the essence of the distinction, and that is why the state goes to extraordinary lengths to proscribe “terrorism”, while failing to take the most elementary steps to prevent mass murder, such as imposing controls over access to firearms.
    The state’s response to terrorism is designed first and foremost to protect itself. Not the common people. That is why the world will continue to be entertained with these slightly surreal state-adjudicated distinctions between “terrorism” and “mass murder”.

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