Photography via The Whitehouse
When we allow guns in the hands of humans, we allow guns in the hands of human hate, in the hands of human mistakes, in the hands of humans’ darkest tendencies. We are not putting guns in the hands of love in the form of self-defence and protection of family, as the NRA would have us believe. Love cannot coexist alongside guns. Murderous love is not real love – it’s just nothing. Guns make the world worse off, and leaves us with less, in every sense of the word.
That’s where we are today. Two gunmen in two days murdered at least 30 people, mostly people of colour. But in the US, we are still not talking seriously about getting rid of guns. Instead, the US Justice Department is now “seriously considering” bringing federal hate crime and federal firearm charges, which carry a possible death penalty. But we can’t respond to death and violence with death and violence and expect to somehow end up in a place of less death and violence.
Of course this is a hate crime. The US media’s cautious approach in labelling it as such is understandable considering: if someone with a gun acting violently and coercively towards people of colour is “hate”, then what is the US military? What is the US border? What are the US police?
Parts of the US media have moved astonishingly quickly to embrace Trump as our moral compass spreading a message of “unity rather than racism”, and denouncing hate. Hmm. The views espoused in a document published on 8chan by one of the shooters “blam[ed] immigrants and first-generation Americans for taking away jobs and the blending of cultures in the US”. This is not a view borne of the mental illness of one rogue individual. This is a view that’s been pushed ad nauseum by Trump, facilitated by mainstream US media outlets. The US, and Trump specifically, have been stirring up exactly this brand of racism for years now, and have been given the most prominent platform in the world to do so (let’s not forget the concentration camps the Trump administration is maintaining at its southern border). To be American, Trump and Fox News will tell you, is to be strong, angry, racist, xenophobic and violent.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Trump says that “mental illness and hate pull the trigger, not the gun”. It is convenient for Trump to argue that the shooter was mentally ill, rather than an extreme and violent manifestation of Trump’s own chronically violent rhetoric. Maybe mental illness was one of the many things that pulled the trigger – as was hate (planted and watered by the Trump administration and structural white supremacy in the US) and an ideology of violence woven into the very fabric of the United States.
And this is exactly why such cases cannot be responded to with the death penalty. It is convenient for the US to approach these situations wielding the death penalty. It means not having to question the ideology of violence upon which their state was built, and the foundations on which it continues to rest: coloniality, racism and militarism. At their roots, these things are the same – they are about dominance and violence. They are nothing but dominance and violence – if these things were taken away from them, they would be nothing.
We need to talk. We need to talk about structural racism, white supremacy, governmental hypocrisy in the Islamophobic construction of “terrorism”, and the rise of violent white radicals. But we can’t talk at gunpoint.