GUNS AND THE BIG BUSINESS OF CARNAGE
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This is not an article about gun control. It's
not another rehashing of the tired, conventional arguments over why America has
the highest rates of gun violence in the developed world, or whether universal
background checks and new assault weapons would solve the problem, or if the
Second Amendment entitles private citizens to buy whatever firearms they feel like owning. No,
this is an article about money - about how Americans are collectively being
played like fools, our respective
fears exploited by those who profit from perpetual bloodshed.
As a hip-hop artist and activist from the San
Francisco Bay Area, I've seen my fair share of gun violence, and its
devastating effects. I'm also a gun owner with a degree in economics. I say that to preemptively
rebuff those who would instinctively tell entertainers with opinions to
"shut up and sing" when those opinions differ from their own, or who
casually dismiss opposing political views as uninformed or partisan. The whole "us vs. them"
dynamic is inconsequential anyway-people
are dying, and commentary about our broken political system is best saved for
As most of you have probably realized - and as
this week's congressional inactivity confirmed - the fight over gun control in
the United States is not one that rational voices on either side can win. Like
so much in American politics, the debate is governed by emotions. And when it
comes to guns, those emotions are usually (perhaps exclusively) anger and
fear-of minorities and Muslims; of
violent crime, of ISIS or any other bogeyman du jour; of a "weapons
culture" liberals disagree with; and of the politicians who conservatives
claim are "coming for our guns."
Incidentally, fear and anger also generate a
lot of revenue - upwards of $16 billion, in fact, for guns and ammunitions manufacturers in 2015 alone. That was a big year for gun sales, with the
FBI recording 23 million background checks, the highest number ever - although it
looks like the US may break that record in 2016. Gun
manufacturing has similarly ballooned, with US firearms makers producing nearly
11 million guns, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
With numbers like these, there is zero
financial incentive for gun retailers, gun companies and their paid-for
political lackeys to take any meaningful steps to curtail gun violence. On the
contrary, the gun industry tends to benefit handsomely from high-profile mass shootings, as anxieties over personal safety, and Democratic calls for new
restrictions, send gun buyers flocking to their nearest weapons vendors. In
December 2012, following the Sandy Hook shooting-a tragedy that prompted the
Obama administration's first real calls for new gun control laws-firearms sales
hit an all-time high.
Three years later, Americans nearly broke that
record, after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California prompted
another round of calls for new gun control laws. Last Monday, within hours of
the massacre in Orlando, shares of Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger jumped 10 percent, even before Senate
Democrats had a chance to mount their doomed push for new limits on gun sales;
a week later, Florida gun retailers were reporting that sales of semi-automatic rifles had quadrupled.
In other words, there's a helluva lot of bread
on the line, and more than enough incentive to keep Americans scared and angry.
And it goes a long way toward explaining
why gun companies have poured millions
into the National Rifle Association over the past decade, giving the industry's
lobbying arm virtually unmatched political influence.
In turn, the NRA blocks any and all gun
control legislation that comes up before Congress; in 2015 alone, the group
spent more than $37 million to oppose new gun laws, and prop up sympathetic legislators who would back their agenda. Because fewer rules means
more money, for both gun makers and their lobbyists. In 2014, the NRA took in a
whopping $310 million in revenue, according to IRS tax filings; its chief
executive, Wayne LaPierre, took home a cool $1 million.
All of which is to say, Americans are being
played. Suckered. Hustled. We die and they eat, with lethal repercussions that
are felt by liberals, moderates and conservatives alike. As years of
congressional gridlock and bipartisan compromises that lead to nowhere have shown, expecting
accountability from elected officials on the issue of gun violence is an
exercise in futility. People on both sides argue and shout their respective
positions, then retreat back to their respective corners, while the profiteering and butchery
continues. Wash, rinse, repeat. The sad reality is that nobody in government is
checking for those of us without money or a concerted political power base.
So, what's the solution? Clearly, there
isn't a simple answer; the cat's already been let out of the proverbial bag, with more than 300 million guns in circulation in
the US, or about one gun per person, according to data from the Congressional Research Service. Self-defense concerns are real.
So is the need for education and awareness that can counter our cultural love
affair with violence-violence that, in turn, leads to more fear and unhealthy
mechanisms of default conflict resolution.
Besides, as a black man, I'm well aware of the fact
that the US government is deeply untrustworthy when it comes to people of color
and the poor. I know police brutality and COINTELPRO - and as long as racist
police and criminals are armed, I will be too.
PARIS is a hip-hop artist and activist from the Bay Area.
He's owned several businesses that never went bankrupt. Follow him on Twitter.
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