Editor’s Note: Clay Cane is a television commentator and the author of “Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race.” Follow him on Twitter @claycane. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Whenever we talk about guns in America, the card-carrying members of the National Rifle Association are always the mouthpieces, equating being a gun owner with American hyper-patriotism. The historian Richard Hofstadter described the concept of “gun culture” – guns viewed by many as part of America’s heritage: “an ingredient in the American imagination.”
But there is another culture of guns that has nothing to do with patriotism or distorted views of constitutional rights.
I grew up in the 1990s in West Philadelphia, a rough section of one of the most violent cities in the country at the time. I have seen as much gun violence in my life as anyone “celebrating the association of guns” in America. I heard shots outside my bedroom window, I had friends who were shot and killed, I have run for my life from sprays of bullets.
For me, guns aren’t cultural toys or just tools for hunting. Guns are acts of violence against America’s most marginalized communities. I wish gun advocates could see beyond their privileged bubble to understand that their narcissistic cultural defense of battlefield weapons ravages communities.
I was disgusted to hear the NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch accuse journalists this week of loving mass shootings. “Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you,” she said in a hateful speech. “And notice I said ‘crying white mothers’ because there are thousands of grieving black mothers in Chicago every weekend, and you don’t see town halls for them, do you? Where’s the CNN town hall for Chicago?”
How repulsive for this woman to exploit the grief of black women losing their children to gun violence with an intellectually bereft point. I have no problem with people who own guns legally, but let’s be clear: the guns that plague cities from Chicago to Philadelphia flood in from states with loose gun laws, such as Arizona, Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana and Kentucky. In many cases, these firearms are bought at gun shows, transported over state lines and sold via straw purchases to criminals.
These guns cause havoc in communities of color, which Loesch doesn’t know a damn thing about. Does the NRA believe gang members in crime-ridden cities are manufacturing guns in the basement? Via gun shows and astounding access to weaponry, the NRA and gun owners profit from this awful trade, even as gun victims die in cities like Chicago. In addition, where was the NRA when Philando Castile, who had a license to carry, was shot dead by a police officer?
The NRA is selective in its outrage.
To be frank, I believe there should be no guns. In England, the majority of police do not carry firearms. However, I know – unlike the NRA – that what I want may not fit for the rest of the country. It is obvious to me that for any American citizen to have access to weapons of war like an AR-15 is insane. In America, you can’t just buy a hand grenade, because it’s a military weapon – but you can purchase a rifle that can be modified to shoot 600 rounds per minute.
Any delusional person who believes that since the ban on assault weapons expired in 2004 there hasn’t been an increase of mass shootings is clearly living under a privileged rock. Whether it is mental health or gang members, the root of gun violence from mass shooting to Chicago is an appalling access to weapons that should only be used on a battlefield.
Listen to how Hofstadter describes America and its guns: “the only nation so attached to the supposed ‘right’ to bear arms that its laws abet assassins, professional criminals, berserk murderers, and political terrorists at the expense of the orderly population – and yet it remains, and is apparently determined to remain, the most passive of all the major countries in the matter of gun control.”
I urge you to read his essay – here– written in 1970, but tragically timeless today.
Guns terrify me. I am an American. I love my country, but Second Amendment rights should not threaten my right to live. I only wish there was more compassion for the other side of gun culture, which is about grief and death all in the name of profit.