Fear, despair and gun profiteering

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The week before the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school massacre, Daniel Defense posted a photograph on Facebook and Twitter, showing a little boy sitting cross-legged, an assault rifle balanced across his lap. “Train up a child in the way he should go,” the caption reads, echoing a biblical proverb. “When he is old, he will not depart from it.”

The 18-year-old Uvalde killer bought his AR-15 from Daniel Defense. That rapid-firing semi-automatic is a civilian version of a military weapon. About 500 companies build them. All are basically the same gun. The competition is fierce. The temptation is to be the most edgy and macho outrageous. There’s an AR-15 called the “Urban Super Sniper” and a QAR-15, alluding to the conspiracy theory Q-Anon.

Ryan Bosse is a former senior executive in the firearms industry who has become a whistleblower. He recently told Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent that gun violence will continue to be a serious social problem. He said that 20 years ago the gun market was oversaturated and mostly confined to older white guys. There were market-planning discussions about getting your gun featured in video games and action movies.

Unlike many consumer items which fall apart quickly or are consumed in one use, guns are durable goods. You can buy a gun that will last a lifetime.  We are the only country in the world which has more civilian guns than people. There are far more gun-related deaths here than in any other developed country. A majority of gun owners have an average of three guns and nearly half owning just one or two. Half of America’s total gun stock is owned by only 3% of adults. The average collection of these owners is 17
guns each.

Increasingly, the AR-15 has become a status symbol for right-wingers who want to give a middle finger to the libs. It is an organizing symbol for the far right, who spread fear of apocalyptic demographic doom via the “great replacement theory” and chatter about Antifa and Black Lives Matter terrorists.

Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson claims Democrats want to disarm the people because they are afraid of a popular uprising against them because  “they know they rule illegitimately.”

Speaking about influencers like Carlson, Donald Trump Jr. and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Busse said: 

“The idea of civil war/race war with heavily-armed citizen-patriots as your warriors is hardly under the surface anymore.

“I won’t go so far as to say they actually want people to die in a race war. It’s a political tool for them. They think they can use it to motivate—and make people angry and fearful and hateful.”

Actually, you don’t have to make ordinary people fearful or angry. When everyday life becomes harsher, when economic stagnation is everywhere and when the social safety net is disappearing, it is normal to be fearful and angry.

But we live in the gangster capitalist land of “you’re on your own, suckers” rugged individualism. So it is even more normal to blame yourself. That can lead to what Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton called “deaths of despair.” 

In their 2020 book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, Case and Deaton note that around the year 2000, average life expectancy was declining for white Americans between 45 and 54. This wasn’t happening anywhere else on the planet. It was mostly happening to white Americans without a four-year college degree. 

This was due to higher rates of suicide, opioid overdoses and alcohol-related illnesses. Black mortality rates have been and continue to be higher than white ones. But they are falling faster because Blacks aren’t suffering from the epidemic of “deaths of despair.” Though their earnings are lower than white working people, life is better than previous generations due to anti-discrimination measures.

Case and Deaton debunk cultural and individual explanations for the “deaths of despair.” Instead, they propose systematic reforms such as universal health care and a stronger social safety net.

Now criminologists Jillian Peterson and James Densley are arguing that mass shootings are “deaths of despair.”  This conclusion is based upon their extensive research at ‘The Violence Project,’ which  focuses on collecting and analyzing data surrounding mass shootings.

As I write, there is talk of Congress possibly passing a tiny bit of gun control. The November elections loom. Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan secretary of state, says: “The only thing that can stop a bad politician with a vote is a good citizen with a vote.” 

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This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

Email comments and questions to editorial@boulderweekly.com.

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