US school shootings: a broken, violent system pulled the trigger

The massacre of 28 people, including 20 young children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is deeply sad and chilling. How could this happen?

In the wake of the slaughter, media coverage has focused on debates about gun control. But Obama’s proposal to reinstate a ban on the sale of assault weapons which lapsed in 2004 won’t deal with the underlying causes of these horrific mass shootings.

They are the product of a deeply sick society, where ordinary people have no meaningful control over their lives, economic crisis is placing enormous pressure on households and official violence permeates every aspect of society. Police use tasers and guns to kill with impunity, US soldiers bomb Afghan wedding parties, and soldiers guilty of war crimes go free without charge.

US school shootings: what's behind the violence?


How is it that Adam Lanza could have reached the point he did? Why was there no help on offer?

What does it say about our society that he ended up driven to such a frenzy of death and terror, first killing his own mother and then shooting up a primary school, before his own suicide?

The entire industrialised world, and in particular the US, is in the grip of an accelerating mental health crisis. But at precisely the same time social support services, including access to counselling, are being cut through government austerity programs.

The phenomenon of mass shootings can only be understood as a product of profound social alienation and violence institutionalised in the system.

Despite the rhetoric of “democracy”, it is the tiny minority of business and property owners, the “1 per cent” confronted by the Occupy movement, that hold all the real power and wealth in our society.

Ordinary people have no influence over the real decisions about how our world is run and are pitted in fierce competition against one other to the race to secure jobs and a decent standard of living.

The outpouring of grief for the slain children at Sandy Hook, however, shows our capacity for deep connection in an expression of our common humanity across the globe.

“Rage shootings” are a reasonably new phenomenon in US history. According to historian Mark Ames they began with a number of workplace shootings by US Post Office employees in the 1980s.

This was at a time of extreme stress within the postal workforce, as then US President Reagan began implementing the attacks on workers’ rights and privatisations that came to be known across the world as “neo-liberalism”.

Ames says, “the attacks migrated into private workplaces by the end of the 1980s, where they have become a regular rhythmic staple of our murder culture ever since—and from adult workplaces, the massacres migrated into schools”.

The relentless neo-liberal policies that began in the 1980s have continued into the 2000s. The social devastation they produced has been intensified by the impact of the Global Economic Crisis on the US.

Neo-liberal policies have commodified every aspect of our lives; families and human relationships have been trashed by the ruthless logic of the market.

Depression rates have roughly tripled in the last two decades, with 27 million Americans now taking medication for depression. The suicide rate increased four times faster between 2008 and 2010 than it did in the eight years before the recession.

An analysis of nine multiple US shootings in a single month in 2009 found that, “individual motives and stories differ widely, but there’s a common thread among these incidents—the worsening economic crisis is becoming a factor in pushing some people who are already on the edge over it”. The shooters included victims of lay-offs, long-term unemployment and racism.

Guns and the system

Much of the saturation media coverage of Sandy Hook has focussed on “gun control”, particularly huge number of civilian owned guns in the US and the absence of state regulation of assault rifles and other high powered weapons.

In Australia, the Liberal party has attempted to take the moral high ground, pointing to John Howard’s “gun buy back” and regulation of semi-automatics in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 and calling on US leaders to “step up” and regulate.

But it was John Howard who glorified the slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan and massively increased military spending.

In the US, serious chunks of the establishment have now backed the call for gun control, including both Democrats and Republicans and now President Obama.

These hypocrites offer no real solutions to the carnage.

Obama has no problem killing children, indeed he frequently incinerates them in Af-Pak drone strikes. He has no problem arming Israel to the teeth to slaughter children in Gaza.

Much has been made in the media of the fact that almost 50 per cent of the world’s guns that are in civilian hands are currently in the United States—about nine guns for every ten people.

But this is a function of the US position at the heart of the world’s military industrial complex. The glorification of guns and the political power of the armaments industry are hard-wired into US capitalism.

The US government spent an obscene $711 billion on its military this year, five times more than its nearest rival, China.

Seven out of the world’s top ten weapons manufacturers are based in the US. This violence aimed abroad is also turned inwards against its own citizens. The US also holds almost 20 per cent of the world’s prisoners, most of them black and brown. The police forces have massively militarised in the wake of 9/11.

Incidents like the mass killing at Sandy Hooke are not going to be ended by gun controls. The irrationality and violence of these killings is a symptom of a far deeper social violence. To address its underlying causes, we need to go beyond the grief filtered through official news items and news grabs of Barack Obama, and fight together for a world worth living in.

By Paddy Gibson

Further Reading:

Jeff Sparrow at Overland: “‘When the Burning Moment Breaks’: Gun Control and Rage Massacres”

Socialist Worker US: How Does This Happen?


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