17,250 people were murdered in America in 2016. Mass shootings, which are shooting incidents in which four or more people are injured or killed, took place 136 times in America in 2016. That’s an average of one mass shooting every 2.68 days. Of the scores of murders that occurred last year, 70% of them were murder by gun.
The gun is a very important instrument in American history. You could say that America was fashioned by the gun, long rifles and muskets were no doubt in the hands of the earliest American pioneers as they ventured into the New World. The Native American never stood a chance against their new neighbors, knives and arrows were never a match for the powerful combination of metal and gunpowder. The slaughter of an entire nation of indigenous people was made possible by the gun, the entire North American territory cleared out by murder and capture.
Perpetual wars followed the immoral seizure of this land. Out of the 241 years of American history, America has been at war in 224 of those years. The first mass gun manufacturing plants opened in Springfield, Massachusetts and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia near the end of the 18th century. Remington, Deringer, these names are synonymous with the American gun industry, a vital industry borne at the dawn of this nation, created to protect all that the pioneers had stolen, and to steal all that the world hadn’t protected.
The gun is at the center of some of the most important points of American history. In 1804, Aaron Burr, who was a sitting US Vice President, shot and killed former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel. The West was won with the gun. The gun nearly tore our nation in two during the Civil War. The gun was used to assassinate President Lincoln, and then to kill his murderer John Wilkes Booth. Prohibition, World War I, World War II and America’s inevitable ascension to superpower all made possible by the gun. In plain terms, America is a nation built and maintained through gun violence.
Last Sunday night, 59 people were killed and another 500 injured when a 64-year-old retiree named Stephen Paddock took aim from his window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and reigned terror onto a crowd of unsuspecting attendees at a country music festival. Narrow-minded revisionist historians who choose to forget the massacres at Wounded Knee and Black Wall Street will say that this is the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history. Conspiracy theorists will speculate on motive and the ability of an elderly man to fire a military-styled automatic weapon out of a broken window for 10 minutes straight. Regardless of perspective, the tragedy in Las Vegas speaks to the acute disease of gun violence in our nation. Whenever a mass shooting happens, our politicians and talking heads choose sides on the issue of gun control. And while I agree that there needs to be stricter laws with regards to the sale and distribution of guns in our country, the climate and environment that is the catalyst for gun violence isn’t solely the blame of gun manufacturers. Every aspect of American culture accepts gun violence. The movies and television shows we watch accept gun violence. Our music accepts gun violence. Every night, we as Americans sit in front of the television and watch the evening news. And every night on that news we hear of Americans who have been gunned down. 17,250 murders in 2016, 70% of them murder by gun. The math says that’s 12,075 gun murders last year, 33 gun murders a night displayed on the various evening news shows while we eat our dinner.
And yet, we continue to eat.
We do not get sick to our stomachs and vomit from disgust because gun violence is germane to America, as normal to Americans as baseball and sweet potato pie.
In 1963, responding to a question about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X made his famous chickens coming home to roost quote. His point was more karmic than cynical. He was saying that the hate that you put out will always return. Whether we like it or not, there are energies that our nation holds onto that only serve to corrupt and damage us. And while we seek to place the blame on each other, or to deny that a problem even exists, our chickens just returned home again.
If only we could send them back out into the world with love and respect instead of with hate and division.