We used to be known as the world’s leader in democracy, education, and creating opportunity for all. Now, after still more American carnage – this time in Colorado Springs and Chesapeake -- let’s face the truth. The thing this country does uniquely better than any other is invent, mass-produce, and broadly distribute murder weapons.
Remember that missile that took out al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri back in July?
The Hellfire R9X missile was nicknamed the “flying ginsu” because of its uniquely ingenious method of destroying a target without any type of explosive detonation that could cause catastrophic collateral civilian damage. The R9X is fired from a drone at a relatively short range, homes in on its target, and -- moments before impact -- unfurls a set of six whirring blades that turn the target into fillet au terrorist faster that you can say “hold the fries.” The missile is undetectable to the human eye until a mere 1,000 feet away, at which point the target has less than four seconds to don any anti-Cuisinart protective garb that may be within reach.
Talk about a precision death machine. The Hellfire R9X Missile killed the al Qaeda leader without a single civilian casualty. The owner of the house in Kabul that sheltered al-Zawahiri may have needed only to repair some damaged moldings and repaint the balcony before listing it for rent to the next big global terrorist.
Ah, American ingenuity! We are so kind and moral as a nation that we will spend millions of dollars on the most advanced technology so that we can take out the bad guys while their immediate families carry on with household chores without needing so much as a band-aid. Compare that to the feral scum in the Kremlin who intentionally terrorize, kill, and rape Ukrainian civilians to compensate for the incompetence of their military.
We are the good guys.
Look what we are doing in Ukraine. It was originally predicted that it would take the Russian military four days from initial invasion of Ukraine to the collapse of Kyiv. There are many reasons why that did not happen… starting with the will, courage, determination, and bravery of the Ukrainian military and citizenry. The second reason is the vastly more strategic and intelligent plan of battle followed by the Ukrainians, coupled with unimaginable incompetence on the part of the Russian military. But the third – superior weaponry from the West, largely the United States – leveled the playing field, enabling the Ukrainian army to punch well over its weight against waves of Russian troops and artillery.
Our anti-aircraft weaponry has helped prevent the Russians from owning the Ukrainian airspace, and our Javelin anti-tank missile is being used by Ukraine to neutralize the huge Russian advantage in tanks, a critical element of Russian war strategy. The Javelins are programmed to score direct hits from above, smashing into the top surface of the tanks, where the protective surface is most vulnerable.
We have developed the finest military killing technology the world has ever seen, and we are putting it in the hands of the brave souls repelling the brutal and savage invasion by a nation of barbarians.
We really are the good guys, aren’t we?
Not so fast.
Meanwhile, back home…
There was Newtown. Las Vegas. Parkland. Uvalde.
And now we add Colorado Springs and Chesapeake to a list that is far, far longer than you realize. Think you are up to date on your gun violence? Visit https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting.
It is not your imagination: it is getting worse every day.
James Alan Fox, a professor at Northwestern, says, “I’ve been studying mass killings for over 40 years and I am quite confident that there has never been a year where we’ve had so many… There have been 35 mass shootings in 2022. That’s an average of about two mass shootings per week, compared with the usual average of two per month.”
No country in the world comes close to that.
We are the only country on earth with more guns in civilian hands than civilians. Indeed, we have 120 guns for every 100 citizens. (Yes, that counts men, women, and children). Australia, by contrast, has 14.5 guns per 100 citizens. Spain has 7.5. England and Wales? 4.6.
Interesting: Pew Research found that 40% of U.S. households have guns. Do the math.That means that the fifty million American households with guns have an average of upward of seven each.
What a powerhouse of innovation, product segmentation, manufacturing, sales, distribution, and marketing! We can't convince people that households need seven washing machines, toasters, dining room tables, or cars. But guns? Never enough.
Does gun ownership correlate with homicide? According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the United States leads the world by far in its “rate of firearm homicides per 100,000 in population.” The U.S. has 4.2 homicides per 100,000 people. The next closest is Chile, with 1.82 – less than half the rate found in the United States.
Americans often think that the United Kingdom is a country similar to the United States in values, allegiance to democracy, and global perspective. Perhaps. But try extending the comparison to gun violence and you’d strain to find two countries more different. The rate of gun homicide in the U.K. is 0.04 per 100,000… that is to say, there are one hundred times as many firearm homicides per capita in the United States than in the United Kingdom.
Let’s put the extraordinary civilian gun carnage in the United States in a particularly damning perspective.
The United Nations reports that there have been 6,900 civilian deaths in Ukraine in 2022.
Let’s think about that number relative to firearm violence in the United States. The Gun Violence Archive reports that in 2022 so far, there have been 39,816 deaths in the United States caused by guns. Of those, 21,648 were suicides, leaving 18,168 deaths characterized as “Homicide, Murder, Unintentional, Defensive Gun Use.”
Yes, we kill more civilians with guns here at home than Russians do in Ukraine.
When we build missiles like the Hellfire R9X, it implies that we are vastly more concerned about accidentally killing the family of a terrorist than we appear to be about slaughtering innocent LGBTQ people in a bar in Colorado. We invest millions to develop killing machines that limit “collateral damage” deaths in homes sheltering a terrorist in Kabul, but we strive to ensure that unstable 18-year-olds here at home have the right and ready access to machines that are designed for the sole purpose of inflicting as much collateral damage as possible on patrons of our bars, shoppers at markets, and children in our kindergartens.
Before we depart the grim statistics detailing gun-related deaths in the United States, let us pause and reflect on the fact that more gun-related deaths in the United States were suicides than murders, accidents, or defensive uses combined. This is a particular tragedy, as one must assume that suicide is often an impulsive act of desperation and despair… an impulse readily turned into reality by the ubiquitous presence of guns. There must be a straight-line correlation: fewer guns, fewer suicides.
I, for one, am tired of listening to all the fools who think that the Second Amendment guarantees unrestricted access to military-grade killing machines to any 18-year-old with a pulse, and those who contort the words of the Second Amendment to mean what they want them to mean.
Here is a different -- and perhaps most relevant -- way to think about what the framers of the Constitution intended. Perhaps they merely intended that any citizen in the United States is entitled to own a gun as guns existed in 1789.
When James Madison took out his quill pen in the candlelight and drafted the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution on parchment, he was informed by the technology of his day. He was not imagining a weapon that any deviant could use to walk into an elementary school and spray molten lead into the tender bodies of defenseless six-year-old boys and girls.
All James Madison could have possibly meant is that citizens are entitled to own a gun as guns existed in his day.
So sure, if you are a damaged human being, and you want to take your anger out on innocent people, I suppose James Madison has protected your right to take a 1789 musket into Walmart and take your one shot. By the time you reload,you will be wrestled into submission by a real-life action hero like Richard Fierro, and the carnage you can inflict will be limited. We will lock you up and throw away the key.
Gun advocates like to say intellectually lazy things like “we don’t have a gun problem, we have a mental health problem.” The very construction of his sentence says something about the brainpower of people who think that there can only be one cause per problem. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said “anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge,” somehow failing to grasp or articulate the real tautology -- that “anybody who shoots somebody else has a gun.”
Experts, by the way, would hasten to point out that even Governor Abbott’s core assertion is flawed. The New York Times ran a story in 2017 about the findings of Dr. Michael Stone, a Columbia University psychiatrist who studied 350 mass killers. Dr. Stone concluded that about one in five mass murderers were “likely psychotic or delusional,” but “the rest of these murderers did not have any severe, diagnosable disorder.”
Yes, we do have a mental health problem. A very serious one. Our mental health problem is the irrationality of Americans who think we have a mental health problem but not a gun problem.
This past year, Senator Chris Murphy led the effort to finally pass the first major piece of gun legislation since 1994. Sure enough, it did provide money for expanding mental health resources. There was money for improving the safety of our schools, and for improvements in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The “boyfriend loophole” was addressed.
Notice anything missing? How about this: Pew Research shows that 63% of Americans believe that we should “ban assault weapons.” The 2022 legislation does not even mention the sale or ownership of assault rifles.
I guess our leaders don’t want to put any limits on the thing America is uniquely good at.
We all like to say that our brand – the “United States of America” – stands for things like freedom, equality, opportunity, and democracy.
The problem is that brands are not a function of what you say about yourself. The meaning of your brand is the cumulative sum of all the facts, behaviors, actions, and functionality of your product over time. The surest way a brand is damaged is when there is dissonance between what is claimed to be true and what the customer actually experiences.
Once upon a time, the United States’ brand was first and
foremost known as world’s beacon of democracy. That is a very tough claim to sustain when the most recent former leader of the nation screams to the world that our elections are fraudulent
– and when a full one-third of our population believes it. That is dissonance.
You might want to believe that our brand stands for racial and gender equality, but five minutes on google will blow that theory sky-high.
You might hope that our brand stands for scientific achievement and expertise, but the rest of the world watched one nation drop out of the Paris Climate Accords.
To the world, we have become a nation that now careens wildly between periods of authoritarianism, racism, xenophobia, and haughty delusions of superiority, followed by cycles we insist are returns to “normalcy,” when we strive to appear measured, respectful, and driven by ideals… all in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. Yes, even when on our best behavior.
What is consistent throughout these wild oscillations? An obsession with entertainment, an industry that seems to focus most of its energy on ever more spectacular depictions of war, domestic violence, and the solving of brutal homicides. Yes, even our diversions are “on-brand.”
What are we, really? What has been our consistent truth, the truth that sets us apart from other nations, through different administrations, and through the decades? We are masters at the design, manufacture, and comprehensive distribution of the most effective murder weapons ever known to mankind.
That’s why the breaking news of another mass murder at a night club, a Walmart, or an elementary school may make us sick, repulsed, terribly saddened… but never surprised.
It is why we offer thoughts and prayers, Thoughts are not actions, and prayers are wishes that an omnipotent power will act for us. Because we do not have the will. Because we refuse to change who we are.
It’s all “on-brand.”
Until we rise as a people and make our government put an end to the mass-manufacture and consumer distribution of military-grade killing machines, we are just re-inforcing the new brand meaning of the United States of America.
Let’s demand a government that is less worried about collateral damage to a terrorist’s family, and a whole helluva lot more focused on the collateral damage wrought in a bar in Colorado Springs, a Walmart in Chesapeake, and in elementary schools from Newtown to Uvalde.
We are the most violent country the world has ever known, and the only way the reign of terror in our nation will end is if the citizens demand it.
You can debate a lot of things, but not this: What the United States does indisputably better than any other nation on earth is invent, mass-produce, and broadly distribute murder weapons.
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