Socialist Worker

Guns, mass killings and a society soaked in violence

The horrific Parkland school shooting has raised questions about gun laws—and wider US society, writes Alistair Farrow

Issue No. 2593

Students protest in Minneapolis

Students protest in Minneapolis (Pic: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)


School shootings have reached fearsome levels in the US.

So far this year 63 people have been killed or injured in school shootings, according to the Education Week magazine.

Most recently 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The attack by Nazi sympathiser Nikolas Cruz has led to powerful protests by young people, renewed pressure on president Donald Trump, and debates about who gets to own guns.

One of the worst responses came from Trump, who called for teachers to be armed as a preventative measure.

Soon after it emerged that an armed guard had been on campus but had failed to challenge Cruz.

Children being killed in schools is obscene and a product of a sick society. And in general this type of mass killings is becoming more frequent.

Those involving more than four deaths take place every 16 days in the US, ten times more frequently than in 1982-2011.

Killings by racist, anti-working class police are also disgustingly common. Around 150 people have been killed by police in the US so far this year.

One gun control law that would make an instant difference would be to take all the guns off the cops.

Gun control played its role in building the racist foundations of the US state. Following the 1861-5 Civil War, gun control laws in the southern states were used to maintain the former slaveholders’ rule after emancipation.

Black people found to be in possession of weapons were often executed on the spot. The emergence recently of Black Lives Matter showed that black people are still having to fight not to be shot down. But the present focus on gun laws misses the wider context.

Changes in the law won’t change the direction society is moving in—a social movement can

The US lies at the centre of a world built on brutality and death. The US’s unending wars and drone assaults create an aura of militarism and glorification of violence.

In capitalist society the state has a monopoly on and the legal use of violence. This means that the people at the top of society can rely on the police to protect them and for the army to promote their interests abroad.

The revolutionary socialist tradition isn’t about pacifism. The ruling class fights relentlessly to hold on to its wealth and power.

But such arguments shouldn’t be repeated like dogmas. Arguing for the right to bear arms—guaranteed by the state—is different from arguing for workers’ control or for workers being armed to challenge the state.

Students who survived the shootings have begun a movement that can feed into the existing one challenging Trump’s presidency.

A fight is going on for which direction that movement takes—does it fold into the Democratic Party or maintain political independence?

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors continue to demand change, the limits of relying on the Democrats will become clear. But changes in the law won’t change the direction society is moving in—a social movement can.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors have publicly laid into high profile Republican politicians for their links to the National Rifle Association (NRA). For example, NRA groups have spent nearly £5 million on behalf of North Carolina senator Richard Burr during his career.

Such influence feeds into a US society that produces regular school shootings and since 2000 has seen 270,000 murders and 650,000 suicides.

That society won’t be cured by gun laws.


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