United States: The causes of the Texas school shooting in debate

By Vicente Gaynor

On Tuesday, May 24, an 18-year-old man killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in the town of Ubalde, Texas, before being shot dead by police. The satirical news site The Onion published a collage of 21 articles all with the same headline: “‘No way to prevent this,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” The articles cover 21 similar massacres that have occurred since 2014, when the site used the title for the first time regarding a shooting in California.

The shooting has reignited the debate on gun control in the country. The Republican governor of Texas, an opponent of controls and regulations on the possession and carrying of weapons, expressed the harsh reality that The Onion satirizes, describing the massacre as “a senseless crime.”

Democrats, on the other hand, wasted no time seizing the moment to pressure Republicans on the need to legislate gun control. President Biden issued a national message from the White House, saying, “As a nation we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?, when in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”

It is true that gun possession in the United States has no equal in the world. With 120.5 guns per 100 inhabitants, it is not only the only country with more guns than people, but more than doubles the second place, Yemen, a small country immersed in a long civil war, which has 52.8.

However, the reduction of the problem to gun possession only serves to hide the deep causes of the frequent massacres in the United States.

There is another world statistic that the United States leads by an even larger distance than guns per capita, national war budgets. At $801 billion in 2021, it nearly triples China’s budget of $293 billion.

As Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine highlighted, there is an undeniable connection between imperialist militarism and gun violence in the United States; between the imperialist, nationalist and white supremacist ideology that the US ruling class indoctrinates with to justify its wars of aggression abroad, and the tendency for weapons and violence to play a central role in the most extreme expressions of the frustration, alienation, fear and depression that decadent capitalist life generates in millions.

That alienation runs particularly deep among America’s youth, where the pressures of extreme individualism and meritocracy are combined with one of the most extreme inequalities in the world, severely restricted access to education, health care and other basic social rights and high levels of cruel discrimination. Since 2020, firearms have overtaken traffic accidents as the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the United States. Just over half of firearm deaths are suicides, but the number of homicidal attacks like Ubalde’s is unmatched in the world.

The variation of shootings in the US and the aggressiveness of US imperialism tend to go hand in hand. Incidents involving firearms had dropped in the 1990s, but began to rise again after 2001. The change coincides with the militaristic escalation of the “war on terror” that began after the 9/11 attacks. The United States had to justify its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people, and the prolonged occupation of those countries. It also initiated an escalation in its internal state violence, with a growing militarization of police forces and an extension of internal surveillance.

In fact, the most concurrent gun violence in the country is the one perpetrated by the police, as the murder of George Floyd and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement exposed for the world to see.

Nor is the prevalence of state violence the only factor that makes it impossible to analyze gun possession as a problem in general. A study by the Pew Research Center reveals that 61% of gun owners are white males, who represent 30% of the population. Contradictorily, most existing and proposed gun controls and regulations limit access to firearms disproportionately to people of color.

In a structurally racist society, where the police regularly murder people of color, the rich and powerful rob and assault with impunity, and the regime permanently justifies its own massacres and genocides in the name of defending an American way of life or American “democracy,” it is only logical that violence becomes naturalized and the value of life declines.

The reduction of the problem of shootings in the US to a problem of control or regulation of the possession of firearms, hides the profound causes of this scourge and the equally profound solutions that are needed. Solutions that do not come from regulations that reinforce the monopoly of weapons in the hands of the state and the powerful, but from putting an end to the capitalist system that generates violence, misery and mass alienation.