Among the many grim features of U.S. life in 2022, gun violence might be especially depressing because it is a crisis that seems so solvable and yet hopeless at the same time.
We are trapped in a national gun debate between a rabidly political right wing and a stubbornly apolitical center, with the left nowhere in sight. On one side are demagogues in the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Republican Party who whip up fears of Black and Brown “criminals,” threatened masculinity and postindustrial decline. On the other side are organizations increasingly shaped by the narrow and technocratic solutions put forward by the organizations funded by Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor.
As a result, the most horrific mass shootings, like those earlier in this year in Buffalo and Uvalde, are inevitably followed by an anguished but largely inane debate, with some saying “if only the shooter didn’t have a gun,” and others saying “ if only everybody had a gun.”
The hostility between the two sides masks similarities in their worldviews. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that New York State’s tight restrictions on “open carry” gun permits violated citizens’ Second Amendment right to self-defense. Among the many leading Democrats expressing outrage was New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who three months earlier had reestablished a special police unit with a history of excessive violence as part of an effort to crack down on illegal guns. The Republican-dominated Court and the Democratic mayor see themselves on opposite sides of the gun issue, but both want to put more people with guns on the street as a way to “reduce” violence.
When, a week after the 2012 Newtown school shooting, NRA president Wayne LaPierre declared, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” liberals were justifiably horrified. But few were willing and able to see that this disastrously violent mindset is also the core idea of modern law enforcement, and a driving force of U.S. history since the founding days of slave patrols and genocidal violence against Indigenous people.