Daily Camera (Boulder)

To stop gun violence, we should focus on production

- By Jim Mittelman

Another mass shooting. The most recent one occurred at Michigan State University, my alma mater, less than two years after 10 people were murdered at a supermarke­t two miles from my home in Boulder. As an undergradu­ate at MSU, I attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s compelling address to the campus community in 1965, three years before he was assassinat­ed. Today’s fraught world has yet to heed Dr. King’s call for a nonviolent path to social justice.

Gun deaths have been normalized in the United States. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported: since 1977, “more Americans appear to have died from guns (more than 1.5 million), including suicides, homicides and accidents, than perished in all the wars in U.S. history, going back to the Revolution­ary War (about 1.4 million).”

Expenditur­e on guns crowds out social spending on education, health care and infrastruc­ture: airports, mass transporta­tion, affordable housing and innovative technologi­es.

There is no dearth of moderate proposals for reform, such as red flag laws, kinds of firearms sold, stiff safety guidelines and background checks. A more far-reaching approach would comprise a suite of three components:

1) Understand that the problem is both political and economic. Weapons manufactur­ers profit handsomely from the firearms industry. Their stocks are soaring. Lobbyists seek to ramp up funding for the U.S. military and private firms. According to the Stockholm Internatio­nal Peace Research Institute (2021), the U.S. spends 39% of the world total, more than the next 11 countries combined, on firearms. We have a global network of more than 750 military bases.

2) Tame narrative power. We do not live in Dodge City, the site of the television and radio program “Gunsmoke.” As a child, I loved it. Still do. But I always knew that this was a make-believe story about the 1860s in the Wild West and unlike today. Neverthele­ss, mimetic repetition about heroes — cowboys and soldiers — seeps into our minds. Now, we must flip the narrative from distributi­on to the production of weapons. If guns were not produced, controvers­ies over regulating their availabili­ty would diminish.

3) Address market power. Recognize that gun violence is an industry. It manufactur­es lethal weaponry with consent. While production is globalized, this industry remains heavily American and turns enormous profits.

True, there are formidable obstacles to taking these steps. Among them is the right to bear arms inscribed in the U.S. Constituti­on. But should it override the long-term outlook for citizens’ lives?

We have the power to mobilize our representa­tives in Congress and state legislatur­es for the cause of social change. It will take political will to motivate them. Willpower must be summoned from above and below: a coalition constitute­d by courageous citizens, political parties and social justice movements. Their goals should be translated into action on the local and national levels.

To galvanize support, public education is crucial. It hinges on levelheade­d, respectful discussion in myriad spheres of civil society, including schools, the media and religious institutio­ns.

Bear in mind that in other contexts, such as with the abolition of slavery, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the demise of the Soviet Union, and the end of apartheid, most people thought not in my lifetime. They could not imagine these seismic events. To this point, the novelist William

Faulkner commented, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.”

Surely vestiges of unjust systems remain. But historical precedents suggest using our political imaginatio­ns. We need not be locked into a living past.

Firearms are a problem that we inflict on ourselves. The future is not destiny. Gun violence can be prevented. This view is not utopian. Rather, to think that self-destructio­n is inevitable would be dystopian.

In sum, there’s no reason to sink into despair about gun violence. The key to stopping it is to restrict the production of firearms. This is the way to prevent another tragedy like the mass murder at Michigan State University and realize MLK’S dream.

Jim Mittelman lives in Boulder. He is a research professor at American University and a former dean of internatio­nal studies at the University of Denver.

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