Why American Progressives Won’t Ever Seriously Address Mass Killings

This piece is an offshoot commentary on certain elements touched upon in a recent essay by Spooky, so it will make the most sense if one reads that first. Any quotes in the essay below, unless otherwise indicated by mention or link, are from Spooky’s essay.

Since the Republicans—and any overlap with those political circles—are viewed by so many as indefinitely under siege by unreasonable firearm fanatics and the “gun lobby,” the Democrats are often viewed as the last hope for so-called reasonable legislation and discussion surrounding mass shootings in the U.S. However, just as with so many other issues laid at the feet of Democrats—and the influence and power of progressive political circles more generally—those hoping for meaningful dialogue or change from these corners can expect only disappointment.

To be clear, if one is only seeking symbolic speeches or regulatory gestures related to mass violence committed with firearms, then they can certainly get what they’re looking for from progressives. After all, if Donald Trump had little problem contributing to that pile of history book footnotes with his own regulations and proclamations, progressives via the Democrats can deliver on that front too. 

But, if one is looking instead to further address the underlying cultural and social problems—and rot—that boil to the point of bringing someone to mass-murder, what’s required is something much different from a narrow obsession with the makes and models of firearm people are allowed to own, purchase waiting times, background checks, and so on—what is generally referred to as gun control and its related policies. 

Indeed, one must apply “a psychocultural framework to the issue of mass shootings [specifically], and the . . . phenomenon of mass violence itself [more broadly]” to truly understand what’s going on in the mind of a mass shooter, and what brings them to the point of mass harm or killing. Just as no one strikes their partner simply because they have access to their own fists, “no one becomes a mass murderer merely because they have access to firearms.” 

With this being the case, hyper-focus on what people are allowed to acquire and own is in fact a side conversation to the larger and more urgent one on the social and cultural issues underlying mass killing. In this way, the space that gun control and related policy wars take up in the public conscience is often at the expense of meaningful discussion about what’s truly going on underneath the kind of mass, targeted—and often political—violence that so many feel is now an embedded feature of American society and culture.  

If all that’s the case, then why do Democrats—and the progressive political circles that support that party’s machinery—continually focus on narrower forms of gun control?

The answer lies with what is often the reality for keeping and holding power in modern so-called liberal-democratic countries: Gun control divides and frenzies the electorate well—too well. It is to progressives and the Democratic party what abortion is to social conservatives and Republicans. Whether the parties and political powers that be truly believe the dirt they rake and throw at each other on these issues is beside the point. The point is that these topics serve both to separate the electorate sharply on a key issue, and to throw opposing camps into passionate hate against one another.

Gun control enables progressive political operators to stomp their feet and make a lot of noise, encouraging others to look at anyone opposed to firearm prohibitions or tighter regulations as an evil monster who doesn’t seem to care about needless death. All the gun control noise and news coverage tends to reach points that have so many believing an outcome one way or another is apocalyptic in nature, while what is being fought over is, in reality, often extremely minor changes to already existing gun laws or regulation.  

In other words, when it comes to American party politics, the issue of gun control is an extremely useful weapon for winning elections—not an invitation to serious, broad-form discussion on what turns someone into a self-appointed soldier or martyr of personal or broader cause. By keeping the primary focus on guns themselves, and not the monstrous act of squeezing the trigger or the perverted ideology or thinking that brought someone to doing so, progressive politicians serve the public with simpler and more easily digestible suggestions on what the core problem really is—this type of gun, that type of license, this type of cartridge, that type of barrel, and so on and so forth. All of that functions to keep votes and donations flowing.

It should also never be forgotten that for the Democratic party and progressive circles, all of this has the added bonus of keeping well-meaning people at the grassroots—such as community groups truly concerned about safety and reducing violence in their local community— narrowly focusing their efforts on the kind of superficial gun control that just so happens to align with progressive agendas and operations. In this way, grassroots organizations—independent in name or on paper—become de facto secondary associations and arms of a political party who ensure people cast their vote “the right way.” 

Another way to look at it is: Why would Democrats and elite progressive political circles get into the messy business of complex and nuanced discussions around the social and cultural issues that underlie mass shootings? Getting everyone to obsess over scare words like “semi-automatic” or “assault” is often just enough of the political nectar one needs to draw from the latest mass shooting to get or keep political power.

Furthermore, if one partisan camp were ever to take the lead on bringing serious attention and discussion to the underlying social and cultural causes of mass shootings, it might have an unintended effect that could be politically problematic: unification of people in the electorate via discussion and agreement on common concerns. It would, in fact, be terribly inconvenient for the progressives—who always posture on the moral high ground and claim they value putting public safety and lives ahead of gun ownership—to meet just as many, if not more, folks from all kinds of walks of life who value both gun ownership for sports shooting, hunting, collecting, general enthusiasm, and true self-defence purposes, and the safety of others in their community. 

The many who voice a genuine frustration with progressive political machinery and Democrats for not doing what they should, or not doing enough, on the issue of mass shootings should try looking at the issue from a different perspective. Perhaps the politicians and pundits  are doing exactly what they should, and just enough, to achieve their primary political goals and purposes. Everything else, as usual, rests on the shoulders of those outside of the circles of political power.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory