Most people find it unconscionable that anyone would deliberately harm a child. In fact, most would have the same reaction to callous disregard that puts a young life in danger’s way.
So when news of the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., began to spread, it is of little doubt that the first reaction, especially of parents, was shock.
Little children between the ages of 6 and 7, just becoming cognitive of the world about them, their eyes beaming, seemingly with any and every possibility just beyond their reach, their lights extinguished.
It was cold, almost unimaginable, but it happened — 20 young lives along with six educators and administrators. The mother of the alleged shooter, who was found shot four times in her bed, still in pajamas. And the shooter himself, only 20, an evident suicide. All gone, killed.
It shouldn’t happen, but it did and it does. The shooting at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14 is being called the second-largest such massacre at a school, behind the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. It was not an isolated event in this country. Not even for this year.
Though it seems long ago because the media have ceased talking about it, the massacre at the Century 16 theater at the Aurora Mall near Denver was only in July. In total there have been more than a dozen registered mass shootings in the U.S. in 2012.
In a few, such as in Oak Creek, Wis., where a white supremacist entered a Sikh temple and killed seven people, the motives are clear. In others, like Aurora and the latest in Sandy Hook, there doesn’t seem any one reason that drove the alleged shooter to kill.
As in Aurora with James Holmes, the media have portrayed Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old white male alleged to have committed the killings in Sandy Hook, as a very intelligent yet disturbed lone gunman. He is said to have had few friends, few relationships at all, somewhat estranged from his older brother, whose identification he carried. Friends of Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, say she rarely went into detail about her troubles with him.
Adam has also been characterized as being unemotional, of not having the ability to feel physical pain, according to a former advisor, Richard Novia, who also was the school district security head until 2008. Adam’s older brother, Ryan, says Adam suffered from a personality disorder and possibly Asperger’s syndrome. But experts say this would in no way predispose him to premeditated violence.
Adam was removed from school for a short time and home schooled. According to school officials, he was assigned a psychologist. His aunt, Marsha Lanza, recalls Adam’s mother struggling with the school to make sure her son received the services he needed.
Nancy Lanza, his mother, was also the one who taught Adam how to shoot. She had a dozen guns in total and has been described as a survivalist with an outgoing personality. After failing to purchase a rifle two days before the school shooting, Adam ultimately used several of the guns his mother kept in the home.
The underlying causes
Is this what it all boils down to? Gun control? Is the heart of the issue that the young man had access to numerous firearms? Or is it something deeper? What would drive someone so young to commit such a heinous act?
The underlying causes of such an act spring from the fundamental contradictions of modern society at this juncture in history and the political economy of the U.S. in particular. The politics and superstructure are formed by the economic base. Also, we must point out the sheer hypocrisy in the narrative of the mainstream media and of the politicians who turn out to express grief with the suffering families.
Life is precious and the life of a young person even more so. Most people think of a young life as brimming over with potential. Of course, some, because of their material wealth, status, nationality and gender expression, have more possibilities open to them. But things change. Where there is life there is the possibility for change. The young people who lost their lives could have been actors in making the world a better place.
When President Obama expressed his condolences and spoke of being responsible for one another’s children and of giving children the chance to live out their lives in happiness, he may not have considered the children in Pakistan who have lost their lives in U.S. drone attacks.
The president may not have considered the children in Gaza, who died from Israeli-delivered but U.S.-financed bombs, nor the children in Iraq or children anywhere who suffer because of U.S. policies of war and economic strangulation.
He may not have thought of the millions who die from hunger every year because of neoliberalist destabilization of the economies of underdeveloped countries.
He probably didn’t think of the children of deported parents. Or of Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or the children and grandchildren of Anthony Anderson, who was killed by Baltimore police. He probably doesn’t know the name Ramarley Graham or of the many whose lives were lost from police brutality. Or those who die from lack of health care or who fall through the cracks because of a disappearing social safety net.
The media do not mention any of the above. Certainly, though, the life of a Palestinian child is not less than that of one of the young children killed in Sandy Hook Elementary.
Yet, the fact that there appears to be a higher value placed on one life than another, and that the media and politicians can speak in generalizations about how precious a young life is, even while pursuing and enacting policies that lead to the suffering of hundreds of millions, only begins to get at the heart of the matter.
Adam Lanza was not reared behind an impenetrable shell, whether or not he suffered from some personality disorder. His actions and the final act he is alleged to have committed happened within a social context.
Centuries of gun culture
There is indeed a gun culture. The people arguing for gun control, however, are seeking changes in the legal superstructure — laws that would make it harder to purchase or stockpile weapons.
The National Rifle Association spends millions every year on lobbying, along with Gun Owners of America and other such organizations. Gun manufacturers have been making record profits.
Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson, which account for 30 percent of the handgun market in the U.S., have seen their sales soarin the last few years. Guns are a $4.1 billion industry here.
These figures reflect only the personal firearms industry, not major weapons manufacturers such as General Electric, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin or the other corporations that receive tens of billions of dollars per year from the federal government.
The gun culture is more than that, though. The U.S. was built from seized land, land that was taken from the original inhabitants, who were then massacred — children, women and men. Whole nations were disappeared, killed by guns, knives and an early form of biological warfare, where diseased materials were used to introduce foreign illnesses to Indigenous peoples.
Slavery was maintained by the gun and brutal violence that saw the rise of the first standardized police force, the slave catchers. To this day, it has been violence that has maintained U.S. political and economic hegemony over most of the world.
U.S. predominance is at the service of a small class that owes its beginnings to the founding of the U.S. and capitalism. The U.S. and Western Europe owe their wealth, not to the ingenuity and supremacy of the peoples of the respective countries, but to naked aggression, theft, slavery, rape and genocide. As Walter Rodney wrote in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” “[T]he development of Europe [is] part of the same dialectical process in which Africa was underdeveloped.” The same can be said for the U.S. with regard to the rest of the planet.
This is how the gun culture, a culture of violence, came into being. It is a mere reflection of the current world social order.
Violence, privilege and alienation
This is the context in which Adam Lanza grew up — one of violence, privilege and also a deep disconnectedness. While Lanza may have been surrounded by material trappings, things that the vast majority of people on the planet will never see, there is a profound emptiness in just having things.
Capitalist society touts individualism, the competition for survival. In modern U.S. society people are alienated from the fruit of their work and from one another. The consumerist culture that so many liberal magazines decry is a manifestation of the alienation in modern capitalist society, which is part of the decadent culture that grows more ripe, generation after generation.
The blame is being put on guns. There are calls for more stringent gun control laws, something that would cede the monopoly of violence to the police, who maintain the current social relations. But the real reason for the rise of these types of actions and the troubled state of young people is the social order.
Perhaps the families of the children who died at Sandy Hook can never truly heal. How can they, when birthdays will pass and the voices of young precious people will go unheard and all their potential will never be realized?
Science at times can seem unfeeling, but at the heart of a revolutionary is the desire to change the world, to see the old order be torn away for something better, more human, based on making sure everyone in society is provided for.
The only way to begin to address a tragedy like the massacre at Sandy Hook is to address the fundamental problems that exist. In the final analysis, it is the capitalist system that is to blame. As long as it exists, the lives of children are at risk, whether it be from violence, starvation, neglect or disasters caused by global warming. It is all rooted in a system that has outlived its usefulness. n