November 23, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Why are there so many mass shootings? It’s an insurgency
Yet we won’t see it.
There was another mass shooting last night, this one in a Chesapeake Bay-area Walmart. Using a pistol, the gunman shot dead six people, wounded five more, then killed himself. Police say the suspect was an employee at the store. They say the shooting began in a break room.
We don’t know the shooter’s identity yet, but we do know last night marked the seventh mass shooting in seven days, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that tracks and makes available information on gun-related violence. Investigators are still determining a motive for the rampage. Honestly, it doesn’t matter.
The gunman’s motive doesn’t matter because whatever it is in detail, the urge to murder expressed itself from inside a political context that’s already highly tolerant of spectacular rates of political violence. The Gun Violence Archive reports an estimated 600 gun-related incidents of mass death so far this year. That’s nearly two daily.
Whether the bodies piled skyward came from criminals shattering the peace or from police officers “keeping the peace” – one way or the other, it’s political violence. Full stop. No matter the Walmart shooter’s goals, his actions are political violence, too.
Yet we pretend it isn’t.
“Commonsense” is senseless
In any other time and place, in any other part of the world, seven mass shootings in seven days, nearly two every day of the current year, would not be called “senseless,” “insane” and “barbaric.” Why?
Because in any other time and place, in any other part of the world, seven mass shootings in seven days, nearly two every day of the current year, would be seen as acts of political violence demanding a political solution. We don’t do that, though. We say it’s “senseless.”
We say the solution is “commonsense.”
No, “commonsense” is senseless.
Because political violence is never senseless! It has an objective! If we stopped denying what’s in front of our eyes for a moment, we’d see why there’s so much mass death in such short periods of time.
This is an insurgency.
Rule of law as the enemy
One way or the other, mass death is a consequence of liberal democracy head-banging with the hierarchies of white power that have constituted the political order of America since the start.
Democratic politics, which never stops pressing forward, triggers a reaction from the status quo, which never stops defending itself. One kind of politics irritates another kind. Occasionally, they collide. Political violence is the outcome. Mass death is one variety of it.
The Republicans used to favor democratic politics as long as democratic politics was in line with “the natural order of things.” Then democratic politics up and produced a Black president. That was that.
Not only have the Republicans retreated since then from democratic norms and democratic institutions. They have retreated from the rule of law. They permitted guns to deluge communities. The sheer volume empowered white men to take the law into their own hands. Equal treatment under law was no longer an ideal. It was the enemy.
Since 2008, but especially since 2012 (with Barack Obama’s reelection), the paramilitary wing of the Republican Party has seen and continues to see spectacular growth, as has the political culture around it that allows men of any color to solve their personal problems with a gun.
No matter what the shooter’s identity, his actions are political violence arising from a political context in which people seek political goals. The main one is weakening the perceived grip that liberal democracy has on the United States for the purpose of “taking their country back.”
This paramilitary insurgency – which, by the way, operates inside and outside the ranks of law enforcement; which, by the way, includes freelancers and wildcats unrelated to the GOP – cannot succeed, ie, would fail fantastically, if viewed as an armed internal threat.
In that case, GOP guerrillas would risk open warfare with the government, a confrontation they’d lose and never recover from.
So these partizans hit soft targets – schools, churches, nightclubs, Walmarts – anything that can’t fight back. They foment anarchy. Spread chaos. Create an air of insanity. Voilà! The status quo is upheld by establishing an atmosphere of dread and fear that’s designed to prevent reformers from using democratic politics to reform the status quo.
The problem is obvious
As I said, in any other time and place, in any other part of the world, the paramilitary wing of the Republican Party would be seen for what it is – an armed faction that can’t get what it wants democratically and instead uses violence to bring back political conditions in which democratic politics is again in line with “the natural order of things.”
Why don’t most Americans see that?
Most of us are white.
The white-power status quo serves white Americans, so a paramilitary insurgency can’t possibly exist. Something like that happens in South America or Asia, not these United States! There must be another reason – any reason! – that does not call on us white Americans to rethink our political advantages or, God forbid, be responsible for choices we have made that altogether uphold the white-power status quo.
It must be the Republicans’ fault! It’s all those guns!
No, the problem is us.
We just won’t see it.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.