Credit: Maria Lysenko / Unsplash

BANG BANG:  When these things happen, people in other countries vow “Never again” and do something. Look at New Zealand after a 2019 massacre that left 51 dead. Within the month, New Zealand banned semi-automatic weapons and launched an aggressive campaign to buy back as many guns as possible.

Within the month.

In the United States, instead, we wail pathetically and ask pointlessly, “When will we do something?”

To answer my own question, only when Black people embrace mass shootings with the same Samson-and-Delilah Old-Testament end-of-days Biblical abandon that White people have. I know that sounds glib. It also happens to be true. 

Back in the late 1960s, Republicans in California’s state legislature learned to love gun control only after heavily armed members of the Black Panther Party loudly embraced their Second Amendment rights while patrolling the streets of Oakland. After 30 party members showed up in the State Capitol armed and loaded to protect their Second Amendment rights, then Governor Ronald Reagan lunged for his pen and signed the bill. Even the National Rifle Association approved. 

No, not all mass shootings are inspired — a word, which incidentally, means “to be filled with God’s breath” — by racial hatred. A whole lot, however, are. Buffalo is not an anomaly. An American mass shooter is five times more likely to be a White crazy person than a Brown crazy person and four times more likely than a Black crazy person. 

“Gun control” of course is a misnomer. With 300 million guns strewn hither, thither, and yon throughout all 50 states, that genie can’t get squeezed back into the toothpaste tube. In these United States, we have 120.5 guns per every 100 people. We also have the highest rate of gun deaths on the planet. 

Since 1970, 1.4 million Americans have died from lead poisoning administered by a firearm; that’s slightly more than the 1.3 million killed in all the wars we’ve fought — combined. 

It’s worth remembering that a one-way shootout at Stockton’s Cleveland Elementary School in 1989 led to the passage of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. Only five elementary school kids — all Southeast Asian immigrants, by the way — got killed. Yet we somehow managed to act. 

It must have been a more innocent time. 

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It’s hard to ascribe a precise number to all the people who didn’t get killed because of that bill. Because of that — and a whole lot of elbow grease by the gun lobby — Congress allowed it to expire in 2004. One year later, Congress would see fit to pass one of the great obscenities of our nation’s history, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (better known as PLCAA), which bestowed upon the gun industry what the Mexican government is now calling a “veil of impunity.” This bill — also cheerfully dubbed the “Child Safety Lock Act” by the gun lobby — gave gun manufacturers broad immunity from civil litigation, making it all but impossible to sue gun makers for the inevitable downstream consequences of firing firearms into human bodies. 

This bill does not imbue the industry with absolute immunity. Just enough to be all but impregnable. Bulletproof, you might say. There are, however, a few exceptions that allow litigation if it can be proven that the industry marketed its wares in such a way as to appeal to the prurient interests of the mentally unhinged — as was the case with the Sandy Hook shooter — or to a criminal element, such as Mexican drug cartels. 

For those squinting for hope in the face of what most assuredly seems a hopeless situation, it’s worth noting that the families of the Sandy Hook victims just finalized a $73 million settlement with the insurance companies insuring the Remington gun company, which by the way just filed for bankruptcy. At the heart of that suit was the recklessness and wantonness with which Remington abdicated its responsibility for keeping its product out of unstable hands. The case was set to go to trial this September. 

The Mexican government, to which I alluded, filed a similar but very novel $10 billion lawsuit against six major U.S.-based gun manufacturers last August, alleging that they intentionally targeted their sales and marketing campaigns to Mexican drug dealers. Why else, the government demanded, would the industry give its product such names as “El Jefe,” “El Grito,” and the “Emiliano Zapata”? Little-known fact: Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws on the planet. In all of Mexico, there is only one gun shop, and it operates behind the bunker of a well-fortified military base. The sale of semi-automatics is not allowed at all; in fact, the hairiest gun one can legally buy south of the border is a .38 caliber handgun.

Since our federal assault weapons ban expired in 2005, Mexico has been awash in American-manufactured weapons as cartels there began arming themselves against its government’s war on the drug trade. Mexico’s lawsuit alleges that more than half a million U.S.-made weapons are smuggled into Mexico a year with the nudge-nudge-wink-wink acquiescence of the American gun industry. As a result, 94 Mexicans are murdered every day. Of the weapons recovered at Mexican crime scenes, as much as 90 percent are of American origin.

By any reckoning, this case is a legal longshot. The gun industry argues it should be tossed because of PLCAA. The Mexican government, they insist, is trying to intrude on the rights and privileges of a sovereign people. If we’re lucky, the case will drag on for a while. In the meantime, how many more Buffalos and Uvaldes will there be? Too many to either count or remember.

When will we do something? Never. 

Let’s hear it for foreign interference.

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