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Commentary & Opinion

Guns, prejudice and the hearings

Shooting school children, grocery shoppers or concert audiences raise public demands for gun control. But there’s a deeper problem. Why, so far, haven’t we been able to limit the age of people who can have guns, register guns like we do cars, do background checks on all gun purchasers, deny guns to people who’ve threatened their partners or anyone else, and, especially, limit the power of the guns for sale?

For gun manufacturers and their agents, every gun is just a sale, a source of profit. Each lethal conflict worldwide sells more guns. Don’t expect much moral responsibility from gun manufacturers and traffickers.

But what conflict is the NRA trying to stoke? If not the murder of adults and children in public places, what?

At gun shows you’ll find support for conspiracy theories that are contrary to facts and make no sense – theories so illogical they couldn’t be pulled off even if some wanted to. They’re symptoms of something deeper – racial, religious and ethnic prejudices that make racists feel superior to someone. Racism can be overwhelming at gun shows, among private self-styled “militias” and the gun-brandishing crowd – heaven forbid that descendants of the people brought here in chains should be able to succeed and do well at last. Most of our ancestors weren’t here at the time, but when African-Americans have some success, most of us feel relieved. For racists, however, Black success is the problem.

It gets worse. Another theme at gun shows is freedom from what they call the “tyranny” of having to obey democratic rules. So who are they arming themselves to defend against? They have more than enough weapons to overwhelm our local sheriffs and police and already use them to intimidate local and state officials. Next target – the U.S. They make plain at gun shows their nostalgia for “the lost cause” of the Confederacy. That’s another part of their prejudice. If the South had been able to secede, prejudice and mistreatment of African-Americans would have been legal, supported by segregation, discrimination, violence and intimidation. That’s what brought them together storming the US Capitol – they want to replace the United States with a white nationalist nation, to overturn the Constitution by force and violence, a big reason why the hearings in Washington are so important.

These white nationalists and their NRA enablers are dangerous to all of us because the coup d’etat they’ve been plotting, the race war and civil war they’re trying to stoke, are all extraordinarily deadly. The American Civil War is still one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of humankind as a percentage of the population killed. Racial, ethnic or nationalist civil wars pit everyone against everyone. And let’s be clear – prejudice runs in packs: white nationalists in this country have aimed at all of our ancestors and their religious and ethnic prejudices are only sometimes hidden.

All of it would destroy the country we call ours. As a classmate described to me, his grandfather, the son of a Confederate officer, told my classmate that he “was glad the Union won the war, so that we had one America and did not have the institution of slavery.” Absolutely.

Those are the stakes, folks. We have to clamp down on the gun lobby, on the people who want the kind of weapons that can be used to wage war and tear this country apart again and who have no compunctions against putting those weapons in the hands of children and people who will kill us and our children in schools, parks, churches, temples and stores. Enough!

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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