Qwertyman No. 35: The Ultimate Casualty
Qwertyman for Monday, April 3, 2023
I’M SURE I wasn’t the only one who looked up from his breakfast coffee last week to see, on the morning news, that another mass shooting had ripped through the heart of America—in Nashville, a city that usually brings to mind the twangy plaints of country music, in mournful songs about prison life and cheating hearts. This time the pain was much more brutal and direct, devoid of all poetry: six people were killed, including three nine-year-olds, their bodies savaged by bullets from AR-15-style assault rifles.
According to the Gun Violence Archive—whose very existence should be disturbing—it was the 130th mass shooting in the US in the first three months of 2023 alone. Last year, 647 such events were recorded; overall, more than 44,000 Americans died from gun violence in 2022. At this rate, 2023 will almost certainly be a much bloodier year for America. There will be hundreds more Nashvilles, thousands more families ambushed by unspeakable tragedy, choruses of angry wails to heaven asking God to explain why.
Like any other parent who witnessed that carnage, my wife Beng raised the question on every sensible person’s mind: “How could they let this happen?”
“This” here would mean not only the mass killing itself, but the means to do it. Two AR-15-style assault rifles were used by the 28-year-old shooter. The AR-15 has been the mass shooter’s weapon of choice. It can rip people to shreds. According to the Washington Post, “The AR-15 fires bullets at such a high velocity — often in a barrage of 30 or even 100 in rapid succession — that it can eviscerate multiple people in seconds. A single bullet lands with a shock wave intense enough to blow apart a skull and demolish vital organs. The impact is even more acute on the compact body of a small child.”
The mere thought of children being mowed down like carnival toys is horrific, but apparently not enough for America’s powerful and richly funded gun lobby, which has insisted on looking the other way, sanctifying the Americans’ Second-Amendment right to bear arms above all other human considerations.
In Tennessee, where the shootings took place, it is legal for anyone over 21 to carry handguns without a permit; that holds true for 24 other states, making fully half of America gun-friendly. And despite the mounting deaths from mass shootings, politicians in many predominantly Republican states—including Tennessee—are sponsoring even more permissive gun laws, to do away with background checks and facilitate the sale and transport of lethal weapons.
President Biden has rightly said that he has done all he could to help stop the violence by calling for a ban on assault rifles, but the opposition to such gun-control measures has been stubbornly successful. The National Rifle Association (NRA), which has been bankrolled by the gun industry for generations, has lost some of its luster and bluster following the public outcry over the mass shootings, but it still wields enormous political power by supporting gun-supportive candidates in elections.
The gun lobby argues speciously that guns don’t kill—people do; and further, that the problem isn’t that there are too many guns on the streets (there can never be too many), but that mass shooters are certified lunatics who in no way represent the millions more of responsible gun owners who keep their guns for target practice, for the joy of collecting, and for the End of Days, when hordes of zombie-like strangers will come over the hill to invade their homes, steal their food, and rape their wives. Mass shootings, they insist, are a mental-health problem, not something to be blamed on the proliferation and easy availability of weaponry.
Why does this concern us in faraway Philippines? First, because millions of us have relatives in America—who, as minority citizens, are prone to racial violence, as the recent spate of maulings of Filipino-Americans has shown. Many mass shootings have been racially motivated, and it will be only a matter of time before some teenage White Aryan barges into a Pinoy wedding or fiesta to prove his superiority through the barrel of an assault rifle. I fear for our daughter in California, who could be enjoying a night out with friends or shopping for groceries when the shooting begins. (Much to Beng’s and my surprise, our daughter Demi joined the UP Rifle and Pistol Team and became a sharpshooter, but has never felt the need to own and carry.)
Of course, in truth, we knew about America’s bloody history a long time ago, if only from The Untouchables, The Godfather, and America’s Most Wanted. What was a cowboy, a frontiersman, or soldier without a gun? And let’s not forget that it was the Krag-Jorgensen rifle with which US Army troopers “pacified” Filipino “insurgents” from 1898 onwards.
The second connection is our own gun culture—which, though not as pronounced and as strident as America’s, nevertheless exists, with the gun seen less as a means of self-defense than as a symbol and enforcer of power. With no need for a Second Amendment, our politicians and other bigwigs assemble arsenals for their private armies, such as the cache of arms and ammunition recently uncovered on the property of the Teveses in Negros Oriental.
Oldtimers will remember when people boarded jeeps and buses with .45s tucked into their waists; congressmen used to enter the Session Hall bringing guns. Ironically, it took martial law to mop up most of those vagrant firearms—when someone decided that only he and his henchmen could carry them—but yet even more ironically, it was the military bullet that assassinated Ninoy Aquino that took the regime down.
I’m not so naive as to believe that we’ll see a gunless world in our lifetime and sing “Kumbaya” until we fall asleep. As societies undergo even more wrenching tests of the values that keep them together, our animal instincts—fear, belligerence, and survivalism—will become even more assertive, and the most brutish and inarticulate among us will let their firepower do the speaking. Unless reason prevails, the insanity will continue.
Abetting the murder of children—whether in Nashville or Bakhmut—means condoning the death of our humanity. That will be the ultimate casualty.
(Image from cnn.com)