Black With Purple Marbling
by Lilvia Soto
Black with purple marbling is what you would expect a typical American teenage girl to choose. That was one of my daughter’s favorite colors when she was an adolescent. Now I have a three-year-old great-granddaughter who also loves purple. She wants her ice cream any flavor, as long as it’s purple. For some reason, girls have a predilection for purple. What is not quite so typical is for this particular 13-year-old to want her purple marbling on her favorite assault weapon. Her love affair with weapons started early, when she built her own rifle at age nine. Now, an old soul of thirteen, she’s a competitive shooter and has her name engraved on the scope mount of her favorite AR-15. In 2014, Shyanne Roberts testified against stricter gun laws at the state house in New Jersey, and even today, after the recent Florida carnage, where seventeen people lost their lives and fourteen more were wounded, she says, “Everybody always says it’s the gun that did it. No, it’s the person. The person uses the firearm the incorrect way. No matter what, they’re still going to get their guns.” Shyanne and her father, Dan Roberts, together, own eight AR-15s. He says being vocal about their guns has made them targets for online anger. “We’re not monsters. We’re just regular, normal people who want to be left alone,” he says (The New York Times, Feb. 20, 2018).
If they lived in any other country in the world, where guns are regulated and the lives of innocent children are valued, nobody would consider Dan and his young daughter regular, normal people. They would think they were odd, at best, and probably closer to the monsters Dan says they are not. The rest of the world knows that an AR-15 or any of the other variant and knock-off “assault-style” semiautomatic rifles that were banned in this country from 1994 to 2004 is a weapon of war designed to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. The modern AR-15 is a demilitarized version of the M16.
Since December 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza, aged 20, killed his mother with an assault rifle, and then killed twenty first-graders, and six adults with the same assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been 239 school shootings and 438 people shot, 138 of them dead. This is an average of four school shootings a month. Sixteen of the 239 school shootings can be classified as mass shootings because there were at least four victims.
Since February 14, 2018, our attention has been focused on the epidemic of school and other-venue mass shootings, but the use of firepower to kill our family members, our neighbors, our classmates, and perfect strangers is a daily occurrence and should be classified as a chronic American illness that goes beyond the horrifying mass killings that fill our newspapers and television screens all too often.
According to the June 2017 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately nineteen of our children die or are treated in an emergency room for wounds caused by firearms every day—that is 1,300 children dead and 5,790 wounded each year, or the equivalent of the shooting deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School each and every day of the year. This number does not include the adults who die trying to defend the children or the ones who are mowed down in a church, a parking lot, a nightclub, a concert, or simply in a robbery, a gang-related drive-by shooting, a family dispute, or the jealous rage of a romantic partner.
The National Rifle Association and the politicians they own point out that assault rifles account for only a small fraction of the 30,000 annual deaths committed by gun, and they are correct—not all firearm deaths can be blamed on assault weapons. Thousands are caused by hand guns, and not all of those are homicides either. About 60% are suicides. But all of them, all 30,000 deaths, whether they are due to a mass shooting, a small group (fewer than four victims) shooting, an accidental or willful act by an officer of the law, an individual act of hatred, an accidental discharge of a weapon that was not properly stored, or a suicide, are a tragedy. They are all tragedies. Unnecessary loss of life. All 30,000 are a waste of precious, some would say sacred, life. They represent children who are orphaned, parents who are inconsolable for the rest of their lives, heart-broken brothers, sisters, grandparents, lovers, and friends scarred for life. And most of them are due to the ready availability of guns. Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post estimates that “in 2013 there would have been roughly 357 million firearms in the U.S. — 40 million more guns than people.”
With this latest mass shooting in Parkland, some adults, inspired by the courage, intelligence, and integrity of the young survivors of the attack who have become activists for gun control, and shamed by their own cowardice and failure to act earlier, are increasing their pressure on the NRA and the politicians beholden to the gun lobby to pass new laws that will take AR-15s out of the hands of civilians. Many politicians, especially Republican, accept the support of the NRA (In 2016 alone, the gun lobby spent $5,900,000 to buy off members of Congress and $30 million to elect Donald Trump) and are too craven to oppose the gun lobby for fear of losing the hundreds of thousands of dollars, in cash and in-kind contributions, the NRA donates to their campaigns. Most people do not understand that the NRA is just a front doing the dirty work of the weapons’ manufacturers, who, not content with the millions of weapons they sell to the Pentagon for its myriad eternal wars all over the planet, and the ones the State Department sells to any country or guerrilla group willing to pay the price, also want every American to own his or her own, ornamented and personalized, arsenal. Now our President wants to arm 20% of all teachers in every school in the country. His congenital lack of empathy renders him incapable of comprehending that the type of person who is called to teaching is not the type of person who is called to killing. But his greedy little heart knows that if his proposal were to be accepted, it would increase the sale of guns and put billions of dollars into the pockets of the armament industry. He thinks this would be a win-win deal. Who would be the winners in the President’s proposal? The gun owners who get their kicks and have their self-worth validated by shooting a gun, especially a lethal rifle designed for war zones, the gun manufacturers who get rich selling these weapons, their lobbyist, the NRA, whose agenda is “guns everywhere,” the politicians beholden to the NRA and the weapons industry, and, now, our morally-challenged President. He, along with the NRA and many of the people unwilling to give up their phallic symbols, want to hold their instruments of death innocent and place all the blame for the U.S. endemic carnage on mental health.
I am convinced that mental illness plays a role in the killing of oneself or others. How else can anybody understand or justify the taking of a life? We may want to call it spiritual rather than mental, but I believe that is the only thing that can possibly allow an individual to take one or several lives, whether by a gun or any other means. I am not, however, talking just about the mental illness of the mass shooter or the individual murderer. I am talking about the mental illness of the family or the society that has created this individual. I am talking about the United States. I know of no other country where children are sent off to school with bulletproof book bags strapped to their backs. Bullet Blocker manufactures one made of lightweight ballistic panel, designed for young children, available in pink or blue, and its ads claim that “My Child’s Pack” is capable of stopping 357 Magnum, 44 Magnum, 9mm., .45 caliber hollow point ammunition, and more. To be safe, all a child needs to do is “hold the pack between you and the threat.”
It has been reported that this country has been at war for 222 of its 239 years. No other nation or empire in history has been able to claim the same. The United States has more than 1,000 bases in approximately 80 foreign countries. As former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson said in 2004, “the US dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet.” He added, “Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld one can’t begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.” To this, David Vine adds: “the global collection of bases has generally enabled the launching of military interventions, drone strikes, and wars of choice that have resulted in repeated disasters, costing millions of lives and untold destruction from Vietnam to Iraq (The Nation. September 14, 2015).
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), who has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School and currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, says we wage war because we’re good at it. We are convinced that our troops are the best trained and that they keep us safe and defend our American way of life armed with the most advanced weapons. We have been told that we wage war because the world depends on us to defend freedom and democracy in every corner of the planet. We dominate the global arms trade, and armaments have become one of our few industries, one of our few sources of jobs. And because we have already devoted so much of our material and spiritual treasure to this armaments industry, the entire military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about in 1961 has become a well-oiled machine, and “endless war” has become “endlessly profitable,” not for all of us, of course, but for the ones in the business of making war. With the elimination of the draft at the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, with the use of military contractors to fight our wars, and with the more recent use of drones and predators armed with Hellfire missiles, American casualties have been limited. The anger over them has been diminished. Death has become an abstraction for most Americans (TomDispatch.com, 8 July 2010).
Death is an abstraction because we have agreed to be lied to and deceived. The all-volunteer force started in 1973 was unable to recruit enough volunteers to fight two simultaneous wars, so the Bush and Obama administrations decided to increase the number of contractors to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sean McFate, a former private contractor and a current senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, says that “Most of those fighting for the United States abroad aren’t even Americans. Private military companies are multinational corporations that recruit globally. When I worked in the industry, my colleagues came from almost every continent. According to a recent Pentagon report, just over 33 percent of private military contractors in Afghanistan are U.S. citizens.” This means that “more contractors are killed in combat than soldiers” (“America’s Addiction to Mercenaries,” The Atlantic, Aug. 12, 2016). The reason death has become an abstraction for Americans is that we let invisible foreigners, most of them dark-skinned people from third world countries, die in the wars that our country fights in our name, not for our safety, not to spread democracy, but for the enrichment of the armament industry, to take possession of the natural resources of the countries we invade, and to maintain our geopolitical position as the only superpower.
Our media, our intelligence agencies, our foreign policy gurus, our “homeland security” apparatus, including our border patrol and the national guard troops on our southern border, are all intertwined with the politicians who profit from a society organized around military agendas. In this society, any questioning of our wars is considered un-American. Driven by intellectual and moral laziness, we have all become passive participants in this Imperial Enterprise. Mesmerized by the “Support our Troops” motto that dominates our culture, we join our current President and his white supremacist hordes in their call for racial hatreds and religious crusades. This reassures us that we are the good guys and that our manifest destiny gives us the right to feel superior, to ignore the dozens of countries we have destroyed and the millions of people we have bombed and tortured in order to be able to support our “American Way of Life.”
We have become a people proud to train our young as consummate murderers, to have as our principal industry the manufacture of ever-more advanced and destructive weapons systems, to indoctrinate our young with an attitude of entitlement and a complete disregard for the suffering of others. We use our economic might to build the largest arsenal the world has ever known and to feel entitled to rule, to annihilate, if necessary, the world. We neglect the health, education, and economic well-being of most of our fellow citizens. We engage actively in the destruction of our environment. We neglect our infrastructure, the ethics of our public servants, the nurturing of our talent, the blossoming of our culture. We are in awe of the wealthy, exploitative of all, and contemptuous of the weak and the poor. We respect raw power and ignore spiritual clarity. We have, through direct attack or callousness, done incalculable damage to the rest of the world. It should not surprise us that our Empire has come home. We have become our own “others,” and our young are the sacrificial lambs we offer to the gods of war and profit, for the soul of our civilization is black marbled with purple. And it has our name engraved on its tatters.