If the title of this piece sounds familiar it is because you remember the 1966 Buffalo Springfield song, written by Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth.” The first verse goes like this:
There’s something happening here.
But what it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware…
Sadly, it’s 56 years later and there is still “something happening,” the man with the gun is still there, and we sure as hell have no clue “what it is” that’s happening. On second thought, we really do know what is happening, and we also know, deep down, that there is no way to stop it. Well, to be perfectly honest, there is a way…but it’s a pretty tough sell in this country and we all know the reasons why! The accompanying photo I took a few weeks ago on a morning stroll through a rather upscale suburb of Los Angeles. You can find these signs scattered across all such neighborhoods in this country, and if taken literally, they are simply informing the reader/intruder that this particular domicile is protected by a company employing security guards that have licenses to carry guns. The cynic in me reads the sign this way: “You got guns, well, we got guns too!” The irony here is that there are “armed responses” almost on a daily basis in the poorer neighborhoods of this city. The only difference is there are no signs!
I have been thinking about writing on this topic for quite some time now, and I really can’t explain why I haven’t until now. We are inundated with stories about gun violence on almost a daily basis, and my feeling is that many of us have become anesthetized to these news items. For me, this changed when I read three separate articles in The Atlantic, a magazine I subscribed to about a year ago. Two of the articles (May 27th and June3rd 2022) are from a newsletter called “The Third Rail” written by David French and billed as a “newsletter examining the disputes that divide America.” The third, (June1st 2022) is about an Italian photographer, Gabriele Galimberti, and written by Charlie Warzel. It is a conversation between the two about his two-year-long project photographing Americans and their guns, which won him the World Press Photo Contest (2021) and culminated in the book The Ameriguns. If I really tried, I couldn’t come up with a better title than this! (I have included some of the photos at the end). If the dates of these articles are giving you pause, that’s because the first article (May 27th) appeared three days after the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, where 22 people were killed and another 17 injured. And yes, it has taken me this long to finally write this, even though I started it way back in June! I finally got back to it the first week of December, and decided to do a little digging, to further bolster my response to these articles.
What I am about to write is not new, but unlike the oft repeated “our thoughts and prayers go out…” what follows needs to be repeated over, and over again until it stops. There have been countless stories written about gun violence in this country just about every time there is a report of another mass shooting. What I learned from my digging is that a “mass shooting” is deemed so when four or more people are injured by gunfire, and a “mass killing” is when four or more people are killed. This number is disputed by many, but there does seem to be a general consensus on these figures. However, what I also learned, thanks to the website: gunviolencearchive.org (the fact that this website even exists tells you more than you need to know!) is that since the mass shooting in Uvalde, from May 25th to December 6th,387 people have been killed and 1,524 injured by gunfire in this country. I will give you a moment to process those numbers. These shootings occurred across 36 states, with the top five being: Illinois (39 incidents); California (26); Pennsylvania (25); Texas (24); Florida (19). In 196 days, a little over ½ a year, almost two people a day have been killed by gunfire, and roughly eight people a day injured. I’m sorry, but this is positively mind numbing. And now for the articles that inspired the digging and this response.
The first by Mr. French is titled: “Red-Flag Laws Can Save Lives.” An interesting side bar is that the title of this newsletter (“The Third Rail”) is often used in a nation’s politics as “a metaphor for any issue so controversial that it is “charged” or “untouchable” to the extent that any politician or public official who dares to broach the subject will invariably suffer politically.” Can you think of a topic in this country more “charged” or untouchable” than GUNS? The newsletter begins by outlining the reasons for the adoption of red-flag laws. As French writes: “Persons who committed public mass shootings in the U.S. over the last half century were commonly troubled by personal trauma before their shooting incidents, nearly always in a state of crisis at the time, and, in most cases, engaged in leaking their plans before opening fire. . . This constant waving of red-flags is why I’ve been on a soapbox for years about red-flag laws.” After a brief explanation of the variety of laws that situate themselves with the more inclusive term, red-flag, French writes: “I own guns. I’m an advocate of gun rights. The very first essay I ever wrote for The Atlantic was an explanation of why I carry a gun. But I still support red-flag laws. Why?”
My initial reaction to this was to answer the question, why? Because, to support gun control might infringe on Mr. French’s right to own and carry a gun. He of course does not say this, instead offering the following four reasons: “They’re (red-flag laws) by evidence and tailored to address a precise crisis; “They don’t require citizens to trust the police;” They fit neatly within American law and tradition;” and finally, “They have bipartisan support.” French then provides some examples, zeroing in on an incident in Buffalo writing: “One of the tragic elements of the Buffalo shooting is that New York has a red-flag law, but neither police nor the shooter’s family chose to deploy it to take his weapons away.” Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because it relies on a single person’s judgement of a family member, not always easy to do, or an agency’s judgement of someone they most likely do not even know. In recent news, a story about a Virginia police officer “catfishing” a young, vulnerable Riverside teen (LA Times, December 7, 2022) details the “signs of trouble” that this officer had, only to be followed the next day by another story in “The Times” saying how Virginia “missed the red flag on cop.” The result, three people dead.
Mr. French goes on to write: “I don’t pretend to believe that red-flag laws—or any gun-control measure—will end the scourge of mass shootings. I do believe that they can and will save lives without violating (emphasis mine) the Second Amendment.” And there you have it folks, the real reason gun violence is what it is in this country; an amendment to the sacred Constitution of this land ratified in 1791 as part of the ten amendments that make up the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights. In 1791 the weapon of choice was a musket with a capacity of one round and capable of (if you were pretty quick on the reload) firing three rounds per minute, at a muzzle velocity of 1,000 feet per second, and with a maximum range of approximately 150 feet. The weapon of choice these days for mass shootings is the AR-15 assault rifle, with a capacity of 30 rounds, and capable of firing 45 rounds per minute at a muzzle velocity of 3,260 feet per second, and with a maximum range of approximately 1,650 feet! It would appear, given all of this, that in this country it is perfectly fine to violate innocent people and have them die in the streets and in classrooms, but god forbid you should even think about violating a 231-year-old piece of antiquated legislation. What is particularly disturbing about this is that whenever someone even mentions changing this amendment the people with all the guns start clamoring: “You can’t change the Constitution, that’s a sacrilege.” Apparently, these folks really don’t understand the word amendment! And, if you are reminded of that particularly heinous slogan used by the NRA after it was uttered in May of 2000 by then President Charlton Heston: “I’ll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands,” I’m not surprised. The fact is, there have been far too many cold dead hands since 2000, and not one of them was holding a gun! My composure, if you will, was somewhat intact after reading up until this point, however I “lost it” after reading what came next: “The right to keep and bear arms carries with it grave responsibilities.” If you were giving awards for the best “no shit Sherlock” statement, this one would win, cold, dead hands down! Have you had enough? Sorry, I’m just warming up.
The second newsletter titled: “Why Gun Control Won’t End Mass Shootings” (June 3rd) discusses two different scenarios, citing multiple sources and concluding that gun-control would not have helped in these cases. While these are, for the most part, reasoned arguments and conclusions, they only tell part of the story, which is usually the case when you want to promote your views and agenda. What isn’t mentioned in this newsletter is the fact that during President Clinton’s time in office he signed two major pieces of gun control legislation in 1994: The Brady Bill and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (FAWB). The Brady Bill expired in 1998, and the FAWB in 2004, and despite many attempts by subsequent administrations to revive them, none have succeeded. Why? See above! There have been countless articles, stories, and testimonials as to how mass shootings declined significantly in the United States as a result of these legislations, but that is not mentioned in French’s piece. He instead goes on to say:” …Mass shootings tend to be among the most deliberately planned crimes in America, and deliberate planning assists in evading even the most rigorous American gun-control regimes. (For example, the Buffalo shooter bought a rifle that was lawful under New York’s assault-weapons ban and then modified the rifle to make it more deadly.)” Right. So, the answer is to simply throw up our hands in defeat, or bury our collective heads in the sand, and hope that we live in one of the 14 states that didn’t have any mass shootings in the aforementioned time frame. If you live in Illinois…well sorry, you’re screwed! Perhaps, and I know this will appear to be so far-fetched and drastic, but perhaps we should just get rid of all the privately owned guns from the people with warm, live hands! But no. French goes on to say: “Placing additional obstacles (emphasis mine) in front of law-abiding gun purchasers can inhibit their ability to promptly purchase a gun that’s necessary for self-defense.” Wait, it gets better. “Preventing me from purchasing a semiautomatic firearm with a standard-capacity magazine would place me at a disadvantage against the most likely kind of attacker we’d (sic) face.” If this isn’t the quintessential example of taking the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” and perverting it, I don’t know what is. Being in a perpetual “state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty” is a very long way from being armed and ready whenever all your imagined enemies come gunning for you! A case in point would be another recent article in the LA Times (September 16, 2022) about a break-in at now LA city Mayor Karen Bass’s house, in which two guns were stolen. Bass confirmed that that the handguns belonged to her and had been stored in a lockbox stashed in her closet. She said she had the guns for her protection! I don’t know about you, but I would not feel very secure if someone broke into my house with a gun, knowing that mine were stashed away in a lockbox in a closet! All of which begs the question: “What the fuck is going on in this country?”
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the third article I mentioned: “What the Viral Gun Photographer Has to Say About His Subjects,” as I mentioned earlier a conversation between Charlie Warzel (the author) and Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti. My beef here is not with the author, but with what the photographer says in the interview. Apparently, after the Uvalde shooting, many of his photos from this project I mentioned went viral on social media. Mr. Galimberti took offense to people looking at his photos to “judge” the people in them, calling this a “mistake” As he says in the interview: “The real judgement in my work is on the society that allows this. The real problem isn’t the 40 people I photographed; it is the regulations and the culture that permits it.” A little further on in the interview he says: “These people I photographed are buying guns because they can and are free to do so. And if you are shocked by seeing a family with 200 guns then maybe the real problem is there are no regulations that would keep them from obtaining these guns. And I want to be clear it’s not only guns I photographed, but also people with bazookas and flamethrowers, all legally obtained.” Now, you may be wondering why I would have a “beef” with all of this given what you’ve just read? And you would be right. My beef is that as an artist Galimberti should know that once your art is out in public, as in any book that’s published, article that’s written, etc., etc., you, the artist have zero control over how it is interpreted or read. So, while I absolutely agree with everything Galimberti said, I disagree with his sentiment the people in the photos shouldn’t be judged for their “hobby.” They most certainly should be judged, and harshly. Need more proof? See below.
For some reason, when I looked at all these photos it reminded me of a slogan popularized in the 80s and attributed to flamboyant millionaire Malcolm Forbes: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Perhaps, given what I’ve just written, this needs to be altered slightly to read: He/she who lives with the most guns wins! As for David French, who informs us that this is a personal issue for him because of the supposed threats he has received as a journalist: Well, this is personal for me too, because the lack of initiative and refusal to tackle the difficulties surrounding gun control, have everything to do with my wife being held-up at gunpoint on her daily morning walk by two sixteen-year-olds a half a block from the school she works at. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways!
Los Angeles 2022