NEW YORK CITY, near America
FOREWARD: I am aware of numerous horrors haunting the headlines here. Among these: destructive weather patterns courtesy of the climate crisis, year three of the The Plague, cruelty shown to immigrants and refugees, fascism creeping ever closer, the aftermath of last January’s treasonous insurrection in Washington, the extant specter of Donald Trump. But the stuff of my bedtime terrors of late is America’s reverence for guns, and our seeming toleration of schoolhouse massacre after massacre after massacre, ad infinitum. Thus shall I write of nightmares.
Gunsmoke had just nicely cleared after the final blast in last year’s bumper crop of schoolhouse massacres in the United States. This time in the affluent Detroit suburb of Oxford, Michigan. And once more, America began the process of forgetting all about what just happened.
Two days after Oxford, Congressman Thomas Massie set the tone for purposeful neglect in gathering his family before a camera to create a photographic holiday greeting for his constituents: “Merry Christmas…Santa, please bring ammo.”
Cheerfully posed was the lovely Massie household: mother & dad, their two blonde girls and three strapping lads, and the family’s seven AR-15 semiautomatic military grade assault rifles suitable for hundred-round magazines of .223 caliber bullets capable of slicing the bones, sizzling the flesh, and melting the internal organs of anyone in the way.
Such was the Massie clan’s pictorial expression of joy in the run-up to “the most wonderful time of the year,” per the holly-jolly song lyric. Joy in the season of peace and goodwill toward men, so they say. Here now, Congressman Thomas Massie and his brood with a seven-gun salute to the birthday of Jesus Christ, prince of peace.
So they say in churches were it is lawfully de rigueur to pack heat.
Not to be outdone in wishing America a merry deadly Christmas, Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and her four sons took their places, too, before a camera that would record for political posterity their own gun-toting holiday howdies. (Ms. Boebert is the proprietor of “Shooters,” a western Colorado saloon where employees carry openly displayed firearms on the job—just like the boss lady herself when working at the Capitol building in Washington.)
As regards four Oxford High School students shot dead by an angry classmate named Ethan Crumbley, Mr. Massie and his congressional comrades-in-arms, Lauren Boebert included, stipulated their customary sympathies: thoughts, prayers, and all that crap. Same goes for seven other teenagers and one of their teachers gravely wounded, the pols supposed.
But seriously, who in Washington gives an honest rat’s fanny?
According to the New York-based nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety, there were one hundred and forty-nine incidents of on-campus gunfire in 2021. Education Week Magazine characterizes thirty-one of those incidents as mass shootings (four or more victims) during last year’s thirty-five weeks of school.
Ho-hum. What’s for dinner? What’s on TV?
What’s important in the nation’s capital—what’s really, really important to the $63.49 billion (€56.12 billion) armaments industry that bankrolls members of Congress from both the Democratic and Republican parties with millions and millions of “donations” to their reëlection campaigns—is the legal underpinning for America’s pathological and highly profitable gun fetish. Namely, the juridically prostituted Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Adopted in 1791, a time when quill pens inked prolix language to the formal documents of early America, the amendment was and still is remarkably plainspoken and to the point: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Fast forward to the present: The market for blunderbuss muskets, once a hot one when colonial villages required communal defense against wolf attacks and foraging bears and the occasional scouting party of hostile Indians, has dried up. Cities and counties that replaced villages have full-time police departments, handsomely outfitted in high-tech munitions. Under especially dire circumstances, states that replaced colonies may call out units of the very heavily armed National Guard. Thus, the need for militias is long passé.
In 2008, the fundament of the Second Amendment—community protection—was tossed aside when so-called conservative jurists and so-called constitutional fundamentalists seated on the highest court of the land opted against conserving the amendment’s fundamental purpose. By a five-to-four majority opinion in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570, the august U.S. Supreme Court effectively ruled that individual lunatics, incipient criminals, and yahoos in the mood for murderous mayhem have the same “right” to use and ownership of deadly weapons as any modern-day police department or military unit.
What followed the Heller decision was an explosion of gun acquisitions by the American citizenry. Apart from hunting gear—hunters comprising less than four percent of the population, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the great bulk of such acquisition was unnecessary. And often, as we see week after bloody week, flat-out dangerous; the AR-15 modified machine gun, beloved by the families of Congressman Massie and Congresswoman Boebert, is the nation’s top-selling firearm, by far.
Nowadays, there are more guns than people in America—393 million, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey in a country of 329 million. The survey cites the U.S. as repository for forty-six percent of privately owned guns worldwide.
Rationality would suggest that the federal government track gun possession, just as it does dental records and blood types and fingerprints and thousands of other matters. But Washington, a city bordered on all sides by reality, is where rationality goes to die. And where a regrettable majority of the ladies and gentlemen of Congress is always available to quash any notion of restricting gun sales, or even a census report on the vast, invisible civilian armory that spans the American continent.
So, we look to researchers in Geneva to at least do the gun counting for us, and we mostly leave it at that; most of us, that is, save for the few cranky voices among the polity demanding meaningful gun registration, at a minimum. The cranks being “radical leftwing socialists,” those of us that Ms. Boebert and Mr. Massie et al. tell us to tune out.
A poor substitute for gun registration, at least for the limited purpose of crime investigation, is the nonsensical National Trace Center in Martinsburg, a small town in rural West Virginia. There, available for police searches, are some twenty thousand boxes of sales records from gun exhibitions not practicably accessed by computer. Useful data consists of barely legible index cards, water-stained note paper, and hastily notated toilet tissue and disposable napkins.
All of this crammed into cargo containers piled in the corner of a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Spillover is stashed in an adjacent parking lot, for fear the warehouse floors could collapse under the weight of damp, deteriorating, ever-increasing loads.
Fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley, the previously mentioned freshman schoolhouse killer, did not acquire his means of murder at a gun exhibition. Instead, it was an early Christmas gift from his father, James Crumbley, who bought it at an Oxford gun emporium on the day after America’s Thanksgiving feast in late November, the biggest Christmas shopping spree of the year.
Hours after Mr. Crumbley purchased his son’s weapon, a grateful Ethan posted an Instagram selfie photo of his brand-new Sig Sauer 9-millimeter SP 2022 semiautomatic pistol clasped in his shooting hand, accompanied by a caption: “Just got my new beauty today.” (See photo at the top of this block of text.)
The next day, Jennifer Crumbley accompanied her boy and his gun to a practice range. Mother Crumbley likewise described the delightful occasion via social media: “Mom and son day [test] out his new Christmas present.”
One week after the test, Ethan brought his Sig Sauer beauty to class and pumped a magazine full of V-crown jacketed hollow point bullets into the bodies of a dozen people at Oxford High School.
Ethan Crumbley’s grim accomplishment was merely “the tip of the iceberg” in the context of American youngsters exposed to gun violence every year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The organization tallies more than three thousand children killed annually in off-campus shootings, and another fifteen thousand wounded.
…Now let us have a moment of silence. Let us bow our heads in prayer, let us honor the sacrifices made by brave children who lay down their lives, year in and year out, to protect our precious Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Twenty years ago, the filmmaker and social activist Michael Moore burst upon the international cinematic scene with his documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” about mass murder at Columbine High School in Congresswoman Boebert’s Colorado. Mass murder committed by stars of the school’s student bowling squad.
On a Tuesday morning in the spring of 1999, Columbine seniors Eric Harris, age 17, and Dylan Klebold, 18, arrived for the day’s lessons. They were laden with their usual backpacks. But contrary to the usual books, pencils, pens, and pads inside, the backpacks this time held a small arsenal: two TEC-9 semiautomatic pistols, a Hi-Point 995 carbine with ten-round magazines, a Savage-Springfield 67H pump-action shotgun, a Stevens 311D double-barreled shotgun, and the makings for time bombs.
They spent that Tuesday morning marauding through the corridors, shooting randomly at students and teachers. By noon, they had killed thirteen students, wounded two dozen others, and exchanged fire with police who were seriously late in responding to emergency calls.
Shortly after twelve o’clock, the lads walked past the carnage and entered the school library. Once inside, Eric jammed a gun against the roof of his mouth and Dylan placed a gun barrel to his temple. They fired together, blowing their brains out. Bombs they’d set to go off simultaneously failed.
To this day, no grand motive behind Columbine has been established, never mind strongly held police theory: Harris and Klebold were embittered, mentally unstable, victims of homophobic bullying by schoolmates, and members of a fascistic campus clique known as the Trench Coat Mafia. There is no hard proof behind such suspicions. (Investigators note that the Columbine massacre occurred on April 20, the birthdate of Adolph Hitler.)
Michael Moore, a Michigan native whose own high school alma mater is a mere nineteen miles (30km) from the schoolhouse slaughter at Oxford, holds theories of his own.
Bottom line, Mr. Moore writes in his popular blog, “It is time to do what we all know we’ve needed to do for some time: remove nearly all guns, especially handguns and assault rifles, from private ownership.”
He adds, “This is what they have done in Great Britain, in Japan, in Australia, in Canada—the list goes on…In many of these countries, they enacted gun bans immediately after a tragic mass shooting at a school. They didn’t want to wait to see more of their children killed, so they got rid of most of the guns. Just like that.
“After forty-five thousand deaths every year, we Americans are still waiting for the evidence to come in. You must realize the rest of the world just shakes their collective heads at us. They think we’re nuts.”
Of course, we are nuts over here.
How so? We continue electing Republicans and Democrats to a Congress of the gun industry, by the gun industry, and for the gun industry. A Congress that offers little beyond evaporative thoughts and prayers if we should drop dead in a hail of gunfire. For a variety of reasons—fear, racism, toxic masculinity—an unholy number of us continue to swell the exchequer of a gun industry worth $63.49 billion and counting.
And from time to time, we lionize certain of our high-profile gunmen—or gunboys, as in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white kid who has boozed with the “Proud Boys,” a white supremacist organization.
Last August, Mother Rittenhouse drove her boy from their home in Illinois across the state line to the Wisconsin city of Kenosha. There, 17-year-old Kyle acquired an AR-15, illegally, and brought it with him to a Black Lives Matter demonstration. He shot and killed two men and maimed another. A trial judge dismissed the charge of unlawful gun possession, and the jury acquitted him of murder, attempted murder, and reckless endangerment.
On December 18, a triumphant Kyle Rittenhouse arrived to thunderous applause at “AmericaFest 2021,” a rally of young fascists in Phoenix, Arizona. In introducing the Kenosha killer, prominent rightwing radio host Charlie Kirk told him, “You’re a hero to millions.”
…Well, but keep a perspective. Remember those tender Christmas sentiments from the lovely Boeberts and Massies.
Michael Moore offers two prescriptions for what sickens our society:
• “Fifty-one percent of the American population will likely never pull out a gun and shoot you. They’re called women. For some reason I can’t explain, there must be something in women’s DNA, or in their souls, that does not make them want to grab a gun and start spraying bullets. …No woman is going to charge into your child’s classroom and execute a dozen fourth graders. Not happening. Why? I think it’s worth for the [Centers for Disease Control] and the [National Institutes of Health] to study this and see what we can learn.”
• “[T]he answer to our problems is right in front of us, on the tip of our nose—that spot called Canada. Even though Canadians share a similar culture to ours, and their teenagers watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games, they rarely kill each other the way we do.
“Last year, there were two hundred seventy-seven gun murders in Canada, a nation of thirty-eight million people. …[Canada makes] it almost impossible to buy handguns and assault rifles.
“If you want to try to and get a permit for a handgun, you must get the women in your life—your wife, ex-wife, girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, etc.—to agree that you are not a threat and do not have a history of violence against them. They have to sign a document stating it’s OK for you to have a gun. If any of them object, you’ll have to use a hockey stick if you want to kill someone.”
The Columbine High School massacre of ’99 was, at the time, the most carcass-clogged mass shooting in U.S. history. Then came the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a wealthy and pleasant-looking community one hour’s drive north from New York City.
The young male killer that sunny Friday morning was 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who rose from his bed and dressed in black, save for yellow earplugs, an olive-green military utility vest, and brown-tint sunglasses. He grabbed his fully loaded .22 caliber Mark II rifle and emptied four shots into the head of his 52-year-old mother Nancy, still asleep in her room at half-past nine.
He then helped himself to Mother Lanza’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S semiautomatic assault rifle, loaded with thirty rounds of .223 caliber high velocity bullets. He took it with him, along with ten more thirty-round magazines, as he stole her car for the short trip to Sandy Hook Elementary.
Less than ten minutes later, Adam Lanza shot his way through a glass panel at the side of a locked door at the front of the schoolhouse. Alarmed by the noise, school principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach confronted Adam in a hallway. He shot them both dead.
After which, he proceeded to kill at random another twenty-six people, including twenty first-grade children ages 6 and 7. Eventually, he committed suicide in the same manner as he murdered his mother.
The next evening, a Saturday, I attended my granddaughter’s elementary school holiday concert here in Manhattan. As the children sang and played musical instruments, I could not escape my obsessive concern for the parents and grandparents of twenty little dead children up in Connecticut, my anger at the cruel absurdity of “thoughts and prayers” ascribed to members of Congress quoted in the morning newspapers.
What good are thoughts and prayers in the wake of innocent little kids whose heads blown off, or their faces blown off, or their internal organs spewed out from their bodies through massive holes in their chests and torsos blown wide open by a weapon of war?
In addition to Michael Moore’s prescriptions, I have a suggestion of my own for how to deal with the cancer that is America’s gun culture:
We need pictures to be published in the newspapers and aired on television. Pictures of bullet-riddled dead children. Pictures to burn our eyeballs until we end the madness.
In another time and place, during another unconscionable chapter of the American book of ugly-beautiful history, there was such a picture. It was a picture made public—partly so—by an exceedingly brave woman named Mamie Till-Mobley of Chicago, Illinois.
Sixty-six years ago, in August of 1955, Ms. Till-Mobley gave her son Emmett Till his late father’s signet ring as a going-away present when he boarded a Dixie-bound train for a two-week visit to the home of his dear Uncle Moses Wright in Money, Mississippi, a cotton mill town of about four hundred people rigidly divided by “the color line,” per nomenclature of the period.
While in Money, young Emmett, a 14-year-old African American boy, sometimes bought candy and soft drinks at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, one of the town’s few commercial establishments. One fateful day, Emmett bought two cents worth of bubble gum at Bryant’s from the owner’s attractive 21-year-old white wife, Carolyn. Mrs. Bryant accused the black boy of flirting with her.
The aggrieved white husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, took Emmett to a shed where they beat him bloody. After which they dragged him to the banks of the nearby Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head several times, bound his body in barbed wire anchored with a large metal fan, and tossed it into the muddy water.
It wasn’t long before Emmett’s corpse was retrieved from the Tallahatchie, identifiable only by the signet ring. The bludgeoned, bullet-ridden boy was packed into a cheap pine box and crated for shipment back to Chicago. The box was labeled “Warning: do not open.”
Emmett’s funeral was held at Chicago’s Temple Church of God in Christ. Mamie Till-Mobley insisted on an open casket, explaining, “I want the world to see what they did to my baby.”
On hand for the service was a freelance photographer. Only the black press agreed to publish the picture of an unrecognizable Emmett Till in his coffin. (As an 8-year-old boy in Detroit, I saw that picture in an edition of Jet, billed in the 1950s as “the weekly Negro news magazine.” My black pal swiped the magazine from his parents to show our racially mixed gang of curious neighborhood lads.)
Back in Mississippi, an all-white jury deliberated for exactly sixty minutes before acquitting Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. Soon thereafter, Bryant and Milam cashed in, handsomely so, by way of an exclusive interview with Look Magazine; despite their innocent plea that won a jury verdict of not guilty, the two men confessed to being Emmett Till’s murderers.
In 2007, Carolyn Bryant, then 72, told Timothy Tyson, a research scholar at Duke University, that she had fabricated the flirtation charge that led to a boy’s torture and death. Her confession emerged ten years later with publication of Mr. Tyson’s book, “The Blood of Emmett Till.”
Virtually all the children slaughtered in schools from one end of the United States to the other over the past few decades—at least the ones we know about from media reports, such as they are—were white. We have never seen their bullet-riddled bodies, their blasted heads and shredded faces.
We need to see the strange fruit, the small dead bodies. We need the bravery of a mother like Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003.
We need godawful pictures so that we may see what we’re doing to all our babies. So too, do the ladies and gentlemen of Congress need to see. Perhaps then they may come to terms with the violence of their neglect.
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag
Additional Photo Credits
Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, held by Ethan Crumbley—instagram
Lauren Boebert and sons—dailymail.co.uk