by John W. Whitehead, Rutherford Institute:
“It is often the case that police shootings, incidents where law enforcement officers pull the trigger on civilians, are left out of the conversation on gun violence. But a police officer shooting a civilian counts as gun violence. Every time an officer uses a gun against an innocent or an unarmed person contributes to the culture of gun violence in this country.”—Journalist Celisa Calacal
Yes, gun violence is a problem in America, although violent crime generally remains at an all-time low.
Yes, mentally ill individuals embarking on mass shooting sprees are a problem in America.
However, tighter gun control laws and so-called “intelligent” background checks fail to protect the public from the most egregious perpetrator of gun violence in America: the U.S. government.
Consider that five years after police shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old man in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been no relief from the government’s gun violence.
Here’s what we’ve learned about the government’s gun violence since Ferguson, according to The Washington Post: If you’re a black American, you’ve got a greater chance of being shot by police. If you’re an unarmed black man, you’re four times more likely to be killed by police than an unarmed white man. Most people killed by police are young men. Since 2015, police have shot and killed an average of 3 people per day. More than 2,500 police departments have shot and killed at least one person since 2015. And while the vast majority of people shot and killed by police are armed, their weapons ranged from guns to knives to toyguns.
Clearly, the U.S. government is not making America any safer.
Indeed, the government’s gun violence—inflicted on unarmed individuals by battlefield-trained SWAT teams, militarized police, and bureaucratic government agents trained to shoot first and ask questions later—poses a greater threat to the safety and security of the nation than any mass shooter.
According to journalist Matt Agorist, “mass shootings … have claimed the lives of 339 people since 2015… [D]uring this same time frame, police in America have claimed the lives of 4,355 citizens.”
That’s 1200% more people killed by police than mass shooters since 2015.
For example, in Texas, a police officer sent to do a welfare check on a 30-year-old woman seen lying on the grass near a shopping center, took aim at the woman’s dog as it ran towards him barking, fired multiple times, and killed the woman instead.
In Chicago, a SWAT team—wearing “army fatigues with black cloth covering their faces and wearing goggles,” armed with automatic rifles, and throwing flash-bang grenades—crashed through the doors of a suburban home and proceeded to storm into bedrooms, holding the children of the household at gunpoint. One child, 13-year-old Amir, was “accidentally” shot in the knee by police while sitting on his bed.
In St. Louis, Missouri, a SWAT team on a mission to deliver an administrative warrant carried out a no-knock raid that ended with police kicking in the homeowner’s front door, and shooting and killing her dog—all over an unpaid gas bill. Taxpayers will have to find $750,000 to settle the lawsuit arising over the cops’ overzealous tactics.
In South Carolina, a 62-year-old homeowner was shot four times through his front door by police who were investigating a medical-assist alarm call that originated from a cell phone inside the home. Dick Tench, believing his house was being broken into, was standing in the foyer of his home armed with a handgun when police, peering through the front door, fired several shots through the door, hitting Tench in the pelvis and the aortic artery. Tench survived, but the bullet lodged in his pelvis will stay there for life.
In Kansas, a SWAT team, attempting to carry out a routine search warrant (the suspect had already been arrested), showed up at a residence around dinnertime, dressed in tactical gear with weapons drawn, and hurled a flash-bang grenade into the house past the 68-year-old woman who was in the process of opening the door to them and in the general direction of a 2-year-old child.
These are just a few recent examples among hundreds this year alone.
Curiously enough, in the midst of the finger-pointing over the latest round of mass shootings, Americans have been so focused on debating who or what is responsible for gun violence—the guns, the gun owners, the Second Amendment, the politicians, or our violent culture—that they have overlooked the fact that the systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and their liberties than any single act of terror or mass shooting.
Violence has become our government’s calling card, starting at the top and trickling down, from the more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans by heavily armed, black-garbed commandos and the increasingly rapid militarization of local police forces across the country to the drone killings used to target insurgents.
The government even exports violence worldwide, with one of this country’s most profitable exports being weapons. Indeed, the United States, the world’s largest exporter of arms, has been selling violence to the world for too long now. Controlling more than 50 percent of the global weaponry market, the U.S. has sold or donated weapons to at least 96 countries in the past five years, including the Middle East. The U.S. also provides countries such as Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Iraq with grants and loans through the Foreign Military Financing program to purchase military weapons.
At the same time that the U.S. is equipping nearly half the world with deadly weapons, profiting to the tune of $36.2 billion, its leaders have also been lecturing American citizens on the dangers of gun violence and working to enact measures that would make it more difficult for Americans to acquire certain weapons.
Talk about an absurd double standard.
If we’re truly going to get serious about gun violence, why not start by scaling back the American police state’s weapons of war?
I’ll tell you why: because the government has no intention of scaling back on its weapons.
In fact, all the while gun critics continue to clamor for bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, the U.S. military is passing them out to domestic police forces.
Under the auspices of a military “recycling” program, which allows local police agencies to acquire military-grade weaponry and equipment, more than $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies since 1990. Included among these “gifts” are tank-like, 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, tactical gear, and assault rifles.
While Americans have to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics.
Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities.
Seriously, why do IRS agents need AR-15 rifles?
For that matter, why do police need armored personnel carriers with gun ports, compact submachine guns with 30-round magazines, precision battlefield sniper rifles, and military-grade assault-style rifles and carbines?
Short answer: they don’t.
In the hands of government agents, whether they are members of the military, law enforcement or some other government agency, these weapons have become routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a byproduct of the rapid militarization of law enforcement over the past several decades.
Over the course of 30 years, police officers in jack boots holding assault rifles have become fairly common in small town communities across the country. As investigative journalists Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz reveal, “Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Does this sound like a country under martial law?