Gun Violence is Rooted in Citizens United as Much as the Radical View of the Second AmendmentRoundup
tags: Second Amendment, Citizens United
Jim Sleeper is the author of "Liberal Racism" (1997) and "The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York" (1990).
For several years after the 1998 Columbine high school massacre, and again after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, I wrote so often about the causes and consequences of American gun slavery that I felt a bit like the 19th-century abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, railing against an evil that seemed indomitable.
In our own time, the real root causes of our gun mayhem seem so hard for Americans to understand or even to rebut that my efforts to highlight them — especially in the Washington Monthly in 2016 and in the Atlantic, with law professor Daniel Greenwood, as well as on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC — hardly altered public perceptions.
So I left off for a while, recognizing that most of us perceive only what we're incentivized most strongly to perceive, and ignore what we're pressured and trained to ignore.
But those incentives and pressures are shifting now. Let me try again to help the perceptions and responses get ahead of what's really driving gun violence.
The most powerful immediate drivers are fairly obvious: First, the aggressive marketing and easy availability of guns, some of which shouldn't even be in any civilian hands. Second, the racial and ethnic or religious hatred that drove Dylann Roof in a Black Charleston church in 2015, Robert Bowers in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and Peyton Gendron in a Buffalo supermarket this month, among others. Third, the mentally deranged but seemingly "raceless" rage that drove Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, Stephen Paddock at a Las Vegas concert in 2017, Nikolas Cruz in Parkland in 2018 and Salvador Ramos in a Texas elementary school this month. Those are the virulent symptoms and accelerants, but not the root cause that grips millions of us so tightly and intimately that we're too numb to it to be alarmed or even to name it, let alone change it.
I'm not thinking about the evil in our divided human hearts that runs back to the Garden of Eden and to Cain's murder of Abel. I'm not even thinking mainly about American jurisprudence that has reinforced the Second Amendment and its enthusiasts. I'm thinking about the jurisprudence that, even more directly if more subtly, has expanded First Amendment protections of the commercial speech that indoctrinates us, 24/7, to embrace narrow, self-interested strategies of "self-improvement" and protection.
That kind of commercial speech, rendered ever more relentless, more intrusive and more intimate, strikes me as the main reason why we're losing our capacity and inclination to bind our sense of selfhood to our contributions to the good of the whole — to "enlightened self-interest," as Alexis de Tocqueville and others called it.
Commercial speech is degrading our public and private lives, not malevolently or conspiratorially but for the most part mindlessly. It's groping us, goosing us, titillating us, tracking us, indebting us and, sometimes, as in commercials for drugs and home-protection systems, intimidating us, bypassing our brains and hearts on its way to our lower viscera and our wallets. Even ads that are "entertaining" incentivize defensive selfishness and greed.
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