Capitalism's Mass Shooting Problem

Gun Control Will Not Fix Our Inherent Social Problems

Nathaniel Sullivan
Feb 25 2018, 3:02pm

The story is too familiar: an armed American man walks into a theatre, a school, or a mall, and commits a murderous, seemingly senseless rampage. The public reaction is confusion, shame, and blame. The National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers, politicians, the media, secularism, and the government itself are at least partly responsible, and Americans expect such culprits to be “part of the solution”, for no other society holds individualism as sacred as the United States while professing the institutions and currents of society must save the individual from himself.

It is also believed that the difference between you or I and the mass shooter is mental and emotional. Some will say depression, mood disorders, drug abuse, or perhaps autism are factors. If such a correlation existed, we might expect many more mass shootings considering millions of Americans suffer from mental illness (including addiction). But the majority of violence committed in the United States is not being committed by people regarded as mentally ill, and those with a mental health diagnosis are statistically much more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be perpetrators of violence.

Others see society itself as sick and thus producing sick individuals. Such people usually take up the same tired and ridiculous moral crusades against video games, contemporary music, or secularism. Nowhere are the material conditions and social forces of society examined.

Socialists start with the material conditions. The relation between people and the forces of production, and how people internalize the contradictions of the system, leads to outbursts of destructive violence. The mass shooter, rather than engaging in self-destructive behavior, expresses violence against society itself - the contradictions of the system violently grinding together like tectonic plates.

Socialists see the sordid social order. Each person is given many social roles by society's overarching ideology - each person expected to be a consumer, worker, student, and voter. Family and gender roles – confusing and antiquated concepts of what it means to be a good man or a good spouse - are imposed upon each of us at some basic level.

Failing to live up to the demands of our many social roles can be internalized as a personal failure or externalized as the failure of society. In any case, obscene violence can result if a person identifies too strongly with any of the broken and backward social roles handed to them. It is no surprise then that men - who society demands are capable and prepared to use violence in defense of capital - are the majority of mass shooters.

Socialists consider the prevailing economic and social order immoral and violent. We believe the real problem is the violence inherent within capitalism. The illusion of radical individualism which nourishes the American spirit disintegrates when we recognize that the individual may have some degree of “liberty”, “power”, and “mobility”, but is feeble, chained and stationary compared to the freedom and power enjoyed by big capital. Mass shootings in America are often the perpetrator's blind rage against the perceived order and an attempt to claim its promises – power and liberty to the individual – with its methods – violence against others and unshackling one's self from the most basic moral duties.

But socialists believe that many gun control measures will not solve the looming problem and would disempower the working class, the same working class who, if armed and conscious, could dismantle this system built, spread, and sustained by violence.