Caught in a Plague of Gun Violence (Letters from an American, April 19, 2021)Roundup
tags: guns, gun control, racism, violence, segregation
Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College and author most recently of How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America.
America today is caught in a plague of gun violence.
It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. Indeed, it always jumps out at me that the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang, was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibits automatic weapons in the U.S.
Eighty-nine years later, though, in 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. In response, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.
Our acceptance of violence today stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Today’s promotion of a certain kind of gun ownership has roots in the politics of the country since the Supreme Court handed down the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Since Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted a government that actively shaped the economy, businessmen who hated government regulation tried to rally opposition to get rid of that government. But Americans of the post-World War II years actually liked regulation of the runaway capitalism they blamed for the Great Depression.
The Brown v. Board decision changed the equation. It enabled those who opposed business regulation to reach back to a racist trope from the nation’s Reconstruction years after the Civil War. They argued that the active government after World War II was not simply regulating business. More important, they said, it was using tax dollars levied on hardworking white men to promote civil rights for undeserving Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. Civil Rights, then, promoted by the newly active federal government, were virtually socialism.
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