How many lives will be saved by flag control?

John Cassidy writes: After living in this country for almost thirty years, I confess I find it hard to write about gun massacres. They are just too familiar, and too depressing. An alienated post-adolescent, almost always white, gets a gun, or guns, and exorcises his demons by killing as many people as he can. Then follows an equally predictable media outpouring, with round-the-clock coverage on cable, lengthy accounts in the serious papers, harrowing profiles of the victims, and why-oh-why editorials aplenty. Flags are flown at half-mast. Politicians, especially those who represent the area in which the massacre occurs, say that something needs to be done about gun control.

Nothing much happens, of course, and, after a while, we move onto the next incident. Back in the nineteen-eighties and -nineties, for some reason, fast-food restaurants and post offices were the sites of some of the deadliest incidents. Then came a series of school massacres, including at Columbine, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve high-school students and a teacher, and at Virginia Tech, where Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two people before taking his own life. In Newtown, Connecticut, in December, 2012, a twenty-year-old misfit named Adam Lanza murdered twenty elementary schoolchildren, and six of their teachers, before taking his own life, too. Then there were the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado: twelve people gunned down at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Which leads us to Charleston, and the latest atrocity. In this case, of course, we have the complicating and insidious factor of racism to consider. The suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, didn’t choose the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at random. The evidence suggests that his alienation took the form of embracing white-supremacy claptrap, and that he wanted to kill black people specifically. When Roof reached Emanuel A.M.E., which is one of the oldest and best-known black churches in the country, on Wednesday evening, the members of a prayer group he encountered were so nice to him that he hesitated to go through with his “mission,” he has reportedly told police. Sadly, he managed to overcome his humane impulses.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many others, including my colleagues David Remnick and Jelani Cobb, have pointed out how this tragedy reminds us that, in Obama’s words, “We don’t have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world.” Did we really need reminding, though? The United States was partly built on racial cleansing and slavery: racism, and racist violence, have long been a part of its social fabric, as have efforts to root out these evils and eradicate them.

In the wake of last week’s events, attempts to confront racial bigotry need to be renewed and intensified, with particular attention being paid to right-wing groups that propagate hatred on the Internet and elsewhere. But the historic battle against racism and racial subordination shouldn’t distract from the other pressing policy issue at hand. On the death certificates of eighty-seven-year-old Susie Jackson, seventy-year-old Ethel Lance, and the rest of the victims, the cause of death won’t be listed as racism: it will be gunshot wounds. Roof’s despicable views didn’t kill anybody: the weapon he used was a .45 mm Glock handgun, which, according to the police, he bought at a local gun store. [Continue reading…]

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