It’s rare to hear an author say, “Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream.” But perhaps it’s not surprising, given the topic of Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives — the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly death-by-gun of startling numbers of kids in this country — and the time he spent tracking down the stories of the young Americans who died on a single day in November 2013 in separate incidents nationwide.
After all, these days, the U.S. is a haven and a heaven for guns. It’s hard to find another nation on the planet — except in places like Syria or Afghanistan where whole populations have been thrown into desperate internecine conflicts — in which guns are so readily available. Between 1968 and 2015, the number of guns in the U.S. essentially doubled to 300 million. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, American arms manufacturers doubled their production of weapons to almost 11 million a year. And those guns have gotten more deadly as well. Military-style assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns are now the weapons of choice for mass killers and “lone wolf” terrorists in this country. In almost all cases those killers got their guns and ammo (often high-capacity magazines capable of holding 15 to 100 rounds) in perfectly legal fashion. And it’s getting easier to carry concealed weapons all the time. Missouri, for instance, recently passed a law that allows the carrying of such a weapon without either a permit or training of any sort.
Under the circumstances, no one should be surprised that kids die in remarkable numbers from guns for all kinds of reasons. Believe me, though, that makes it no less shocking when you read Younge’s unsettling and moving book. Long a journalist, columnist, and editor for the British Guardian stationed here in the U.S., today he offers us a look at the death toll from guns among our young and the way we Americans generally like to explain that toll to ourselves (or rather how we like to explain it away). Tom Engelhardt
An all-American slaughter
The youthful carnage of America’s gun culture
By Gary Younge
Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won’t be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale — 2,500 dead children annually — a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America’s gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible. Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable — not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.
So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths. The problem, it is suggested, isn’t American culture, but gang culture.
Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as “gang related,” then it can also be discounted as part of the “pathology” of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.