The front page in today’s Charleston, S. C.’s hometown paper:
It’s a little hard to read, but the sticker that partly obscures the headline about a mass shooting advertises the latest deal at a local gun store. “$30 GETS YOU EVERYTHING” — all the goodies needed to have a fine time with your new weapon.
Race, terror, the long history of attacking African American leaders, institutions and anyone else at hand in support of white supremacy, all the evils that run like a river through American history dominate the coverage of the massacre at Emanuel A. M. E, and they should. This is an atrocity bred in the bone of the American idea, as Jelani Cobb writes:*
For black Christians, the word “sanctuary” had a second set of implications. The spiritual aims of worship were paired with the distinctly secular necessity of a place in which not just common faith but common humanity could be taken for granted. No matter the coming details about the shooting in Charleston, it seems almost inescapable that the assault on a single black church is an inadvertent affirmation of the need for an entire denomination of them.
I don’t want to distract from the core, essential truth: racial disparity, cruelty administered on racial grounds, systematic discrimination based on race remain at the center of US life, and we need to say that out loud and do what we can about it every damn day.
But at the same time, as Cobb also writes,
We periodically mourn the deaths of a group of Americans who die at the hands of another armed American. We periodically witness racial injustices that inspire anger in the streets. And sometimes we witness both. This is, quite simply, how we now live.
We have a problem with guns. It isn’t going away. You can dig through the twitter streams and comment threads as I have, but you already know what you’ll find. For too many Americans, the solution to our gun problem is obvious: the answer to a bad shooter in church are good ones. If only those at prayer had been packing, Dylann Roof wouldn’t have been able to kill more than three or four before taking a couple of hundred grains of lead to the throat in return fire. If only…
The ammosexual defense of their kink is predictable and almost certainly incorrigible. Driven (and heavily armed) that’s a view that’s managed to hold political sway over the mushy majority for whom the notion the the liberty of the gun-sniffing few outweighs the freedom of the rest of us to assemble, travel, speak without fear of suppressing fire. What drives that is, at least in part, the normalization of gun fetishization. Which is what you see above. And is what must be shamed out of the public square.
The Charleston Post and Courier has apologized on its Facebook page for the sticker, calling it “a deeply regrettable coincidence.” Forgive me if I don’t take that statement in the manner its author may have intended. It’s not the coincidence that’s regrettable. It’s the deeper implication behind the juxtaposition. Just in case its readers may have missed the contingency of that mea sorta culpa, there’s the phrase that followed the paper’s regrets:
We apologize to those who were offended.
“To those who were offended.” How about to the human race. How about to the nine folks praying at church last night — except, of course, they can’t because the guns that come with whatever gaudy deal (here’s a perfect gift for your 21 year old! A precision machine designed to deal death in quantity!) have in yesterday’s employment ended those nine souls, took their lives and everything they might ever have been or done.** How about to the families of those gone, then — except what will you say. “Sorry we advertised more death with the news of the deaths of your loved ones!”
I don’t mean to single out the Post and Courier — and especially not the folks writing and editing it, who have no control over what the business side does. But it’s just so damn telling. As long as guns are just fit fodder for the daily special we’re doomed to repeat this miserable charade over and over again, mourning yet more victims while doing absolutely f**k all to honor their memory in any way that may lessen the odds of it happening again.
*See also Charles Pierce, marrying his gift for language and his capacity for righteous rage in this piece.
**And yeah, I’m channelling (read, clumsily paraphrasing) that Clint Eastwood speech from The Unforgiven here.
Image: Karlis Padegs, Madonna with a Machine Gun, 1932.