I remember when, in about 2010, Republicans began putting pictures of assault rifles in their campaign advertisements. The response from most observers amounted to “Oh my god! That’s crossing a line.” Now every Republican from Lauren Boebert to Bo Hines brandishes an AR-15 at any opportunity. Their use of these death machines in campaigns for office in a democracy shows the extent to which violence has become a key component of the conservative mood in America. It’s also an outgrowth of one of our culture’s greatest–and sickest–pathologies.

The first surfacing of politicized assault weapons took place at roughly the same time that a severely schizophrenic young man massacred six people on a stage in Tuscon, Arizona. One of his victims, who survived but only with severe and lifelong brain damage, was a Congresswoman from the district named Gabby Giffords. The killer, Jared Loughner, had developed an obsession with Giffords and with her supposedly demonic use of language and “literacy.” In his violent derangement, he was the poster boy for red-flag laws.

But he kept his gun, and he killed with it. We all know how the story proceeds from here. Since Tuscon, mass killing in American schools, stores, movie theaters and churches has become a staple of American life. Dozens of children have been killed in three school-based mass killings alone. A functional society would take action to stifle this suppurating wound on our social body; but, of course, we do nothing but make it worse. Studies have shown that the primary policy response to mass shootings is to make gun laws more lenient, to shrink the territory on which private American citizens cannot bring weapons designed to kill people. We’ve embraced the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction for ourselves 70 years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower deemed it too risky to employ in the Cold War.

Ten years after the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the gun culture is more entrenched than it was when dozens of Connecticut children were massacred by a young fanatic with an assault rifle. The National Rifle Association spent more of its blood money electing Donald Trump than it had ever committed to a single presidential candidate. More and more states have abolished gun registries that had been established to help law enforcement solve gun crimes committed within the state in question. In Missouri, the macabre policy known as “Constitutional Carry” has led to a terrifying spike in gun deaths. Gun dealers are selling more guns than ever to private citizens, many of whom will use them to commit suicide or homicide. The pandemic was a boom year for the gun industry.

America, America, what have you become? The United States has always harbored violence in the darkest recesses of its soul. But we are no longer living in the days of Bleeding Kansas, the White Supremacy Campaign, or the Wild West. Now some of us know better than to allow a plague of gun violence to overwhelm the peace and the very lives of our people, including schoolchild after schoolchild gunned down in senseless killings. These atrocities are not limited by class, race or geography. Everyone must submit to violence so gun-worshiping racists and right-wingers can go abroad armed and dangerous.

North Carolina, of course, is by no means immune to this cultural blight. The Art Pope propaganda empire has produced chilling rhetoric since the latest explosion of gun-made carnage. In a headline so callous it shocked even such a hardened critic of the right as myself, one Pope writer queried, “Will we give up our gun rights for political expediency.” And the leader of one of Pope’s flagship organization was even more cavalier. “School shootings are unavoidable,” he blithely said. You know what? In a gun-worshiping society flatly unwilling to do anything to protect its children, he’s exactly right.

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