The Missing Link in the Gun Debate
Greta Zarro -
America is up in arms about guns. If last month’s “March for Our Lives,” which attracted over one million marchers nationwide, is any indication, we’ve got a serious problem with gun violence, and people are fired up about it.
But what’s not being talked about in the mainstream media, or even by the organizers and participants in the March for Our Lives movement, is the link between the culture of gun violence and the culture of war, or militarism, in this nation. Nik Cruz, the now infamous Parkland, FL shooter, was taught how to shoot a lethal weapon in the very school that he later targeted in the heart-breaking Valentine’s Day Massacre. Yes, that’s right; our children are trained as shooters in their school cafeterias, as part of the U.S. military’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) marksmanship program.
Nearly 2,000 U.S. high schools have such JROTC marksmanship programs, which are taxpayer-funded and rubber-stamped by Congress. Cafeterias are transformed into firing ranges, where children, as young as 13 years old, learn how to kill. The day that Nik Cruz opened fire on his classmates, he proudly wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the letters “JROTC.” JROTC's motto? "Motivating Young People to Be Better Citizens." By training them to wield a gun?
Perhaps what’s key above all, however, is that JROTC, and U.S. militarism as a whole, is embedded in our sociocultural framework as Americans, so much so that to question it is to cast doubt on one’s patriotic allegiance to this nation.
I want to know why America isn’t marching against the military’s marksmanship programs. I want to know why millions aren’t knocking on their representatives’ doors and refusing to pay their taxes, until congressionally-approved firing ranges are removed from schools. Meanwhile, military recruiters hobnob with students during lunch break, then train them how to shoot in that same cafeteria and lure them to enlist. No doubt, the military’s pitch is slick, and economically enticing. That is, until the trainees turn on their classmates and teachers.
Perhaps what’s key above all, however, is that JROTC, and U.S. militarism as a whole, is embedded in our sociocultural framework as Americans, so much so that to question it is to cast doubt on one’s patriotic allegiance to this nation. To me, this explains why the Nik Cruz JROTC connection is not even an option on the table in the dialogue about gun violence. Why, at last month’s March for Our Lives in D.C., when my colleagues held up signs about the JROTC marksmanship program, marchers nodded in approval and bragged that they were JROTC trained.
The culture of war is pervasive in our society, through military-funded Hollywood films and video games, the militarization of the police, and JROTC and ROTC programs in our schools. The Pentagon receives the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all of our children, unless parents tell their children’s schools to opt them out. Nearly all of us are culpable, wittingly or unwittingly, in supporting the spread of U.S. militarism through our silent complicity and our tax dollars.
The average mass shooter in this country is, by and large, an American male with a history of mental illness, criminal charges, or illicit substance abuse, according to a recently released March 2018 report by the U.S. Secret Services. He is not an ISIS terrorist or Al-Qaeda plotter. In fact, findings show that, above any ideology, mass attackers are most often motivated by a personal vendetta. What the Secret Services report does not talk about, however, is the disproportionate number of mass attackers who have been trained by the U.S. military. While veterans account for 13% of the the adult population, the data shows that more than 1/3 of adult perpetrators of the 43 worst mass killings between 1984 and 2006 had been in the U.S. military. Further, a 2015 study in the Annals of Epidemiology found that veterans kill themselves at a rate 50% higher than their civilian counterparts. This speaks volumes about the damaging psychological impact of war, and, I would argue, the deleterious potential of the warlike “us vs. them” mentality that JROTC and ROTC programs instill in the minds of developing youth, not to mention the very real marksmanship skills that they teach.
While military recruits with access to a gun pose a risk to Americans at home, meanwhile, our soldiers abroad are not much more effective at policing the world.
While military recruits with access to a gun pose a risk to Americans at home, meanwhile, our soldiers abroad are not much more effective at policing the world. As military spending has skyrocketed in recent decades, now accounting for over fifty percent of U.S. federal discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project, so has terrorism. Despite our country’s endless state of military “interventions” in other nations, the Global Terrorism Index in fact records a steady increase in terrorist attacks from the beginning of our “war on terror” in 2001 to the present. Federal intelligence analysts and retired officers admit that U.S. occupations generate more hatred, resentment, and blowback than they prevent. According to a declassified intelligence report on the war on Iraq, “despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaida, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in numbers and in geographic reach.” With the U.S. government spending a combined $1 trillion annually on war and preparations for war, including the stationing of troops at over 800 bases worldwide, there is little left of the public purse to spend on domestic necessities. The American Society of Civil Engineers ranks U.S. infrastructure as a D+. We rank 4th in the world for wealth inequality, according to the OECD. U.S. infant mortality rates are the highest in the developed world, according to UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. Communities across the nation lack access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation, a UN human right that the U.S. fails to recognize. Forty million Americans live in poverty. Given this lack of a basic social safety net, is it any wonder that people enlist in the armed forces for economic relief and a supposed sense of purpose, grounded in our nation’s history of associating military service with heroism?
If we want to prevent the next mass shooting, we need to stop fueling the culture of violence and militarism, and that starts with ending JROTC marksmanship programs in our schools.