Gun Violence is a Product
Gun violence is not a phenomenon. It’s a product. And in the United States, dead bodies bring in big dollars.
It costs less to kill someone with a gun than it costs to buy a suit and a tie. A decent 9mm will cost you about $250 from your local black murder retailer. You can find one on the streets or through your local police station for much cheaper. Or, you can find your local gun traffickera, and they’ll hook you up with a great deal. Business is booming. It’s always open season. There is no shortage of consumers shelling out cash to buy black murder.
The domestic murder market in the United States is the largest in the world. In fact, 82% of all firearm homicides in the world occur in the United States. A person is 25 times more likely to be shot in the United States than in any other first world nation.
And overwhelmingly, people buy guns to murder black people.
According to the American Council on Science and Health, “Compared to the national average, the homicide rate was 54% lower for whites, 14% lower for Hispanics, and 267% higher for blacks. Put another way, the homicide rate among African-Americans is nearly quadruple that of the national average.” Gun homicides account for over 70% of these deaths.
A black body is 10 times more likely to be killed with a gun than a white body. Black bodies in poor black neighborhoods segregated from their more affluent and skin privileged counterparts have the largest targets on their backs. And black bodies are 16 times more likely to catch a non-fatal bullet than white bodies. And while black bodies comprise only 13–15% of the population, 31% of the people shot by police are black. Black bodies are consumed at the highest levels. But brown bodies, disabled bodies and poor bodies are also sought after commodities.
Manufacturers, dealers, and traffickers sell the murder, and both criminals and law enforcement alike are buying. In bulk. And business is booming. In fact, there has been a dramatic increase in consumption since 2014, and the gun violence industry couldn’t be happier. They worked especially hard to make that happen.
Creating a Free Market for Gun Violence
The gun violence industry and its leaders make billions distributing dead bodies. They know their markets. They cater to them directly. They do whatever it takes to prevent barriers to access. And they have diversified their channels to cater to varying demands of consumers looking to kill black people.
Their 5 most profitable domestic murder markets are as follows:
1. People that commit suicide
2. People that kill because they feel threatened
3. People that kill because it makes them feel powerful
4. People that murder just because they have the opportunity to do so
5. People that kill on the job
People involved in the national gun violence debate often approach these different groups of people as little more than demographic characteristics of people that commit homicide, the gun industry approaches each as a specific market. They design their marketing and distribution channels to cater to these branches of consumers, and they work the political system to remove any and all barriers to the diffusion of their products. And they tailor their efforts to meet the specific needs of every type of murder consumer — especially customers buying dead black bodies. Each category of consumer, then, should be analyzed as part of a market. Let’s start from the bottom.
5. The Professional Murder Market
Professional murders fall into 2 categories: legal and criminalized. Participants in both legal and illegal fields where gun violence and murder are all part of the job earn their livings and their place in their communities as a result of their professions. Law enforcement officers are part of the legal murder market. Drug dealers and gang members are part of the criminalized murder market.
Legal Murders: Law Enforcement Officers
40% of the gun violence industry’s revenue comes from law enforcement and military contracts. And the most profitable peddlers in this sector of the murder economy are Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Beretta, and Ruger.
Black men between the ages of 15 and 34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be gunned down by law enforcement that year. In 2016, the guns of law enforcement officers were used to kill 1093 people. 266 of them were black. Among them were Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. And of the close to 1100 police involved killings in 2016, only 13 officers ever saw a courtroom. Not one conviction was secured.
When law enforcement purchases a gun, they also purchase a get-out-of-jail-free card. Or to be more accurate, they receive a never-see-a-courtroom card.
In exchange for lucrative gun contracts, the gun violence industry keeps its lawyers and the courts active in efforts to ensure that consumers in the professional murder market are allowed to kill as many people as they want to — and get away with it.
The first line of defense against prosecution for law enforcement came, oddly enough, out of the Watergate scandal. Two Supreme Court rulings in relation to Watergate affirmed that there were people above the law. The SCOTUS rulings in the case of Nixon v Fitzgerald (1982), the Court affirmed that the president has absolute immunity from civil damages, and that criminal damages were only recoverable through acts of Congress. In the case of Harlow vs. Fitzgerald (1982), the Court affirmed that certain government officials enjoyed a more limited form of immunity called qualified immunity.
Law enforcement officials enjoy qualified immunity. It protects them from the consequences of murdering black people in cold blood.
Qualified immunity is not the only protection that law enforcement officials purchase with their firearm contracts. They also buy freedom from the burdens of the 4th Amendment and the right to due process. Two Supreme Court Cases solidified this protection.
The first ruling came through Tennessee vs. Garner (1985). This case centered on the murder of a 15-year-old black child at the hands of a police officer. Garner was a suspect in a burglary. As he fled from police, an officer chased him and shot him in the back of the head. He died instantly. The father sued under the 4th Amendments right to Due Process. And he won. But this victory came at a price.
In their ruling, SCOTUS intentionally or unintentionally gave law enforcement officers permission to violate the 4th Amendment rights of citizens in certain cases. They just believed that Garner’s murder was not one of those cases.
SCOTUS held: “The Fourth Amendment, for purposes of this case, should not be construed in light of the common law rule allowing the use of whatever force is necessary to effect the arrest of a fleeing felon….
While burglary is a serious crime, the officer in this case could not reasonably have believed that the suspect — young, slight, and unarmed — posed any threat. Nor does the fact that an unarmed suspect has broken into a dwelling at night automatically mean he is dangerous.”
Practically, law enforcement officers interpreted this to mean that they could violate a citizen’s 4th Amendment right so long as they built a case (fictional or nonfictional) that they had probable cause to do so. For example, a young black child holding a toy gun (Tamir Rice) can be murdered by law enforcement or a black man holding a cell phone (Stephon Clark) can be gunned down when an officer pretends they thought an actual gun was in play and their lives were in danger.
The gun violence industry was quick to capitalize off of this opportunity to expand protections for one of their largest markets. With the 4th Amendment on shaky ground, they quickly moved to topple it. And they succeeded.
The case that all but completely eliminated a citizen’s 4th Amendment rights in the face of law enforcement officers was Graham vs. Connor (1989).
This case involved a diabetic black man that was going into a medical emergency. Law enforcement officers deemed his actions to be unusual and rather than offering medical assistance, they beat him, broke his bones, and denied him medical attention.
Conservative lawyers argued that Graham’s medical emergency could be interpreted as suspicious behavior, and that the 4th Amendment right to due process should not be considered in cases where suspicious behavior is present. In a ruling that all but completely removed the 4th Amendment from the Constitution, SCOTUS agreed holding:
“All claims that law enforcement officials have used excessive force — deadly or not — in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other “seizure” of a free citizen are properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard, rather than under a substantive due process standard.”
This ruling effectively removed the right for an American citizen to be innocent until proven guilty and gave police officers the freedom to lynch black people without consequence. And it’s effective. As already described, there were no convictions for police killings committed in 2016. Overall, fewer than 1% of law enforcement officers are convicted for the murder of citizens — armed or unarmed.
Criminalized Murderers: Drug Dealers and Gang Members
People that are denied access to traditional labor markets are often forced to participate in economic systems outside of the mainstream — and outside the boundaries of legality. In other words, people forced into poverty and denied jobs in legal fields must often make money in fields that are illegal. These illegal fields do not enjoy traditional methods of problem solving like workers’ rights, legal action, mediation, or the luxuries of human resources offices. The person holding the gun is often the judge, the jury and, of course, the executioner.
While often categorized in the national dialogue as criminal behavior, the gun violence industry recognizes these fields as markets, not criminal networks. And just as they do with their legal markets, the gun violence industry expands and protects it. Their strategy is just slightly adjusted.
It would be practically impossible to create special immunities and allowances for criminal drug dealers and gang members through SCOTUS. In order to insulate the market for criminalized murderers, the gun violence industry must prevent the passage of laws that would slow the influx of guns to these criminal networks, as well as laws that allow consumers to be arrested for accessing them.
And that is exactly what they do.
For example, the majority of firearms used in crimes in cities and states with high incidences of gun violence (i.e. Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.) come from out of state. Typically, guns are trafficked from states with fewer gun control laws into states with more constraining control policies. Guns used in crimes in Chicago come from Indiana. Guns used in crimes in Philadelphia and DC often come from Virginia and Ohio. Pennsylvania also serves as an important midpoint for gun trafficking between Virginia & Ohio and New York and New Jersey.
In order to protect these markets, the gun violence industry must ensure that guns are able to cross state lines with limited interference. They must also ensure that criminals are able to access guns with limited effort. As such, they must block legislative efforts to effectively criminalize gun trafficking and prevent background checks and ID requirements.
And they are wildly successful. According to the Giffords Law Center, “No clear and effective federal statute makes gun trafficking a federal crime.” Further, while it is illegal to sell a firearm to someone “believe[d]” to be a convicted felon, “federal law only requires licensed dealers, and not unlicensed private sellers, to conduct background checks on purchasers and maintain records of sales. As a result, guns are often sold or transferred to dangerous people even though they are ineligible to purchase or possess firearms.”
Preventing universal background checks and proof of residency requirements also allows the gun violence industry to keep interstate gun trafficking channels open for their criminalized murder market.
4. The Personal Protection Murder Market
This category of consumers is available to murder in the name of self-defense. These folks may fear that their own bodies, or their property, is in danger and at any moment they may need to kill someone to protect themselves and their interests. In order to expand and protect this market of gun violence consumers, the gun industry needed to ensure that every individual that wants a gun can have one. And so they did.
Until 2008, there was no individual right for people to own guns. None. As previously reported by the Strategic Institute for Intersectional Policy, “In fact, for over 200 years district, state, and federal courts upheld the right of states and localities to regulate, restrict, and ban the possession and transportation of firearms. There was no individual right to gun ownership in the United States of America under the 2nd Amendment until Ted Cruz, the NRA and the far right decided it was time to change all that.
…In one of the most poorly crafted legal assertions in history, District of Columbia v Heller, Ted Cruz and the legal Smeagols of the far-right were able to take advantage of an appropriately conservative SCOTUS to assert that a ban on handgun possession in Washington, D.C. violated the 2nd Amendment’s right to “keep and bear arms.” And they did so by arguing that 200 years of legal precedent and scholarship all wrong because of a grammatical misunderstanding.
SCOTUS’s decision to strike down Washington D.C.’s ban on handguns gave the gun violence industry the green light to go after every handgun ban in the US. It also gave them the green light to prevent any further similar gun control legislation from being passed. Offensively and defensively, the market for individual gun ownership in every city in the United States is secure.
3. The Murder Opportunist Market
While some people are only open to committing murder while defending themselves from real or perceived threats at home, others are looking for the opportunity to use their guns to kill out in the general public. These folks are waiting for any encounter, any infraction, and perceived threat posed by another person so that they can retaliate. And the gun violence industry is happy to cater to their needs.
In order to protect this market, the gun industry must create legal pathways for them to carry weapons outside of their homes as well as legal protections for when they use them. Concealed and open carry laws allow murder opportunists to carry their weapons in public without consequence. Stand Your Ground laws allow them to use them.
A strong example of a murder opportunist that benefitted from the passage of these laws is George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman was allowed to carry a gun in public because Florida considers concealed carry to be legal. He was able to fire it because the Florida Stand Your Ground law reads:
“A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”
Trayvon was murdered for wearing a hoodie and carrying a pack of Skittles. A black child with candy is considered threatening under Florida law.
A white person is 9 times more likely to be found not guilty as a result of a stand your ground law than a black person, and by the time George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, 2 dozen states had already passed similar legislation.
2. The Domestic Violence Market
On average, the domestic violence market produces 50 dead women per month. This category of murder consumers is often mislabeled as those that commit crimes of passion. But they are better categorized as crimes of power and often involve cases of domestic violence.
In order to ensure this market remains open, the gun violence industry must ensure that people with histories of domestic violence are not prevented from purchasing firearms. They most efficient way to accomplish that is to prevent background checks and laws that make it illegal to sell firearms to domestic abusers. And so they have.
Legislation requiring universal background checks at the federal level have been successfully blocked and only 8 states have been able to pass that requirement themselves. All 50 states have passed concealed carry legislation in some form. The domestic violence market is protected and stable.
1. The Suicide Market
This market includes two types of consumer: those confronted with neurological and chemical imbalances and those challenged with seemingly insurmountable societal pressures.
According to Healthline, in addition to mental health issues, the following factors contribute to suicidal behavior:
- previous suicide attempts
- substance abuse
- family history of suicide
- poor job security or low levels of job satisfaction
- history of being abused or witnessing continuous abuse
- being diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as cancer or HIV
- being socially isolated or a victim of bullying
- being exposed to suicidal behavior
These factors are chronically experienced by people that live in poor black communities. While black individuals suffer from lower rates of suicide than their white and brown counterparts, the numbers are still large enough to provide a robust and stable clientele for the gun industry.
Keeping this market available for the gun violence industry is less direct than their other markets. This market requires pocketed politicians willing to continue the work of ghettoizing and exploiting poor people of color while simultaneously dismantling the social safety net that could act as a barrier to suicide attempts and completion. And so they have.
Market by market, the gun violence industry has worked to ensure that every consumer that wants a gun can have one — and that they can use it without consequence. Whether a consumer wants to kill for profit, self-defense, opportunity, power, or pain — the gun violence industry supplies the means and the way. And it is increasingly difficult to stop them.
What Can We Do To Combat the Gun Violence Industry?
Just as the gun industry has diversified its markets and offensively moved to protect them, gun violence control advocates must defend against these moves using the tools needed to counter each maneuver. In other words, there is no one strategy that will stop gun violence. It will take the coordination of multiple counter-strategies to curb its distribution. These counter-strategies will also need to be applied at the federal, state, and local levels.
Federal Level Counter-Strategies
1. The Supreme Court
As described above, the most powerful SCOTUS rulings expanding and protecting gun violence distributors and consumers are Washington, D.C. vs Heller and Graham vs. Connor. The first creates an individual right to gun ownership under the Second Amendment. The second allows law enforcement officers to gun down anyone they perceive as suspicious. Heller obliterated the 2nd Amendment’s Constitutional right to a well-regulated militia. Connor removed the 4th Amendment. It will take the Supreme Court to overturn these verdicts and restore the Constitutional rights of American citizens.
As the court has become increasingly conservative, though, this is unlikely to happen.
In order to successfully overturn Heller and Connor, focus must be placed on re-balancing the Supreme Court. Specifically, the seat stolen from Barack Obama and filled with Gorsuch must be retaken and the second SCOTUS seat about to be filled by Donald Trump must be emptied and reassigned. Congress has the power to impeach Supreme Court Justices. In order for gun violence control advocates to take back the Supreme Court, they must take Congress from the party supported by the gun industry and put it in the hands of Democratic officials that will act on impeachment.
Congress can also pass legislation that would allow for nation-wide background checks, bans on assault weapons, limits to concealed carry laws, registration and data infrastructures, penalties for illegal interstate purchasing and trafficking, waiting periods, and a number of other measures that an protect citizens from gun violence. As long as the GOP controls Congress, though, these measures will not pass.
The most important action an individual can take to stop gun violence at the Congressional level in the current context is to vote Democrats into the House and the Senate. Once the Democrats take control of Congress, they can pass gun violence control laws. Advocates must ensure that Democratic candidates formally commit to doing so and that their votes only go to Congressional candidates willing to confront the gun violence industry both rhetorically and legislatively.
State Level Counter-Strategies
At the state level, governors and attorneys general play the most powerful role in gun violence control. Governors can curb gun violence in the citizenry by passing statewide gun control laws while attorneys general can prosecute murder consumers in law enforcement.
While there is little to no chance that these restrictions will pass through a Republican controlled Congress, states can still protect their people by passing their own legislative controls. Among the most important moves that can be made to curb gun violence are background checks, eliminating access for dv offenders and violent criminals, proof of residence legislation, and restoration of the social safety net. A number of state Governors have signed gun violence bills into law since the mass shooting in Parkland. (Read more about them HERE.) Democratic governors in all states should be pressured to follow suit and continue to restrict the diffusion of gun violence through their states.
State attorney generals can also be more aggressive in ensuring cops that kill go to trial. Police kill an average of around 1000 people per year. Between 2005 and 2017, only 80 law enforcement officials were brought to trial for their crimes, and of these, less than 30 were convicted. It is the responsibility of the Attorney General to file charges against police officers that kill civilians — and they are not doing their jobs. Gun violence control advocates must run and elect Attorney Generals that are willing to send cops that kill to court.
According to the Giffords Law Center, there are 43 states that have enacted “broad preemption statutes” that prevent localities from passing their own gun control laws. Localities must focus their energy on pressuring state legislatures to repeal these laws. Until they do, it will be all but impossible for them to take action to protect their communities from gun violence. Again, ensuring that state officials that are willing to take action to repeal these preemptive statutes and give local legislatures the ability to combat the gun violence industry themselves.
Finally, left-wing politicians must become comfortable with playing hardball with the right-wing gun industry. Specifically, they would benefit greatly by adopting one of the GOP’s most effective strategies: Don’t ask for permission, demand a court order.
Take voting rights, for example. The GOP engages in numerous illegal and unconstitutional efforts to prevent people of color form accessing the polls. Rather than acknowledging the illegality of their actions, they strategically implement their plans and let them be carried out until (and often after) the court tells them to stop.
Gun violence control advocates could similarly encourage cities and states to pass legislation and wait for the right-wing to challenge it in court. This would create pockets of protection for the people while tying up legal and financial channels of the gun industry.
Nothing can be done to stop gun violence unless people that are willing to take action are put in positions of power to do so. The upcoming November 6 election is the best chance to do just that.
The midterm elections bring with it an opportunity to flip Congress, elect new governors and position new Attorneys General. 35 Senate seats are up for grabs. 36 states will be electing (or reelecting) Governors. 30 states will be running elections for their Attorneys General. If gun control advocates want to change the game, they have to change their player. If they want to end gun violence in their communities, they must end the gun violence industry’s control of every level of government.
Gun violence is a product. It is designed and distributed by gun manufacturers and consumed by citizens and law enforcement. Like any market, it can and should be regulated. To change the field and control the game, though, we have to control the players and make the right moves at the right time. A window of opportunity to do just that opens on November 6. It also closes that same day. Time will tell whether or not gun violence advocates seize that opportunity, or hand it over to the murder marketers — along with tens of thousands of bodies targeted for consumption.
To learn more about Dr. GS Potter and the Strategic Institute for Intersectional Policy (SIIP), visit: http://strategycampsite.org/v2/