‘We don’t want your thoughts and prayers’

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US Students walked out of class in March.Pic: fibonacciblue/Flickr

On 20 April, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, students throughout the US will walk out of school again to demand action over gun control. On 14 March thousands left their classes together at 10am. Then on 24 March they took the fight to the White House.

The movement that has burst onto the stage is militant, informed, and shaped by previous struggles. The last walkout was called by the Women’s March youth branch.

In Atlanta students took the knee in scenes reminiscent of NFL athletes protesting racist state violence. High school student Kenidra Woods said, “We face injustice as black people and I’m afraid because my brother has had encounters with police.”

Even before this movement there has been a heightened level of protest during the last year — over attacks on women, Muslims and immigration, trans people, the environment and more.

People are getting a sense of their own power to disrupt the dominant and repetitive narrative, especially through what has become a call to arms of a different kind: “We don’t want your thoughts and prayers.”

The mass marketing of guns was developed in the wake of the Civil War to keep weapons manufacturers afloat and ready for future military adventures. Racism played its part in gun culture back then too. In the 1870s the Winchester Model 66 was advertised as perfect for “Indian, bear or buffalo hunting”.

In the early part of the 20th century, fears were preyed on over race riots and communists to sell more guns. In the latter part there was a more generalised push for an individualised ethos in society which accompanied neoliberalism.

In the 1970s a hardline group took over the National Rifle Association (NRA), turning it into the conservative political force that it is now.

Today the US has enough guns in circulation for every child and adult to have one, though in fact ownership is concentrated in fewer hands — some 30 percent of adult Americans own a gun.

The movement is gaining ground; winning mild reforms in Florida, making some companies sever ties with the NRA. There is a range of views on demands. Most prominent is the restriction of types of gun sold and who to.

Yet most calls for “gun control” don’t touch those responsible for state-sanctioned violence or those who profit from it. Between 2010 and 2016 the police shot over 4,000 people. And, as Sean Larson writes on socialistworker.org, the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 “gives firearm manufacturers and sellers near immunity from lawsuits when their weapons are used in crimes”.

To go beyond superficial change — and to really “end the violence” — means developing demands that attack the militarised society and economic system which profit from and thrive on death.