The Nuance of Gun Violence

Because of the coronavirus-caused shutdowns, March was hailed by several news sites as the first month without a school shooting since 2002. Five of the ten recorded school shootings in 2020 happened in January, before the first widespread quarantine. April, the so-called “beginning of killing season,” seemed much the same. While the decrease in headline-grabbing killings is good, merely praising this achievement ignores several important issues. To begin, it should not require a global shutdown to end school shootings. Second, gun violence affects communities whether or not school is in session.

The pandemic has highlighted the real epidemic of what gun violence looks like in the United States and the structures that allow it to persist. As Arundhati Roy said in a conversation with Haymarket Books entitled, “The Pandemic is a Portal”: “The virus has acted like an MRI or an X-ray on societies and countries. And exposed their bare-bones … It is expanding and amplifying all the weaknesses, all the injustices, all the racism, all the casteism.” As it has done throughout the world, the virus has uncovered the lack of action on gun violence concerns while also revealing to attentive observers what gun violence in America looks like outside of popular mass media narratives such as school shootings and other mass killings.

Prior to the pandemic, the greatest threat caused by gun violence in white and suburban areas may have been mass shootings like those widely highlighted by the national media. At the same time, those living in poverty were subjected to gun violence perpetrated not just by other people but also by the state. Many activists, for example, consider police brutality as a kind of gun violence. For queer individuals, gun violence manifests as targeted attacks on trans people or unpleasant living arrangements with aggressively homophobic families. Too many individuals were harmed in some manner by gun violence until COVID-19 altered everything.

While many students who protest gun violence in the setting of school shootings can isolate themselves and maintain social distance, occurrences of gun violence have grown in areas such as Dallas, Nashville, and Tucson, according to data from “The Trace of Gun Violence Archive.” When gun violence is so close to home, people can’t merely keep a social distance from it.

This highlights the fundamental issue with the way media narratives on gun violence have been told. Gun violence is, in actuality, everyday violence, as opposed to the random spattering of mass shootings that people may have gotten gruesomely acclimated to on the news. Suicides, domestic violence, homophobic and transphobic attacks, racial hate crimes, and state-sponsored violence are all examples. Most significantly, gun violence is a manifestation of capitalism’s lethal essence. Even as the pandemic persists, the systemic disease of poverty motivates gun violence by presenting individuals with difficult life-or-death decisions. As the pandemic progresses, gun violence remains the routine in impoverished places, and frontline populations are victims of what many refer to as “structural violence,” — which emerges from sheer injustices fostered by institutions that create economic disparity.

Society cannot continue to disregard what the coronavirus has brought to light. That is why it is essential to invest resources to fight for these communities and understand that a thorough identification of problems is required before fighting against them. Now is the moment for Americans to rally around the bold fantasy of a future free of gun violence and fight for it with the zeal inspired by the tragedies they witnessed during this pandemic.

In the words of Roy: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” Gun violence is just one of the issues individuals have a chance to reimagine, and it’s up to society to understand its nuances so they can create a safer future in their schools and their neighborhoods.