On February 14, 2023, people leave flowers and pray as they mourn at a makeshift memorial on the campus of Michigan State University in memory of those who died in the shooting the day before. Photo: VCG
While the US continues to buy into the dual fallacy of being the “city upon a hill” and a “beacon of democracy,” the reality on the ground tells a different story – an increasingly large swathe of the American population struggling with drug abuse, growing worries around gun violence, an ever-widening economic gap between the haves and the have nots, intensifying political polarization, more arbitrary detention of and hatred toward minorities… These sustained forms of unrest not only exacerbate social inequality and worsen domestic human rights conditions, but also expose the US’ hypocrisy as it is unable to resolve its own urgent issues, yet never stops criticizing other countries’ human rights records.
The Global Times is publishing a series of articles that examine these and other sociopolitical and economic forms of chaos in the US. This is the second installment in the series.
Local people hold a placard protesting gun violence at a memorial service held to pay respects to the victims of a local shooting in Monterey Park, California, on January 23, 2023. Photo: VCG
Although she has only been in the US for a few months, Michelle Gong, a Chinese student at Michigan State University, said she had the most horrific experience of her life while in the US.
On February 13, a gunman opened fire at Michigan State University’s main campus in East Lansing, killing three people and injuring five, some severely. Two Chinese students were among the five injured, the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago said on February 15.
Gong said she was notified about the shooting via a school email in the middle of class. “Then the teacher led us to hide in a big classroom and turned all the lights off. We were hiding under the desk for four or five hours as the shooter was still wondering freely,” Gong told the Global Times.
She said she never believed just how proximal the danger of falling victim to gun violence could be to herself. “I was trembling the whole time I was under that desk and was praying every second.”
The gunman was later confirmed dead, from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound roughly four hours after the violence began, an interim deputy chief of campus police was quoted by Reuters as saying.
When the alert was lifted, everyone walked out of the campus like survivors of a massacre, Gong said, “Everyone, even the police are saying, ‘glad you are safe.'”
“I’ve been hearing about the rampant gun violence in the US for years but never thought such a thing could happen so close to me. What strikes me most, though, is that after this incident, people all acted as though nothing had happened. Can you imagine if such a thing happened in China?” Gong asked.
After this incident, the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, denounced gun violence as a “uniquely American problem.”
“We cannot keep living like this,” she said.”We’re all broken by an all too familiar feeling. Another place that is supposed to be about community and togetherness shattered by bullets and bloodshed.
The persistent tumor
The year 2022 was marked by the second-highest number of mass shootings in recent US history, according to Gallup, a US research and polling organization. The mass shootings in 2022 included two in May － at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The company also revealed a survey on February 15, indicating that in the wake of such frequent mass shootings in 2022, American dissatisfaction with US gun laws rose to a record 63 percent, the highest by 1 percentage point in Gallup’s 23-year tracking of said trend; and at the same time, satisfaction with gun policy fell by the same amount to 34 percent, the lowest number on record.
The frequent mass shooting incidents in the US show that the COVID-19 outbreak made American society much more divided with a growing number of issues such as surging inflation and declining governance, and more social problems having accumulated, so the gun has become an emotional outlet for Americans’ dissatisfaction, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.
It is like a vicious circle, more gun violence will propel more people to buy guns, and the more people buy guns, the more benefit those gun- and weapon-related corporations get, thus they are more willing to lobby the government against introducing laws against gun control, said Wei Nanzhi, a research fellow with the American Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The vicious circle has led to only one result －that is it is less possible for the US government to make any effective changes to gun control, according to Wei.
On February 16, China released a report on US gun violence. It said that in recent years, driven by its simmering domestic conflicts such as racial inequity, the US is in the middle of a massive gun-buying boom that shows no signs of abating.
The report by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the “Black Lives Matter” movement sparked a series of looting and riots, aggravating social insecurity. As a result, demand for semi-automatic pistols for self-defense surged and gun sales soared at a record pace. According to the US National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the US conducted 21 million background checks for gun purchases in 2020, a 60 percent increase from 2019 and a record high, surpassing the previous record in 2016 by 5.3 million. The sudden first-time gun ownership by millions of Americans has inevitably given rise to considerable security threats.
Two men inspect an AR-10 rifle at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center Gun Show, in Belleville, US, on January 14, 2023, after the state of Illinois passed its “assault weapons” ban into law. Photo: IC
In waking to such a precarious situation, US President Joe Biden, in June 2022, signed into law the first major gun safety legislation passed by the US Congress in nearly 30 years. The legislation includes incentives for US states to pass the so-called red flag laws that allow groups to petition courts to remove weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others; it also expands background checks on people between the ages of 18 and 21 seeking to buy a gun.
Experts also believe that any attempt by US politicians seeking to curb gun violence will be futile. “If the law really works, the number of incidences of gun violence in 2022 wouldn’t have been so shocking,” said Wei.
While US politicians made emotional pleas to end gun violence, observers questioned how much Democrats could advance the legislation or whether the topic would be used to attack opponents and stage another hypocritical political performance to woo more voters for the upcoming elections. Some observers indicated that the chance of meaningful legislation on gun control remains grim, especially when Republicans have blocked several previous attempts in conservative-leaning states to strengthen existing gun laws.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry report noted that the positions of Democrats and Republicans on gun control are becoming increasingly polarized.
“There’s no politician in the US who would bring up the idea of banning guns. Democrats call for gun control out of dual motivations, including for political show, which could mean a safe and point-adding stance to help them gain more support among voters,” Yuan Zheng, a deputy director and senior fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Whenever there is a mass shooting, Democrats bring up suggestions driven by political consideration, particularly gun-related bills which could help them woo voters as the midterms loom, Yuan noted.
Meanwhile, Republicans who also received money from gun rights groups, who stand for the interests of lobbies and the military-industry complex, have once again fallen into the whirlpool of public anger following the latest mass shooting.
The Chinese report quoted OpenSecrets statistics as saying that from 1990 to 2022, gun ownership groups contributed $69.3 million to federal and state candidates, while gun control groups contributed $51.6 million. In the 117th US Congress, 262 members have been sponsored by the US National Rifle Association, among which 19 have each received more than $1 million cumulatively. The vast majority of them are Republicans. Meanwhile, the NRA has spent greatly against pro-gun control lawmakers. All five of the lawmakers who the association has paid millions of dollars to oppose are Democrats.
Trample human rights
The rampant gun violence in the US and the US government’s inability to change the status quo has raffled the feathers of Americans. Several protests have erupted in the country in recent years. Tens of thousands of protesters rallied across the US in June to call for stricter gun laws in the wake of two mass shootings.
“If someone tells you there’s nothing we can do about gun violence beyond thoughts and prayers, remind them: Gun laws in other countries have stopped mass shootings. More guns don’t make us safer” Robert Reich, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley’s Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy, tweeted on Wednesday.
“The majority wanted change. But the decision right is on the minority. With the huge profit behind the gun violence’s vicious circle, and the power struggle, the politicians won’t come up with an easy solution,” said Wei.
The chaos in the US always results in the death of ordinary people, while the elites and politicians would usually remain safe; thus no matter how chaotic the country appears to others, the chaos never shakes the core of its facilitators, that’s why no fundamental changes have been made, Wei noted.
In 2020, firearm-related deaths reached 45,222, an average of 124 per day. Firearm injuries are one of the top five causes of death for people aged 1 to 44 in the country, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry report.
Some Chinese experts revealed the true color of human rights in the US. “So many lives have been lost, yet politicians take almost no real action but continue in empty talk. Can anyone imagine if such a high death toll were to be published in any other country?” said Li, noting that gun violence is an ironclad proof that US politicians use human life and safety as currency in their political aspirations.