Donald Trump may have startled Republican lawmakers with his sudden and unexpected support for background checks and other gun control measures, but a closer look at his comments to lawmakers reveals his continued adherence to the core of the pro-gun script that he has been following all along.
At his meeting with lawmakers on February 28 Trump buckled down on the idea that the real problem is the existence of gun-free zones, arguing that eliminating gun-free zones "prevent [mass shootings] from ever happening, because [the shooters] are cowards and they're not going in when they know they're going to come out dead."
The president's repeated efforts to disparage the idea of gun-free zones fit with the earlier call for arming teachers made by Trump and one of his most powerful financial and ideological backers -- the dark knight of gun violence, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre. Meanwhile, Trump has shown no interest in preventing school shootings by hiring more guidance teachers, support staff and psychologists. Trump's call for a comprehensive gun bill may have made for "captivating" television, but it rattled NRA lobbyists and initiated a tsunami of calls to their allies on Capitol Hill. Nothing surprising to this reaction. It gets worse. Chris Cox, the top lobbyist for the NRA, met with Trump a few days after Trump made his remarks and suggested in a tweet that the president had backed away from his apparent embrace of gun control.
Moreover, there is little confidence following Trump's remarks that Republicans would even remotely endorse legislation for gun control. The NRA "paid $5 million to lobbyists last year" and there is no indication that the time and money spent buying off cowardly politicians will prove ineffectual.
The deeply troubling call for eliminating gun-free zones and arming teachers comes at a time when many schools have already been militarized by the presence of police and the increasing criminalization of student behaviors. Suggesting that teachers be armed and turned into potential instruments of violence extends and normalizes the prison as a model for schools and the increasing expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline. What is being left out of this tragedy is that the number of police in schools has doubled in the last decade from 20 percent in 1996 to 43 percent today. Moreover, as more police are put in schools, more and more children are brutalized by them. There is no evidence that putting the police in schools has made them any safer. Instead, more and more young people have criminal records, are being suspended, or expelled from school, all in the name of school safety. As Sam Sinyangwe, the director of the Mapping Police Violence Project, observes:
"Trump's proposal to arm teachers suggests that the burden of gun violence and the crimes of the gun industries and politicians should fall on teachers' shoulders, foolishly imagining that armed teachers would be able to stop a killer with military grade weapons, and disregarding the risk of teachers shooting other students, staff or faculty in the midst of such a chaotic moment."
In addition, the proposal points to the insidious fact that mass shootings and gun violence have become so normalized in the United States that, as Adam Gopnik points out, "we must now be reassured that, when the person with the AR-15 comes to your kid's school, there's a plan to cope with him." Such statements make visible a society rife with the embrace of force and violence. How else to explain the fact that, at the highest levels of government, horrendous acts of violence, such as mass shootings involving school children, are now discussed in terms of containing their effects rather than eliminating their causes.
In this logic the underlying causes of mass shootings and gun killings disappear and the emphasis for dealing with such violence reproduces an act of political and moral irresponsibility in its call to curtail or contain such violence rather than address the underlying causes of it.
We live in an age in which the politics of disposability has merged with what Jeffrey St. Clair has called the spectacle of "American Carnage." The machineries of social death and misery now drive a mode of casino capitalism in which more and more people are considered waste, expendable and excess. The politics of disposability now couples with acts of extreme violence as pressure grows to exclude more and more people from the zones of visibility, justice and compassion. This is especially true for children. Violence against children in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. As Marian Wright Edelman points out,
A culture of cruelty, silence and indifference to the needs of children, built on the backs of the conservative media politicians and the gun industry and lobby, has become a central and ethically disturbing feature of American society. This is a culture of political corruption and social abandonment that "has a remarkable tolerance for child slaughter, especially the mass murders of the children of others."
This culture of violence has a long history in the United States, and has become increasingly legitimated under the Trump regime, a regime in which lawlessness and corruption combine to ignore the needs of children, the poor, elderly, sick and vulnerable. In the age of neoliberal brutality, protecting guns and profits have become more important than protecting the lives of young people. As is apparent from its policies, our society no longer views young people as a worthy social investment or the promise of a decent future. On the contrary, as John and Jean Comaroff note in Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy, instead of becoming a primary register of the dreams of a society, youth have become "creatures of our nightmares, of our social impossibilities, and our existential angst."
Viewed largely as a liability, the institutions that young people inhabit have been discarded as citadels of critical thinking and social mobility. As a result, such institutions, including schools, have become zones of social abandonment -- often modeled after prisons -- that appear to exist in a state of perpetual danger and fear, especially for students marginalized by race and class, for whom violence operates routinely and in multiple ways. Children are now defined largely as consumers, clients and fodder for the military or the school-to-prison pipeline. As a result, their safety is now enmeshed with the weaponized discourse of surveillance, and security personnel and police patrol their corridors. Horrific shootings boost the ratings and profit margins of the mainstream press, undercutting these news outlets' will and ability to use their resources to address the culture and political economy of violence that now amounts to a form of domestic terrorism in the United States.
As Brad Evans and I have argued in Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle, violence has now become the defining organizing principle for society in general. It is also worth noting that the spectacle, marketing and commodification of violence powerfully mediates how the American public both understands the relations of power that benefit from the production of violence at all levels of society and how the visceral suffering that is produced can be neutralized in a culture of immediacy and "alternative facts."
Of course, this logic is part of the politics of distraction that has become a trademark of the Trump administration. At the same time, it creates more profits for the gun industries and makes clear that most people, including children, have no safe space in the US. The message to students is clear. They are not worth protecting if they threaten the profits of the gun industries and the purses of the politicians who have become the lackeys for them. It gets worse. Rather than engage young people and other gun rights advocates in a debate about gun control, some conservatives mimic the discourse of humiliation and lies used relentlessly by Trump in claiming that "bereaved students were being manipulated by sinister forces, or even that they were paid actors."