As updates on the unspeakable mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, continue to come in, the details are as horrifying as they are horrifically familiar. Even more familiar has been the public response to these heinous crimes: empty “thoughts and prayers” and inaction from feckless politicians, and an immediate, depressing conviction among the population that nothing will change. How did we get here? How can this keep happening? How can we continue to accept the unacceptable? In this conversation for the TRNN podcast, Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez and Marc Steiner, host of The Marc Steiner Show, speak with world-renowned historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz about how mass shootings became so commonplace in the US and how America’s voracious gun culture feeds off of its settler-colonial roots.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma in a tenant farming family. She has been active in the international Indigenous movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. She is a world-renowned historian, the winner of the 2017 Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize, and she has authored and edited many books, including An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, which won the 2015 American Book Award, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, and Not “A Nation of Immigrants”: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion.
Pre-Production/Studio: Maximillian Alvarez
Post-Production: Jules Taylor
Maximillian Alvarez: Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network podcast. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us today. We are recording this podcast on Friday, May 27, just three days after yet another mass shooting. An unspeakable and unbearable national tragedy that took place in Uvalde, Texas, when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos shot and murdered 19 school children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Many others were wounded. We are also having this conversation just after the mass shooting that occurred in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, 2022 at the Tops Friendly Market store, which was a supermarket in the East side of the neighborhood. 10 Black people were murdered and three others were injured. On May 15, one day after the mass shooting in Buffalo, David Chou shot up the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, killing one person and wounding five others.
As updates on these mass shootings continue to come in, the details are as horrifying as they are horrifically familiar. Even more familiar has been the public response to these heinous crimes: Empty thoughts and prayers from feckless and ghoulish politicians and an immediate depressing conviction among the population that nothing will change, no matter how horrific the circumstances. How did we get here? How can this keep happening? How can we continue to accept the unacceptable?
In her book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, internationally acclaimed author and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “The history of public mass shootings by a lone gunman killing or wounding strangers is important to trace as they parallel the rise of the gun rights movement and ramped up militarism. This suggests that it is not only the sheer number of guns in the hands of private citizens or the lack of regulation and licensing, but also a gun culture at work along with a military culture, matters more difficult to resolve than by imposing regulations on firearms.”
To talk about these mass shootings and what we can do to stop this horror and to understand where the cancer came from and why it is so difficult to excise from our body politic, I’m honored to be joined by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz herself, who grew up in rural Oklahoma in a tenant farming family. She’s been active in the international Indigenous movement for more than four decades, and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. She is a world renowned historian, the winner of the 2017 Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize, and she has authored and edited many books, including An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, which won the 2015 American Book Award. And most recently, Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion.
And I’m also joined today by my co-host of this special edition of The Real News podcast, host of The Marc Steiner Show, Peabody Award-winning radio legend, Marc Steiner. Marc, Roxanne, thank you both so much for joining me today.
Marc Steiner: It’s a pleasure.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Thank you.
Maximillian Alvarez: There’s so much that we have to dig into, and we’re really going to be building on the important work that you did in your book, Roxanne, which I think is vital for everyone to read now more than ever. But I want to circle back to that point I made in the introduction about, it’s hard to pick a most depressing aspect to all of this, but I think I was very struck this week by just how quickly and assuredly the public reaction to this senseless and horrific murder of 19 school children and two teachers. The response was just, nothing’s going to happen. It was just complete surrender and resignation. And that, I think, is a real crisis for all of us. So I wanted to ask you both just to center us at the beginning, how are you seeing all of this? How are you thinking about this, and how do you think folks out there who are reeling from this news should focus their attention at this critical moment?
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Yeah, I think that’s true. That there’s a sense that, oh yes, again. And I don’t think we’ve had a cluster of mass shootings so close together, the 10 day period from Buffalo to Uvalde, before. And as that was beginning to get digested, the horrible Buffalo massacre in the Black community in Buffalo in a grocery store, this other one happens. So I think there’s a lot of… Some people are tuning out. I find they just don’t want to talk about it, which in a way is better than people going through these ritual talks about it. Something has to be done, this and that. And knowing the gun laws, it’s not going to happen. And if it did, it would probably fall with a Supreme Court making it unconstitutional. But I’m a little bit more optimistic because David Hogg, who’s one of the survivors of Parkland, Florida, the school shooting there in 2018, he’s very active, March For Your Lives, that group of survivors there are very active.
They had demonstrations and school walkouts all over the country yesterday. It’s not getting any publicity. It’s just because I’m in touch with him I even know about this. But obviously on the ground, it has some effect. And he has a feeling, and he’s so close to the issue and has been working tirelessly for the last four years, and has not seen much progress. He says he feels like there’s something different about this. There’s something different now. He actually said that even after Buffalo he was beginning to feel that. And he’s just out there doing it now and really trying to… So I do feel like that at least on the ground, which things have to come from, they’re not going to come from on high. They have to be pressured, politicians have to know that there are consequences if they don’t do something. And really there are no consequences for the Democrats not to do something.
So I do feel a little bit more hopeful, but very cautiously hopeful, because it’s almost so overwhelming. Reading the CNN statistics yesterday you put out, and I knew them already, but just seeing them repeated and put in forms that are even more clarifying. That in the United States, we own half the small arms in the world, [which] are in civilian hands. Half of those existing in the world. There are 800 million firearms in civilian hands around the world. And half of those are in the United States. And we’re 5% of the population. It’s not even conceivable that this could be true. But I do think we have to narrow it down and understand that only… It’s gone up. When I wrote the book, it was 33%, one third of the population owned even a single gun. Now it’s up to 40%, it has to be updated.
Unfortunately, people bought guns like crazy during the pandemic. People who’d never had a weapon before. There were lines at every gun store for people buying. Once they get in, maybe they go to buy a pistol or a shotgun, and they get talked into a high-powered rifle. Why not? Why not go for the bigger thing? So that has gone up. But it’s still important to know that 60% of the people in the country, including me, do not have a firearm, purposely. I don’t have a firearm. I used to have lots of firearms. But I don’t have a firearm. And I think that’s important because there’s a kind of tolerance for people who have weapons. There’s a kind of tolerance, they feel insecure. They feel they need self-defense. And I think there’s just not enough people who have a voice that gets to people saying firearms are not for self-defense. That’s a myth. They are offensive weapons, not defensive. You have to shoot first. If someone approaches you and they look weird, you’re not supposed to wait until they pull out their gun, you shoot them.
And then if you are paranoid, you shoot a lot of people, or your whole family. But I think it is the presence of all of these guns that have to do with mass shootings. Because only four that I can count of the major mass shootings, they put out statistics like we’ve had 250 or something mass shootings, Amy Goodman says, since this year. I don’t know how they’re counting. But the FBI counts it as four people dead in a mass shooting of strangers. It doesn’t include domestic violence or anything. So if you take just those, those that get in the newspapers and are stunning, I’ve only counted four that are ideological, that is white nationalist. It was one in El Centro, California in 1984 at a McDonald’s. All Mexican, some Mexican citizens. That’s the border town from Tijuana.
And this man had planned. He was a hoarder. He had lots of guns. He hoarded everything, food, for the apocalypses coming and moved from Ohio or somewhere, quit his job and moved with his wife in a trailer, and he had all these guns. He was living in Tijuana, moved over to El Centro, and then he shot and killed all these [people]. And he didn’t leave a note or anything, so I don’t know if he really counts. But then there’s the El Paso shooter, and of course, the Buffalo shooter, and the Mother Emmanuel, Dylann Roof, definitely very ideological left. Well, he’s still alive and still spouting his stuff. So they’re the minority, the ideological shooter. So I do think there’s the white nationalist roots of the Second Amendment and the white nationalists make up a good part of that 40%. Probably about 25% of that 40% are probably armed white nationalists in this country who are ideological. And that’s something no one hardly talks about, but we saw the presence of it. They made themselves visible. They weren’t new. They’ve been there for a long time and growing. So I think mass shootings, that it’s very simple. Guns are available.
And these last two, I think this one in Uvalde may have been a copycat of the one in Buffalo. It just seems not coincidental that each of them, or the first one, the day after he turned 18, he went to a gun shop and legally bought two high-powered weapons. And that’s exactly what the kid did in Uvalde. And I think he saw that, he didn’t pick up on the ideological part, but of that part and for his own. He sounds like he was probably disturbed. I don’t think the Buffalo guy, he’s very much an ideologue and not mentally ill. The whole mental illness thing that the NRA wants to… There are a lot of mentally ill people in the whole world who never commit a single act of violence in any way. On the contrary, they usually experience violence from others, like bipolar people and autistic people.
So I think we have to look at mass shootings as definitely a problem of gun proliferation, that laws that the states make are supposedly, there’s supposed to be more or less local laws, unless it’s crossing state boundaries and gets into the federal system of exchange, it’s local laws and state laws. But the Supreme Court, of course, can, if there’s a suit that goes to the Supreme Court, they can then decide it’s unconstitutional. So in fact, that’s what they do. In California we have these laws, and the Supreme Court is going to decide on both New York and California on the age limit. And it’s such a minor thing, but I’m almost sure they’re going to negate it. So I’m not sure. In fact, I am sure that legislation is not going to be the answer. It’s not going to happen. And even if it does, it’s going to be overthrown by this Supreme Court.
So we have to think in terms of educating the public about history. The history, and to focus in on the Second Amendment. It’s almost impossible to amend the Constitution. And to amend it, to remove that. I think the only way is.. And what I try to do is educate people on the white supremacist roots, that it was for militia settler, self-organized, self-regulated white settler militias to kill Indians and take their land, and later for slave patrols. And that is exactly what it is. And if you want to use that as your reason for having a gun, you’re acting as a white nationalist and you should be ashamed of it, of having that amendment in there. The whole Constitution is racial, white supremacists, but some of it has been amended somewhat, but that has been left as sacred.
Maximillian Alvarez: Marc, I want to toss things over to you to, again, get your initial reaction to the horrors that we’ve been watching unfold in this cluster, as Roxanne says, of shootings. So I was wondering if you could hop in and share your thoughts. And then I know that you wanted to follow up with Roxanne about that history of the Second Amendment and even how the NRA has kind of played a role in all of this. So I’ll toss things over to you.
Marc Steiner: This whole question of guns in our society is a very complex one. It’s not a simple question. And my reaction to what I saw, the more things unfold in Texas and Uvalde right now, the more horrendous they become in terms of the police response. Just let me talk about that for just a quick moment. The police response, there are now at least reports of four people who are parents who were either pepper sprayed and or handcuffed because the police weren’t doing anything to stop the shooter because of police procedure. And I think that, again, these parents are Mexican American. And like most of the parents who were in Parkland were white. Both were horrendous, just horrid situations, but nobody was handcuffed and pepper sprayed in Parkland. And I think we have to think about that as well, what happened actually at that moment in that place.
The whole question of guns in America is a very complex question. It really is. When I was in the Boy Scouts, which was many moons ago, and I was 12, I got my marksmanship merit badge shooting a 22. I’ve always shot guns and I am a gun owner. Let me put that out there. But the fact that we have half the world’s arms in the United States, 400 million guns, is absolutely absurd. Think about that. 400 million guns in this country. Half of all the guns owned on the planet earth by individual citizens are in the United States of America. So the battles are being reverted to the states. California is having stricter and stricter gun laws, and places like Texas are just opening up the floodgates to allowing people to have any gun they want almost, at any age after 18. So that’s a factor.
And so when you think about this, the 50-year ride to where we are at this moment, and to me it’s this 50 year ride. The NRA became this right-wing organization, completely right-wing organization in the early ’70s, the same time that the conservative movement, the right wing-movement was building in this country to blunt everything that people fought for from the 1930s through the early ’70s to change America. We changed a lot of laws and fought against racism and social inequality, but didn’t win the day. And so people began to fight back to take back what they thought was theirs. And that’s part of what we’re witnessing here. That’s all part of all of this. And the NRA going extreme right is part of this.
And when it comes to guns, the fastest growing segment of gun owners in America is the Black community. And I don’t mean the young kids on the street shooting each other, I’m talking about adults. The fastest growing group of people in America buying guns and owning guns and starting gun clubs is in the Black world. And that’s not a mistake, because people are arming themselves for fear of what’s coming. And that’s happening on all sides. So we are in our own arms race in this country. And I think that the mass shootings, and we define mass shootings in America in different ways, but mostly it’s if four or more people are killed, it’s a mass shooting. So however you want to define it. That’s not that important to me. But what is important is that what we’re seeing in all of this is the failure of the neoliberal world, the response of the right, guns proliferating in America.
We’re in a dangerous collision course in America with all this. And I think that is the underbelly of the beast we’re talking about. And to just conclude for a second, with what my response to Uvalde, look, I’m a father, I’m a grandfather, and I’m a great grandfather. And I remember when 9/11 happened and my youngest daughter was four years old, and she was in a daycare center in downtown Baltimore. I drove down there like a madman and left my station to grab my kid. And people were saying, you can’t come in. I said, you’re going to get out of my way. I’m going to get my kid. And I did. And that’s the same thing these parents in Uvalde had to face, but they were handcuffed and pepper sprayed when they wanted to do something to save their children. A mother actually went into the school and saved her children and came out. She broke through the police lines.
And so I just think that what we’re facing here is that we’re at a very dangerous point in our country where the right wing is highly armed. Other segments of America are arming themselves. Young working-class kids who have no hope for the future are arming themselves in the streets. If you look at it in its totality, we’re in a very dangerous moment. And I think we have to really address it in terms of the immediacy of gun laws and how you deal with gun laws in America. But we also have to delve into the larger question of what’s happening to us here. And I just think that there is no simple solution to this. I’ll leave it. Let me stop there and let you go on, Max.
Maximillian Alvarez: I really appreciate you, both of you, for sharing that. And I know that we could genuinely talk for two, three hours about this, but I don’t want to keep either of you too long and want to be gracious to our listeners. And so the main thing I would say is, if you can, you should read Roxanne’s book, Loaded, which gives a lot of this essential background and context. But I read that one quote from the chapter you wrote, Roxanne, on mass shootings, because it really struck me when you draw the correlation or the parallel development of the mass shootings over the past 30, 40 years, and increased militarism in this gun culture that you write about.
And I thought about that, because I was like, that’s really the only culture I’ve ever known in my life. I was four and five when the Gulf War happened. It’s one of my earliest memories of seeing stuff on TV. I was 13 when Columbine happened. And I don’t know, just when I think back, it feels like an uninterrupted mainstay of the country that I know. And I wanted to ask you, Roxanne, in an expurgated shortened form, where that gun culture came from, or I guess how you tackle that question in the book for folks listening?
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Yeah. It, of course it’s inherent, our settler colonialism and a hundred year vicious wars with guns against Native people to take the land after the US was independent, and preceded by taking the, it took over 150 years to just take the first 13 colonies because they fought every inch of the way to keep their land, Native people. That’s inherent, plus the horrible violence of slavery. So that is inherent, but the proliferation of guns is something new. I relate it to the white backlash to civil rights. I think that the Supreme Court decision for desegregation, to white people descended from the original people. They were totally in charge of everything. There hadn’t even been a Catholic president. All descendants from the original people. And immediately the John Birch Society formed. They’d mixed it up, the racism, the white supremacy, with anti-communism.
This first mass shooting, we had of the type that we’d become familiar with almost on a daily basis, was the Texas Tower, 1965. A former Marine shot, I think, 20 some people. He was a Marine marksman, and he definitely was mentally ill. They found with autopsy that he had a tumor on his brain. He kept telling people he had this fantasy of going up on the tower and shooting people, and nobody listened to him. But then, it was 12 years before the others began. I call it first as labor, the beginning of deindustrialization. It was what we called going postal, the post office shootings, where they’re downsizing the post office, eventually privatizing it. They didn’t really have the strong union that they came to develop, which has also been downgraded now. Then the farmers that were getting put off their land in the Plains countries, in the middle of the country, during the Reagan Era.
But most of the mass shootings in the 1980s were not school shootings at all. They were workers, in the loss of jobs, this deindustrialization. It was very much the white people who had all these great union jobs, and it was mostly white people who had them, so it was really a downgrade. So I think that, and then the rise of the militias in the 1990s and the increasing proliferation of guns, the gun laws. The last one we had was the ban on assault rifles that expired after 10 years. So that white backlash is, I think, completely related to white people arming themselves in particular. Then just this, the feeling of being in danger all the time.
But the other aspect that Kathleen Belew wrote about that’s so important is the Vietnam War, and especially the manufactured POW issue that many politicians, right-wing politicians including Reagan. It’s a lesser known thing, but that book is really important because – It is called Bring the War Home – She really goes into detail how that happened. Of course, we had the Rambo stuff and all this. So the kind of copycat that came from the culture that was developing around the POWs. So the Vietnam War and its aftermath was definitely… And the US has never won a war since, but has been at war completely every day, practically.
I can’t find a day in US history when the US has not been at war somewhere around the world, or with warships off the shores of countries, and that began right after independence. They were over in the Mediterranean, the so-called Barbary wars in Tripoli. So it’s a very militaristic nation state that is called the fiscal military state, which I think is the best description of what it is.
So we should understand that there are deeper issues than gun control and gun proliferation, or, like Marc said, explaining his relationship with them, that it’s not a problem. French farmers go out and hunt, go out with a rifle, but you don’t really need… Hunters are now buying these semi automatic weapons, and you don’t really need them. I think it’s a very poor hunter that needs anything beyond a 22-rifle. Like my dad said, you learn to shoot a squirrel from 40 feet with a 22, and then you’re a shooter. But it’s just not fair play for the animal for you to have this balance. It takes all the –
Marc Steiner: And there’s not much left to eat if you shoot an animal with an automatic weapon.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: I know. There’s nothing left to eat. But most people don’t even do it for the eating. So, yeah. I mean, that’s benign.
I think too, the mention of Black people arming themselves, I think that definitely people who live in places that are dangerous inside, they should get a shotgun. There’s no doubt about that. But that’s all you need. And really with just bird seed, you don’t really need a high-powered weapon to protect yourself from someone entering your place. A shotgun is really the best thing, because you don’t have to aim very accurately to really decommission the invader. So there’s really no excuse, I think, for people getting the semi automatic, which are made into automatic weapons very easily. There’s no reason for that, for civilians to have those guns and for there to even be armies with these weapons. But that’s another matter.
I wanted to say one other thing about Junior ROTC. It really concerns me because I never hear it, and I learned about it with the Parkland shooting. Because that shooter Nikolas Cruz, who was not Latino, but adopted by Cuban adopted parents. He was in Junior ROTC in that school. He got kicked out of the school because of his misbehavior. So he had been a year out of school, but he still lived there near the school. And he was very active in Junior ROTC. When he did the mass shooting at the Parkland school, he was wearing his ROTC, it’s a t-shirt, it’s sort of like a golf shirt with the Junior ROTC. He’d been awarded. He was one of the best shooters.
The NRA subsidizes and provides the targets, the traders and all. And these are in almost every public school in the country. So I think that that should be an issue, that these kids are being trained on very high-powered weapons. So it’s not just a little bit of target shooting, and of course they’re trying to get people to go into the army. It’s a kind of pre-training and pre-brainwashing to go into the army. So the NRA is very active in that. That’s a little known fact. I think it’s important to know that they do that. They spend their own money, and they actually deduct it on their taxes because they’re a nonprofit. So it’s pretty among other things about the NRA.
But the other thing about the NRA is, I know I hear it less now since they went bankrupt, but it was never the case that it was all about money and lobbying and buying people. It was about their mass organizing. They have chapters in every county in this country, and they’re self-regulated. They’re not regulated from the top. They get materials and stuff and they have the website. Members get discounts on things, on guns and ammunition and other things, targets.
But basically it’s a white nationalist organization now, with chapters in every county, and they call the shots on who gets elected. You cannot. Even Democrats in these, in Maine and New Hampshire and Southern states, if they get elected, they have to say, I’m a gun owner. I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment, or they don’t get elected. So that’s really important to know that it’s grassroots there. It’s not from the top. It’s not NRA boogieman buying off. I think they always spend about a 100 million dollars a year on lobbying, and that includes states and counties and everything else. That’s just peanuts compared to Shell and Exxon, the big corporations. So it’s not about money. It’s about ideology.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and with the remaining time that we have, I actually want to toss it over to you, Marc, so that you have a chance to ask Roxanne any final questions that you have. But I guess just to throw it in there before I toss it back to you, I’m wondering if we could say a bit, if we could try to crystallize all of this succinctly for folks who are wondering, why is it so hard to do something about this? I think we’ve identified three pillars here. There is like the NRA and lobbying side, which Roxanne just pointed out is maybe not as massive as people think it is, but it is very organized and dispersed throughout the country, and they’re mobilized. They’re very motivated. We know that, and that’s very effective.
There’s also the Second Amendment, as you said, and the history that you detail in your book about that. Then there’s the larger gun and militaristic culture. I think the point that you both made in the beginning is… What’s the old saying? Like, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So if you have a shit ton of guns… Roxanne, I remember in your book you even write about this, in the ’70s when you were with an organization that started arming yourselves in self-defense, you started noticing a change in yourself that you became more obsessed with your guns and you wanted to use them more. So it’s this self-perpetuating cycle of militarism that feels so embedded in American culture that it’s impossible to extract.
So I know that we’ve identified those three big pillars of this issue. But I wanted to ask if we could sort of, yeah, like for people who are wondering why does it feel like we can’t do anything about this, If we could sort of succinctly sum that up. Marc, I wanted to see if you had something you wanted to toss in here as we hit the final turn.
Marc Steiner: Yeah. I think part of the difficulty here in addressing what we have in the United States is we’ve always had this battle in the United States over states’ rights, individual liberties, and community responsibility, and federal law. We’ve always been in conflict. And they’re supposed to work in harmony, but the harmony is not working so well. What we see breaking down now is that these laws around guns are being determined by states. With the right-wing tone of the Supreme Court, they’re going to uphold states making the laws the way they want to make them. I think that is part of the dilemma that we face in terms of controlling it. Because the very first component, the basis, the component that begins it all is to control gun laws and how you are allowed to purchase guns. Who can purchase guns, who can’t, what kind of guns we can have, what guns we cannot have. That to me is what we’re having a real difficult… We can’t do that. That’s the first step in de-arming this country. I think that that’s part of the dilemma.
The other part is that… It’s really difficult for me because I am not a pessimist by nature, but what I see happening in our country now is we’re at a very dangerous point. When I mentioned the Black militias earlier, people in the Black community are arming themselves because they’re worried about white racists in this country. That’s why people are arming themselves. I think that’s the danger, is that we will allow ourselves to disintegrate to the point where that’s the response we’re going to have to each other.
So I think part of it is going to deal with gun laws, part of it is the fight for a more equitable society where the violence can begin to be ameliorated. I think that there’s no easy solution to this, but I do think that part of it is controlling the gun lobby. Part of it’s controlling the gun industry, which is huge in this country, and it’s getting bigger every day, and that’s what’s helping fuel the wars around the world as well. So all these things are interrelated and connected. I think that we are on a precipice, and we can go either way. Part of it is how we organize in this country politically to challenge the right, which, challenging that is also challenging the larger gun lobbies and gun culture in America.
Roxanne, you asked me to ask Roxanne the question here, Max, and I was thinking about this. When you think back to the late ’60s and early ’70s which is when things began to really shift and turn in this country, I think, when it came to the proliferation of weapons, that movements in this country, whether it was the Black Panthers or the American Indian Movements and many other groups in this country were also arming the same way it’s happening now because people were worried about what was to come. You were worried about what the federal government was going to do. Now people are worried about what the right wing is going to do and how well-armed and organized they are. So how do you think that plays into the political movement and how you begin to build a movement for change in this country when the reality of militias and guns is so pervasive in the country?
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Yeah, it is really complicated. And I agree, we’re going to look like a giant Lebanon of 1980 with various militias controlling different… I can imagine my street being controlled by some militia group and the next street over, another one. This is –
Marc Steiner: Yeah. Exactly. Right.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: – Really where we’re going. And that’s not a society I particularly want to live in at all, or anyone else. How do you raise children in that? That’s the state of many places in the world. So I think we’ve had, the United States has had a lot to do with creating this chaos around the world, and it’s coming home. I do think that it’s coming home and it is time for a reckoning in this country that’s not taking place. Even the little bit of what they call critical race theory, which is saying, hey, there’s a structure to this, a history to it. It’s not just people being nasty to each other on an individual basis. It’s built in. Well, that’s not allowed to be taught anymore. So even the gains we’ve made are being shut out in many places.
But I think I keep seeing these comparisons. Why can’t we do this? Why can’t we do this? Australia did, they got rid of their guns and everything. I say, yes, they’re a separate country. They’re really gun-loving people and white supremacy reigns there. It’s just like the United States, except for one factor. There’s what people forget, the Second Amendment, the only country in the world that has this right to bear arms. It is the only country in human history that has that. So we got to take it seriously. No one wants to talk about it. Australia didn’t have that. They didn’t have that barrier. No one else does.
I was interviewed by a Brit yesterday for a radio broadcast. Every time I talk to Europeans and when I go there, they want to sit down and have me explain. And you start telling them all this, and it’s a completely different view than they have of the United States because of United States propaganda around the world. It’s all fun and games and music and movies, and all that’s really, there is this culture that’s just great in the United States. But it’s hard. It’s very hard for people to understand. I think it’s hard for liberals who are mostly the people in the 60% who don’t own guns. Although they always say, hey, I’m a gun owner, to be, but there have to be limitations on it. Every politician has to say, I’m a gun owner. No other politician in the world, [Bolsonaro], these horrible, evil fascists are obsessed with guns. So we have to look the N-word, and like you say, this chaos that we’re living in and the people going for… I personally don’t think more guns is the solution.
Marc Steiner: You don’t think what’s the solution, Roxanne? What’d you think? I missed that.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: I don’t think more guns is a solution. I decided that after we armed ourselves and other groups were arming themselves, and of course the Panthers. And I think it was really Attica, the slaughter at Attica that made me rethink that we don’t have a chance against this government. We have to have a massive peace movement, massive, massive people in the streets peace movements. We were building up to that and had that and the empty nuke, and it’s just gone. There’s no other hope other than that. I don’t think we can blame the internet and social media and the distractions, because there were plenty of distractions then, and those are tools that can even be useful. But we have to, I think, really build a solid peace movement that persuades people that guns are not the answer, rather organize your community to go out and demonstrate and speak out.
I don’t think we had that on the left. I do think that the Panthers, I call it the cult of the Black Panthers that white left us in my generation. But also I think it’s passing on. I felt I’ve met some young people who idolized the Panthers, and they were very impressive. I was here in the Bay Area when they formed. I have to say that’s probably the model we had in forming our arm group. In fact, it was. But I think we have to look at this, the Panther demonstration that got the gun laws instituted, and they were protesting the gun laws that were being proposed in California, in Sacramento for the state. They were going to lose. It wasn’t clear at all that it was going to lose. But when the Panthers demonstrated, it passed unanimously and immediately, the first gun laws in California.
So I see that as a failure of that demonstration, not a success. But somehow it’s mythologized as a model, and that the problem is that guns became the center, just like it was for our group, became the center of the Panthers. They didn’t start out that way. We know there was an FBI agent, the young Japanese American who was an FBI agent who brought the guns. He was a Marine. He had been a combat Marine, and he’s the one that brought the guns in. So I think we have to really be clear about that and stop mythologizing. While we honor the Panthers for what they did and the breakthrough in Black Power, we also can see our mistakes, the mistakes that were made, because I do think there’s a lot of mythologizing. The thing is that the left’s not the problem at all, but if there’s any solution, we’re the solution. If we don’t have some kind of way of dealing with…
I really wrote that book hoping that people on the left would read it, and I think only now it’s getting through mainly because I’m just sending PDFs of the book out to everyone. If they don’t buy this book, read it for free. Some are. But it’s the hardest thing with some of my best friends. We just don’t have a conversation about it because they’re just adamant that there’s this cult of the gun on the left, and there are little militias forming and all, mostly anarchists, in Arizona. I tell them it’s just not… That’s not going to work.
Maximillian Alvarez: So that is internationally acclaimed author and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author and editor of numerous books, including An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States; as well as Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion; and of course the book we’ve been talking about today, which is called Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. We’ve also been joined by my colleague, the host of the wonderful Marc Steiner Show. Marc, Roxanne, thank you so much for chatting with us today.
Marc Steiner: Always a pleasure. Always good to see Roxanne as well.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Thank you, Max. Thank you, Marc.
Maximillian Alvarez: For everyone listening, this is Maximillian Alvarez for The Real News Network. Before you go, please head on over to therealnews.com/support, become a monthly sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you important coverage and conversations just like this. Thank you so much for listening.