This year the United States has repeatedly made international headlines with a series of mass shootings. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of August 6, the US has experienced 253 such incidents since the beginning of the year – an average of more than one shooting a day.
In the most recent armed massacres which took place over one bloody week, three white gunmen used military-grade weapons to kill a total of at least 34 people, mostly people of colour.
On July 28, Santino William Legan, 19, opened fire on a festival in Gilroy, California and killed three, in an act federal authorities are investigating as domestic terrorism. He is said to have white supremacist views and posted on social media about 1890 extremist book, Might Is Right.
On August 3, white supremacist Patrick Crusius, 21, killed 22 people and wounded dozens more at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas – the country’s worst massacre of Latinx people.
In his anti-immigrant and racist manifesto posted online, he decried the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and praised the architect of the New Zealand mosque massacre. On social media, Crusius favoured the pro-Trump hashtag #BuildTheWall and posted a photo in which he used his guns to spell “Trump”.
Later the same day, Connor Betts, 24, used an assault rifle capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition to kill nine people – six of them black – in Dayton, Ohio. According to the FBI, he was exploring “violent ideologies” before the shooting.
Advocates of inaction on gun control offered yet again empty “thoughts and prayers”, and insisted that America’s gun problem is the result of untreated mental illness or video games. However, research shows that only three percent of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness, who are actually far more likely to become victims of crime than perpetrators.
The US stands alone among the nations of the world as a global leader and outlier in civilian gun proliferation and mass shootings. While America should not and must not continue down this unsustainable path towards self-annihilation, it is necessary to understand how the “land of the free” became the most armed nation on Earth in the first place.
The madness of American gun violence thrives on a lethal combination of three ingredients: The first is nearly limitless access to guns, which is unparalleled in the world. The second is corruption on the part of elected officials who receive financial contributions from the arms lobby to enact irresponsibly lax gun legislation. The third factor is the unwillingness of American society to address racism, and the refusal of its leadership to confront the role of white supremacist domestic terrorism as the ultimate threat to the nation and a growing global concern.
London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International issued a travel warning for the US, advising that the government is unwilling to protect people from gun violence, and that, “People in the United States cannot reasonably expect to be free from harm – a guarantee of not being shot is impossible.”
According to the Brookings Institution, “Gun violence in America has become a national security emergency,” with the number of American lives lost to guns over the past two decades rivalling the number of US military deaths since World War I.
There are more guns than people in the US, a country accounting for five percent of the global population yet 45 percent of the world’s privately owned firearms. Firearms are the second-leading cause of death for children and teens in the US, and the leading cause for black youth, while nearly one million women have been shot by an intimate partner.
The 10 US states with the highest gun homicide rates have some of the weakest gun regulations in the nation.
Gun restrictions and federal government research on firearm violence as a public health issue have been thwarted due to the corruption of the US political system, and the power of the gun lobby which pays politicians to do its bidding.
Its current internal turmoil and alleged Russian ties notwithstanding, the National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to spend millions of dollars to promote its interests. In 2016 it gave $30m to help elect Donald Trump; in the months before the most recent mass shootings, the NRA spent $1.6m lobbying the US Congress against laws requiring stricter background checks for gun owners.
Bipartisan universal background check legislation that passed the House is stalled in the US Senate, whose majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell has received $1.26m in NRA donations.
The NRA has supported “stand your ground” deadly force laws that encourage racial violence, and opposed all gun restrictions; it has pushed for a reinterpretation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution to provide for a nearly unlimited individual right to bear arms.
This, in a nation where white men have lived and died by the gun. The gun facilitated the genocide of the Native people and the enslavement of African people, and allowed white people to steal land and seize control. Take away the gun, and society begins to chip away at the myth of white supremacy.
Americans struggle to come to terms with its original sin of racism at a time of weaponised white supremacy, when domestic terrorism with a white male face poses the greatest threat to their lives. Homegrown white nationalists account for most of the terrorist violence and most of the 850 domestic terror cases federal authorities are investigating.
Right-wing extremists are infiltrating law enforcement and the military and obtaining paramilitary training. However, in a racist, Islamophobic society in which white men dominate federal investigations and media coverage, terrorism is rendered a colour-coded endeavour which only darker people, Muslims and foreigners get involved in.
To top it all off, we now have a white nationalist president who incites racial violence against Latinx immigrants, Muslims, Jews, black people and others. Trump – who has eliminated funding to counter white supremacist violence and enacted policies to capitalise on white fear of replacement by people of colour – inspires his followers to commit acts of violence and mass murder against said groups in the streets.
As we reflect on the hundredth anniversary of the Red Summer of 1919 – when white mobs hunted and lynched hundreds of black people across America and burned down black communities – it is clear that the US has failed to address its lethal mixture of racism, corruption and arms proliferation, and as a result has reaped the whirlwind.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.