I am often asked by my outsider friends how tranquil life must be in this small town of mine. Though I wish I could say everything is all rainbows and unicorns, the truth is that this town, like any big city in the United States, is filled with people who worry that their young ones might take the path of violence, or else become victims of others who do the same. Of course, violence here is not on the same scale as in the cities, but nevertheless, street violence has increased throughout all parts of Biloxi, and the public outcry has been through the roof these past few years. Many residents initially believed these crimes were only related to poverty, and to be sure, they are definitely disproportionately affecting the children of workers. But as the numbers increased, it became evident that these effects were being felt across the board. Teens are no longer even able to attend gatherings without the fear that some gang violence will take place and put their own lives in jeopardy.
Just last summer, a young girl attended a party that was described as “highly secured.” Shortly after the party began, she was shot, and had to be rushed to New Orleans by helicopter for medical treatment. She endured several dreadful months, fighting for her life in the hospital, while her family back home sought justice on her behalf. Luckily, she is now stable and recovering. However, the biggest injury to her person was not the bullet, now permanently lodged in her skull, but the trauma that she has been forced to endure. Though not the first or last case of teen injury due to gang violence in Biloxi, it certainly caught everyone by surprise. Now, teens are afraid to host any social events, fearing that rival gangs might show up and cause the usual scenes of violence and chaos.
The question of the century, or at least the one that has been on my mind ever since, is this: How are teens getting access to guns, and why are we not enforcing more regulations to ensure the safety of the people? Short answer: this is the South. Here, maybe more deeply than elsewhere in the country, guns, rifles, revolvers, all of these, are deeply ingrained in the culture. Such a culture poisons young adults and teenagers. Products of a decadent capitalist society, they are turned from victims to perpetrators. This is not only a question of gun control, a longstanding issue in the United States for years. It is a reflection of a system that cultivates rotten values and standards, that instills violence and hatred starting at childhood.
But even if the culture here insists on worshiping firearms, why has the government not done anything to meaningfully curb gun-violence? After all, most of the teen shootings in my area are gang affiliated. The government fails to fund programs to assist areas with high poverty and crime rates, support education, after-school programs, and strengthen gun purchasing requirements. If they are kept occupied with after-school or work activities, the young population will be less inclined to turn to gangs and more likely to focus on advancing their future. Even general policies raising basic requirements, restricting the number of firearms an individual can have, increasing the age limit, and conducting thorough background checks, could reduce the number of firearms in the hands of youth.
Of course, the government would never actually implement any of these policies, as none of them are beneficial for the makers and sellers of firearms. After all, if consumer access to weapons is restricted and if the gang violence that drives demand for guns is reduced, it would result in fewer opportunities for these companies to sell their products, and thus to obtain profits. So nothing is done, and what should be a crisis for the government to address and eliminate is instead treated as yet another opportunity for the monopolists and their lobbyists in the National Rifle Association (NRA) to make more money selling weapons to the gangs and their victims. These criminal structures are supported by an extraordinary amount of weapons that translates into millions of dollars per year. At the end of the day, everything the government does is fundamentally focused on keeping the economy growing, which means funneling ever-more wealth into the hands of these monopolies, regardless of the consequences.
In the end, it is the state who has blood on its hands and the innocent who are made to pay the ultimate price. Even in our small Biloxi and the surrounding areas, women have to carry small self-defense weapons, such as pepper spray, out of fear that a dangerous situation might arise from which they would need to protect themselves and escape. Some women feel entirely defenseless, especially after witnessing that most mass shooters are men. And this does not only apply to women and children. Here in the South, it is common to see at least two men carrying around firearms for their own “self-defense,” as if they, too, are afraid of potential altercations with other men who might also have guns.
It must be said that both the Democratic and Republican Parties are at fault for the escalation of this crisis. A Republican president enters and exits, then a Democrat president enters and exits, rinse and repeat, and all the while the crime rates remain. Both collect their contributions from the arms lobby and military-industrial complex and set up a fight at the ballot box over who wants and does not want gun control. In reality, the policies of both reproduce and exacerbate all the causes of gun violence. It is not even a question of apathy, both parties benefit from the problem by the simple fact that most Americans vote out of fear. Voters who have succumbed to dread and desperation will elect anyone who claims to offer a solution to their woes, even a solution that they know deep down will never manifest.
The mother who works three jobs to ensure her children stay in school and avoid making the same mistakes she did. The parents who enroll their baby in daycare, even though they cannot afford it, just to ensure their child is in good hands. The older sister who drops out of school to care for her younger siblings, as if they were her own offspring, because mom works until midnight every day. These are the people that the government is failing, that capitalism is failing.
Who is the future: this rotten system, or our children? This is not an answer I can give you, it can only be found out through the daily organized struggle of students and youth, in the schools and in our neighborhoods, to build a life and society free from violence and exploitation.