The firearm pictured here is very clearly and purposefully NOT the weapon used by Omar Mateen in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history on the morning of Sunday, June 12, 2016. I chose a completely random weapon (a Smith & Wesson) from public domain images because the make and model of the firearm has almost nothing to do with the editorial, although the continuing series of tragedies we all have to live with when they are used in acts of violence is.
In a way you have Adam Bernard to thank for the fact that I’m addressing this subject, as he already tackled the recent issue of guns and violence at hip-hop concerts. Hip-Hop has in general had a lengthy love hate relationship with firearms. Plenty of songs extol their usefulness in personal defense, settling disputes with equally well armed rivals, intimidating enemies who might not risk their life over relatively trivial matters, and on occasion the visceral pleasure of holding a well crafted weapon in your hand, intimately aware of the power and status that it conveys.
At the same time hip-hop has been witness to more tragedies that I can enumerate in this editorial over my decades on planet Earth. The death of Scott LaRock in the 1980’s led to calls for change but the violence continued. The deaths of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. less than a year apart led to similar opposition to violence in rap, but the problem spanned the entire decade from Brandon ‘B-Dogg’ Mitchell (Wrecks-n-Effect) to Big L, Freaky Tah and Bugz (D-12). There was no requirement that you be a “gangsta rapper” or a gang member to be a target of the violence – just achieving any level of success seemed to make rappers and hip-hop artists a target.
Far from sporadic in any way, these incidents are so frequent that we have become numb to the guns. The tragedies continued to mount up in the 2000’s: Jam Master Jay, Soulja Slim, Mac Dre, Proof (D-12), and so on. The calls to “stop the violence” dwindled as they seemed to be ineffective in the face of the reality where everyone has the legal and constitutional right to bear arms, and little to no responsibility to NOT use them under the slightest bit of provocation. We’re still counting the dead for this decade: Magnolia Slim, M-Bone, Slim Dunkin, Lil Snupe, Tha Jacka, and at least two rappers shot and killed this year alone through June: Bankroll Fresh and Thugga. As with any decade I’ve already discussed this isn’t even CLOSE to a complete list of murdered artists. There are too many and it happens too often – one rapper after another is gunned down in an act of violence.
My point here is that hip-hop in particular and the public in general have the exact same problem — we all just want to pretend that if this is normal or expected that it’s not a problem. You can’t even talk about this issue in a rational way because it’s so polarized on both sides of the debate. Suggest to an anti-gun activist that just having a gun doesn’t mean you’ll shoot someone will lead to so much anger you wind up glad they DON’T pack heat. Suggest to a pro-gun activist that we’ve long since passed the practical purpose of “a well regulated militia” and that the right to a gun might be antiquated, and you’ll see so much anger you wind up afraid of the fact they DO carry guns. “You don’t like my right to bear arms? Try to take my gun and SEE WHAT HAPPENS.” A civilized debate shouldn’t require threats of violence, but if the current political debate in the race for President is any indication, they aren’t just threats. More often than not violence toward those we disagree with is seen as entirely justifiable. Only talk show hosts and comedians can even discuss guns in America without being attacked for it (so far).
The tragedy in Orlando isn’t going to change anything, just like the tragedies in Sandy Hook, Columbine and Luby didn’t change anything before them. The only thing I know for sure is that pro-gun advocates always tell us that we’re safer with average citizens owning guns, and that if guns are banned only criminals will have them. The problem is that Omar Mateen was by all accounts the “average citizen.” He was American born, he worked at a digital security firm, and apparently was so offended by the site of grown men kissing he plotted to murder as many people in a gay night club as he could. Everybody on both sides of the political aisle has already lined up to say whether or not it has anything to do with international and radical terrorism, but this was home grown hate committed by a man who was legally able to buy guns with a basic background check and a routine waiting period.
I’d like to think someone at some point will say “enough is enough” and we as a society will move beyond arguing about our constitutional rights and maybe discuss whether there are just simply TOO MANY GUNS in America. It’s not about whether or not you have the personal right to own a firearm, it’s about whether or not we have grown too complacent toward the idea that deaths at concerts, deaths of artists, and mass shootings at schools, malls, movie theaters and clubs is “an acceptable price to pay” in a free society. Is there a point where enough is enough or do we just go on endlessly accepting one tragedy after another? Hopefully we as a society can all collectively say “ENOUGH.”