Weapons, violence and political extremism are on the rise. And America is at risk of disaster – sooner rather than later.
So says a longtime firearms researcher at the University of California, whose compelling report was published last week in the journal Injury Epidemiology.
“Trends in increased purchases of firearms, violence and political extremism converge to put the United States in danger of catastrophe in the coming months,” Garen Wintemute warned as he presented the report. “We have no time to waste if we want to prevent the deaths of thousands and come out with our democracy intact.”
These are powerful and disturbing words, especially from an academic researcher.
Wintemuth, 69, is the director of the California Center for the Study of Firearms Violence at the University of California, Davis. He has studied gun violence for nearly 40 years, and his research has prompted several major firearms control bills in the State Legislature.
He is also an emergency room doctor whose obsession with gun violence grew out of his constant treatment of gunshot wounds.
But does this also make him a sociologist?
“Throughout my career, I’ve been interested in a chain of events that culminates in someone walking out the door of the emergency room,” he answered my question. “How could we prevent this? I tried to understand some of the social determinants of gun purchases. “
I called several experienced political workers and asked what they thought.
“The risk of serious political violence is higher now than it has ever been in my life,” said Bob Schram, a former Democratic consultant who is director of the Center for Political Future at USC.
“We see members of Congress talking about the use of violence or justifying the January 6 uprising. This attack on the country’s Capitol was unprecedented in our modern history. And people rationalize violence. “
Dan Schnor, a former Republican strategist and professor of political science at the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, said: “As long as we convince each other that people who disagree with us are evil, the likelihood of violence will increase. The answer is not more gun control or more gun ownership…. The main issue is tolerance. “
Wintemouth told me that political polarization “is, honestly, what worries me the most.”
“Part of our new norm is demonizing the other side. If we continue to be so divided, we will not be able to move forward as a nation. We will certainly not be successful as a democracy. Democracy depends on trust. And now we have very little of that. “
The deadly mafia invasion of the Capitol was a loud volcano erupting as a result of growing political violence – or its threats – across the country.
All over the place, school board meetings have turned into an uncivilized battlefield due to curriculum related to race, COVID-19 mask and vaccination mandates. County health workers are also under threat.
“We have seen attempts to create a new type of policy in which the threat of the use of force prompts political action, which we have not seen in the country for a very long time,” said Vintemute.
“This happened in parallel with efforts to annul the electoral process by challenging the results or suppressing the vote.”
In his report, Vintemute put together a long chain of sobering analyzes, facts and statistics.
He recalled the explosive events of 2020: the pandemic, the assassination of George Floyd and the presidential election.
“People buy more firearms for protection than for all other reasons combined,” he wrote. “Purchases of firearms increased at the beginning of the year and exceeded the expected level. [and] lasted all summer. “
According to Vintemuth, arms sales are always on the rise during presidential elections because of fears that the new president will make it difficult to buy firearms.
“This time, the gun control candidate won. The surge in purchases continued … President Trump and his supporters denied losing it. Political instability followed…. Trump instigated a brutal attack on the Capitol.
“During the first nine months of 2021 … the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as political and social instability, remained dominant features of the American landscape … An unprecedented increase in the procurement of firearms … shows no signs of abating and risks becoming part of the new norm for the United States ….
“The number of gun owners is growing rapidly…. At least 20% are buying for the first time. “
Meanwhile, “by the spring of 2020, the level of violence also exceeded the expected level,” he continued. “The homicide rate has grown by 27.5% in 2020… much more than anything in the last 100 years…. In the first half of 2021, the number of homicides in major cities increased by another 16%. ”
California’s hate crime rate increased 31% last year. And racial bias crimes jumped 67%.
Moreover, “the polls paint a very dark portrait of alienation and readiness for political violence,” Wintemouth wrote.
“Many Americans have entered a world of paranoid illusions…. Almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that President Biden was elected illegally…. One in six people agree that “since things have gone so far, true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save our country.”
Wintemute concludes the report by pleading with the citizens to heal the country.
“We all have the tools to work with,” he wrote. “Each of us can publicly reject violence and say something if we see something…. Work to reduce inequality, empower and build inclusive communities. ”
We could also strengthen law enforcement to counter violent idiots. And plant lawbreakers to punish them and scare away their buddies.
Wintemute boldly says something that most people don’t like to speculate about because it’s ugly and depressing. But we must listen and open our eyes to what is happening with America.