The unwarranted and unconscionable killing of 20 kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut in the United States right before Christmas has once again brought to the fore the nagging issue of gun control. From all indications, and thankfully so, it appears as if this time around the matter may not be treated as another "nine-day wonder".
Visibly shaken by the incident, United States President Barak Obama has vowed to do something about it, so that, according to him, there will not be a reoccurrence of an incident of its kind under his watch. Obama's pronouncement and the widespread condemnation of the tragedy have spurred the gun debate in a manner that appears to be unprecedented.
The controversy in the US over gun control is not new. Immediately following virtually every incident of mass murders - Columbine High School, Aurora Movie Theatre, and now Newtown, among others, the gun control debate becomes recycled. The difference this time around is the number and ages of the children — all five and six-year-olds gunned down while in their classes in elementary school. The bizarre incident sent shock waves of grief and anger across the globe. The Newtown massacre may very well be the catalyst for change.
What is not usually recycled is the conversation about the historical antecedents of what I describe as the "imperialistic gun legacy" — how guns were used to subjugate weaker peoples and polities.
When the renowned Caribbean scholar, Walter Rodney, wrote his seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the issue of European gun supremacy must have been on his mind. It was its superior fire power that gave Europe the edge in its quest for world supremacy, and for Africa, its Achilles heel. That history is now fairly well documented.
Interestingly enough, the invention of the machine gun coincided with the "Scramble for Africa", also referred to as the "Partition of Africa". In 1884 at a conference in Berlin, Germany, seven European countries - Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Belgium, took the collective decision to colonise the so-called "New World", although the term "New Europe" seems manifestly more appropriate to me.
By the time the conference was over, all of Africa, with the exception of Liberia (a de facto US Protectorate) and Ethiopia (though briefly occupied by Italy) had been divided up among the group I call the "G7" (Gang of 7).
It was the Industrial Revolution that paved the way for European expansion and annexation. Not only did free and forced labour enrich much of Europe, it led to unprecedented levels of technological advancement — perhaps the most critical being the invention of the machine gun. More profound is that the "Gang of 7" arrived at a consensus that one of them would sell guns to Africa. It was a collectively agreed upon moratorium.
Africa was no match for the then "weapons of mass destruction", even while Africa experienced the Stone Age much earlier than Europe and could easily have designed the same type of killing machines.
African polities such as the Zulu Kingdom fought to the bitter end, using whatever inferior and outdated instruments of combat were available to them. Despite the outstanding displays of bravery and resistance mounted by groups like the Zulus, they would be defeated in the end by the Gatlin gun.
Hand in hand with the gun went the Bible, best described by the phrase, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition". The gun along with the manipulated word of God became the most effective tools of enslavement and colonisation.
It is therefore not surprising to me that those Americans who support the proliferation of guns describe themselves as people of God. So did the slave owners and colonisers. In fact the early architects of white supremacy went further. The effective and accepted argument embodied in the philosophy of "Manifest Destiny", was that Americans had the God-given right to conquer weaker peoples. Naturally to achieve that, superior military power was, and I dare say, still is necessary and desirable for certain elements within the American gun lobby.
It boggles my mind that anybody, let alone Christians, could support the wholesale purchase and use of military-style semi-automatic weapons like the one used by the Newtown killer. Instead of working to disarm mankind of those killing machines, there are those who are saying that more guns, not less, will make the world safer. Really?
Of course, we here at home have our own gun story. Jamaica's weapon of choice is the gun, and we have a lot of them. It is also interesting that gunmen in Jamaican also travel with their Bibles.
When all is said and done, the debate about gun control is really one about "the powerful and the powerless". Those individuals and countries with the greatest fire power are convinced of their superiority, and it doesn't seem to matter if kindergarteners are the ones on the front line.
Instead of working toward disarmament, the call now is to arm teachers. It's going to be interesting to see what the American President will do.