What the Super Bowl Parade Shooting Has to Do With the Empire of the Gun

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An injured person is aided near the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVIII victory parade on February 14, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo.  (Andrew Cabalerro-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images)

A mass shooting during the Kansas City Chiefs’ championship celebration reveals something dark about this country and the violence it exports around the world.

It is an indictment of this country that there are few things more American than a mass shooting at a Super Bowl parade. One person was killed and 21 more injured during Wednesday’s parade in Kansas City, Mo., celebrating the 2024 Super Bowl champions, the Chiefs. Eight victims are in critical care. Nine of those shot were children. The one confirmed death is Lisa Lopez-Galvan, a DJ for Kansas City radio station KKFI, who hosted a show called Taste of Tejano. Afterward, President Joe Biden said that the shooting “cuts deep in the American soul,” but that’s not quite right. This is the American soul.

It is true, as Democrats insist, that we aid and abet these shootings legislatively. Since 2017, Missouri has allowed people to carry concealed and loaded firearms in public, no need for background check or permit. The state’s governor, Mike Parson, who attended the parade and fled the gun shots, had recently signed a nullification law proclaiming that no federal gun control legislation would be adhered to in the state.

We are caught in this numbing cycle of tragedy because this country reveres the gun. And it is impossible to separate our adoration of the gun from the glorification of how this country was founded, namely the westward expansion of the United States and the conquering of Indigenous people. As sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote, “The quintessential American myth is that of the cowboy. Central to that myth are the role of violence and the reverence for the gun. This violence is embraced and romanticized.” It doesn’t take a sociologist to notice the brutal irony that this mass gun tragedy took place at the celebration of a Kansas City team adorned with a Native American name.

Indigenous team names and mascots derive from celebrating the “savagery” of Native people—as if they were jaguars, lions, or wildcats. The names praise the military prowess of Indigenous people—as well as our own prowess in defeating them. Seeing Native people as warlike is more than just racist; it provides an unspoken justification for attempting to wipe them out.

Native team names celebrate settler colonialism, and there is no settler colonialism without the gun.

The United States, unsurprisingly, is both the world’s top gun manufacturer and weapons exporter. Billions of dollars of those weapons are central to another settler colonialist project: the ethnic cleansing of Gaza. The Super Bowl, with hundreds of millions watching around the world, acted as a weapon of mass distraction for Israel as it launched an attack on Rafah in the Gaza Strip, now the most densely populated part of the most densely populated area on earth. Following the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Gaza City, more than 1 million Palestinians are crammed into refugee camps in and around Rafah. Over 100 people were reported dead in Sunday’s military incursion. While Biden furrows his brow in disapproval of Israel’s “over the top” actions, the president nonetheless keeps sending guns and other weapons to the barbaric Netanyahu government.

This is not about hostages. It’s about settlements. It’s about land. It’s about extending, as Netanyahu says openly, Israeli control “from the river to the sea.” We in the United States created the template for this kind of political morality. We exported the cowboy myth to the Holy Land: the cowboy myth of expunging the Indigenous “savages” through a savagery that the Indigenous people themselves could not replicate or perhaps even imagine. It’s the cowboy myth brought to you by Lockheed Martin instead of Paramount Pictures.

The pain and trauma brought home to Kansas City on Wednesday is heartbreaking and enraging. We lack the tools to confront it, because we have politicians who make clear after every school shooting that dead kids are a price worth paying for “freedom.” But it’s not really about freedom—it’s about fear. It’s a fear of not being armed to the hilt. It’s a fear that the violence their political forbearers glorified in building this country will be visited upon them by the “others.” It makes them gravitate to the gun like Linus to his blanket. It also makes them gravitate to Trump, to the celebration of January 6, to venerating a disturbed murderer like Kyle Rittenhouse, and to fever dreams about race war, secession, and the shooting of migrants as they try to cross a border that we drew. Instead of reparations, today’s cowboys want a reckoning. Instead of restorative justice, they want to restore ethno-nationalist supremacy. Instead of peace, they have helped create a world where we can’t celebrate as a community without living in fear. That’s as true in Missouri as it is in the Middle East. And it’s intolerable.

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