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  • Editorial CommentShooting
  • E.J. Westlake

I decided I wanted to be part of the editorial team of Theatre Journal after the 2016 election. I felt a sense of urgency as I continued to read reports of “alternative facts,” and I was alarmed at a deepening climate crisis along with a crumbling infrastructure that led to the poisoning of the city of Flint. The Pulse Nightclub shooting had happened that year, followed by the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017. Stoneman Douglas High School followed just as I began thinking about my first special issue.

That year, I heard Meredith Conti’s paper at ATHE on the young student activists who survived the Stoneman Douglas shooting. That essay, partly reproduced in the “Post-fact Performance” special issue, described the conspiracy theory suggesting that the victims are “crisis actors.” These theories suggest that none of these devastating events are real, but that they are staged for the purpose of controlling public opinion about a range of issues, including guns. The reasoning goes that the government (or rather, a shadow government) stages these to make people believe there is a problem with gun violence as a pretext for disarming the populace.

I began to think about gun culture in the United States, particularly as we have the distinction of having a gun for every human being. And although the United States is not the only country where mass shootings occur, the rate here far exceeds that of any other nation. There is a reason gun ownership is so staggeringly high in the country. One is an active and powerful gun lobby. Indeed, the National Rifle Association continually reacts to mass shootings in schools with a call for armed guards in schools or handgun training for teachers. The NRA’s influence in US politics means that legislators are hard-pressed to pass any meaningful gun reform. And while the NRA quickly defended the “law-abiding citizens” of the Waco and Ruby Ridge raids against “jack-booted government thugs,” historian Carol Anderson notes that it was conspicuously silent about the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Anderson’s book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, builds upon the work of Carl T. Bogus’s 1998 article in the UC Davis Law Review, tracing US gun culture and the enshrinement of the Second Amendment to slavery. Anderson cites archival research that suggests that although only half of US households owned guns during colonial times, the number rises to over 80 percent among plantation owners. Fearful that Northern states would undermine the planters’ mechanism to put down slave rebellions, Southern representatives pressured James Madison to include language in the Bill of Rights that guaranteed state control over armed militias. Additionally, states passed laws ensuring that Black people, free or slave, would never own guns themselves. Said Anderson in an NPR interview: “One of the things that I argue throughout this book is that it is just being Black that is the threat. And so when you mix that being Black as the threat with bearing arms, it’s an exponential fear.” Indeed, the US has a gun problem—but, more significantly, it has a white supremacy problem.

The essays in this special issue all address shooting within a wide range of contexts, from Elise Morrison’s examination of virtual shooting to a study of the weapons training of San Diego police in Patrick Anderson’s essay. Examinations of white supremacy [End Page xi] underlie each. We begin with La Donna Forsgren’s “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: ‘Suicide,’ Black Gun Ownership, and Restoring Black Masculinity on Black Arts Movement Stages.” Forsgren discusses several plays written as part of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s, with special attention to plays written by women: Sonia Sanchez, Lola E. Jones, and Carol Freeman. Beginning with an analysis of Amiri Baraka’s one-act Arm Yourself, Or Harm Yourself (1967), she notes that “many Black activists—including members of the Black Panther Party—encouraged Black male gun ownership as an essential step toward reclaiming their ‘lost’ manhood or kingdom. Baraka’s formulations tap into Black Panther Party imagery and rhetorical strategies, conceptualizing...


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