In response to the latest gun violence, racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina, several states, including South Carolina have begun at least token efforts to remove the Stars and Bars from their Capitols, flags, and licence plates. I support all these efforts. Also, Amazon, WalMart and others have removed Confederate memorabilia from their shelves. I'm less enthusiastic about these.
It's true, of course, that these items have served as badges, slogans and rallying points for racism, but they aren't the cause of racism, and making them slightly harder to obtain is hardly going to cure it. It might well have the opposite effect. Removing implicit or explicit official sanction of racist badges is one thing, but half-hearted attempts to suppress them in private use is quite another.
There is a somewhat silly debate going on about whether Dylann Roof's murder rampage was terrorism, racism, or just the actions of a troubled and deranged individual. The answer, of course, is that it was a compound of all three. Yes, he is a troubled and probably deranged individual, but racism had become his focus, and terror was its expression.
The US has made a lot of progress against racism in the last half century, but we are far from eliminating or even reducing it to minor levels. We really don't know how to eliminate it, but I'm pretty sure eliminating Confederate flags is not going to do the trick. Removing them from government institution could well help make racism even more publicly unacceptable though, and that has been one of the key weapons against racism.
Despite a vast expansion of the surveillance state, we haven't eliminated terrorism either.
The one measure that could have a major effect against all sorts of mass violence is the one that is anathema to a hard core of fanatical Americans: gun control. Despite all the evidence they insist on keeping guns available even to the craziest.