THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A TODDLER?
Above is a photo of Cathy Gifford visiting the Sandy Hook Elementary school; Cathy who was herself shot down and nearly died in another shooting.
When I was on vacation in Mexico’s interior region of Chapala Lake last December and was having a chat with a jeweller of indigenous heritage in his small shop on a Friday morning, I couldn’t help noticing the news on his small TV that was propped up in a corner. The news reporter was talking about twenty children of elementary age having been shot dead. The scene showed people looking very much in shock around a school yard and cars parked, and some policemen standing around. It apparently had just happened and the situation was quite unclear.
“What the heck is that?” The shopkeeper told me: “Yes, that’s the latest news and this shooting just happened. I think it’s in the US, Connecticut. Isn’t it terrible? A whole lot of school children were shot.”
I am referring to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown where 26 people including 20 children of ages six and seven were killed that Friday morning, December 14, 2012. Of course after such a tragedy, all are upset and even the President is offering his condolences to the school staff and the children’s parents. The shooter was a 20-year old who used a semi-automatic gun able to shoot 30 rounds without reloading taken from his mother’s collection; he first shot his mom and then went to the school. He also had two handguns on him from his mom’s collection as well.
This is not the first time such a drama took place. It seems that the US is specializing in that kind of incident. On the Tuesday before in Oregon a man opened fire in a mall, killing two people and himself. On July 20 in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman started shooting in a film theatre and shot dead 12 and wounded 58 at a movie premiere. On August 5 an army veteran opened fire in the parking lot of a Sikh house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, entered the building and killed six people injuring three, and then killed himself. On September 6, 2011 a guy entered an IHOP restaurant on Carson City, New York, and began shooting at a table with uniformed national Guard members, hitting all five plus five civilians, and a woman outside before he killed himself and left 5 dead. Everybody remembers the Columbine massacre in 1999, nine miles from Aurora.
I could go on but you get the picture.
It is remarkably difficult to get statistics on how many people are killed by guns in the US: remarkable that no agency is keeping track of it in a country were there are as many guns as people. A more complete list of these mass killings can be seen at the website http://www.nycrimecommission.org. Seemingly random mass shootings seem to be a unique feature of public life throughout history in every region of the US, according to this website. A mass shooting is defined as an incident whereby four or more people are killed.
If you live in the US, you might think that these incidents also happen in other countries. Granted, the occasional incident might occur elsewhere, but not to the extent and with this frequency that is uniquely American. Even the Mexican struggle with the drug cartels involves people in the drug trade and it does not spread the violence to innocent bystanders as a rule. Their use of violence is directed to specific targets and is often revenge or a warning for family of the targets, albeit that their guns mainly will have been obtained from the US.
A Gallup poll in 2011 indicated that 47 % of Americans keep at least one gun at home. And many of those are against any form of gun control imposed by governments. Only 26% of Americans support a ban on handguns. (www.theatlantic.com). “Guns are responsible for roughly 30,000 death a year, more than half of them are suicides.
In 2010 606 deaths, 62 of them younger than 15 died in accidental shootings.”
Any time after an extreme gun incident, reports say more people go out and buy more guns to protect themselves, while some might expect politicians to now begin calling for more gun control. The latter seems to me the appropriate response, and getting more guns seems to me counter intuitive, as I am not a bearer of guns, nor do I aspire to be. More guns would, no, must lead to more deaths, in my view.
In the US, some university councils advise their student population that they cannot guarantee their safety on campus, dispersing guidelines about what to do if they confront an active shooter.
How can it be that there is such affinity for guns and why are Americans so invested in weapons?
The article in the Atlantic magazine that I am gleaning information from makes a good point: it is too late to change, as there are almost an estimated 300 million guns (some legally owned, many not) in private hands in the US. That is an army all by itself. Each year more than 4 million new guns enter that market.
Even if a Supreme Court order would undo its ruling of 2008 that the US Second Amendment in their constitution is giving the civilians the right to own fire arms, there is no administration possible that could begin to locate those weapons. A general call to all civilians to surrender their arms, like at the end of a war, would unlikely to be successful and most likely just be ignored.
Then there are people in the US who have licences to carry a concealed weapon for their own protection. The names of those people are confidential and are nowhere published. Scary idea. Better not piss off that person. My general anxiety would be heightened once becoming aware that somebody might carry a gun that you can’t even see. Luckily I don’t think we have that option in Canada, but I might be wrong.
The argument by the pro-gun lobby for concealed weapons is that less crime would occur if well-trained and responsible citizens carry guns to stop crime, much like an auxiliary police force in plain clothes. According to them, the crime statistics indicate a decrease in crime since permits for concealed weapons were established. On the other hand, crime rates have dropped in areas without those permits in place as well and it could be only a spurious effect of the current general trends in crime.
A reasonable position to take on this issue would be not anti-gun, nor absolutist pro gun without further exploration. The Atlantis article quotes a Colorado sheriff, James Alderden: “Your position on concealed-carry permits has to do with your position on the reliability and sanity of your fellow man.” Good point.
But why carry weapons at all if there is a police force? Is it not their job to protect citizens? Are crime rates so much higher in the US than anywhere else? Or do they have less police in the streets, or are the police not as well trained, or not as reliable? Are the governments not making funds available to adequately recruit and train their police force?
I do believe that there is more risk to be severely hurt in the US, simply due to the large number of guns owned by any punk who can go to Walmart and buy one, or steal one, or gets one given to him by a buddy. With the prevalence of gangs and the drug trade activities that spills over in civilian life everywhere on the planet, even in quiet Canada as I have noticed, I still do not have any wish to arm myself.
If I compare that to the situation in Canada, where the homicide rate by guns is 1/6 if that of the US and far fewer guns are bought and held by civilians than in the US, the situation is clearly more manageable and no right to bear arms is on the books.
The previous federal government in Canada had started a long gun registration that was abandoned and overturned by the current federal government, wasting a vast inventory of already registered guns by destroying those records. The rationale I think for scrapping the gun law was to please the conservatives and their gun lobby who asserted that hunting rifles kill nobody. For possessing handguns one still would need a permit in Canada anyway with the usual criminal record checks etc.
We have had a gun amnesty a couple of times, where civilians were encouraged to hand in guns for which people had no permit. As a former landlord, I had the misfortune of ending up with a gun from a tenant that was eventually evicted for non-payment of rent owed and destroying property. I immediately turned in that gun to the local police. How many Americans would do the same, I wonder?
I want to compare the North American continent to the European continent where people have been warring for centuries with each other, and where 100-year wars existed with neighbouring countries. Where national governments have been suppressing their civilians for long centuries, revolutions changed that and brought democratic government to its citizens.
Eventually, a development occurred that spread over the continent, where governments became truly democratic for all of its citizens and sophisticated coalitions formed governments that addressed the needs of the largest possible number of citizens. In Europe the citizens are not afraid to delegate powers to their elected representatives, are not afraid that strong central governments would be taking their individual rights away. Citizens do realize that for the greater good of all, some might have to contain their wishes if realizing those wishes might hurt others.
Overall they do not feel a need any more to arm themselves, especially not against their own governments, or against the people in their nation that have much less than them. That is because everybody gets at least a minimum to live on and nobody is that desperate that they need to kill, or are that crazy and without treatment that they can so easily obtain a gun and start shooting.
Not that I think Americans will rise up and start a revolution against the Obama administration; no, that seems far-fetched. It would be merely ignorant and short sighted of those citizens opposing gun possession to think that. The real problem in my view is the short-sightedness of the majority of Americans that adhere to the Second Amendment’s meaning that gun possession by civilians is their constitutional right. Those people who do not understand that more guns in the hands of civilians mean more deaths and less protection are the real liability in the US. It is like a toddler not understanding that he cannot have that sharp knife to play with.
Indeed, it’s a poor nation that does not trust that its government intends to do what is right for the people. Hopefully the United States of America can mature over time without having to go through another civil war, or another century of fighting its own citizens, or jailing them.
It is an immature nation that thinks their government is out to get them or break their independence, or is intent on taking away their right to defend themselves. I wish any future American government much success, if and when the notion of gun control and giving up arms comes up on the national agenda.