SunMay282017

Gun Control in the USA: Time to Make It Happen

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03510180 Gun control

 

 

Avijit Roy

Just after the Shikh Temple massacre in Wisconsin a few months ago, Time Magazine published an article titled “The Case for Gun Control”, where the author Fareed Zakaria made a strong case in favor of stricter gun control laws.  Although he offered valuable insight concerning the topic, the masses paid him little attention after the media revealed that he had plagiarized a portion of the article.

Since then, two more major massacres have taken place. Of them, the recent one was the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that occurred earlier this month in Newtown, Connecticut, where a man armed with two semiautomatic pistols killed 7 adults and 20 children, most of whom were only six years old.  The adults were all women, including the principal of the school, Dawn Hochsprung, and some of the victims were shot as many as 11 times. But the most chilling fact of all this is, the Newtown shooting is no longer an exceptional case.

I  can cite at least five major mass shootings that have occurred in last few years  -- Binghamton, N.Y. (2009); Fort Hood, Texas (2009); Tucson, Ariz. (2011); Aurora, Colo. (2012); and Oak Creek, Wisc. (2012), just to name a few. And as time goes on, such incidents seem less like rare, notorious massacres and more like expected epidemics in this country. Despite this troubling observation, clear policies regarding “Gun Control” still fail to be put to use. It looks as if the reason for this pregnant standstill is because neither Republicans nor Democrats are “ready” to discuss the issue. Every time a tragic incident such as the Sandy Hook shooting occurs, the country concentrates more on prayer – saying, “this is not the time” to make decisions –and less on ways to resolve the issue through means of instilling proper gun laws. To claim that "this is not the time" simply ignores the horrific reality that current gun laws are inefficient at sustaining our society. If not now, when is the time to talk about gun control?

The US has serious problems with guns and homicide.  There are 300 million weapons in the US - enough for nearly every citizen to use. The researchers found that US homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in similar high-income countries; the largest contributor to these rates are cases of firearm homicide, which are 19.5 times higher in the US than in other highly-developed countries. Furthermore, firearm homicide rates in the 15-24 year age group in the United States are 42.7 times higher than in the other countries.  These statistics alone support why most of the worst mass shootings in the past fifty years have taken place in the U.S.  Evidently, increasing the number of guns in a country hardly ensures more safety; instead, it guarantees less protection among citizens. 

Although Republicans -- and Extreme-Individualist Libertarian folks who live by the “Gun-does-not-kill” motto -- will stand strong with their opinion, researchers provide reasons why this motto is not applicable to American society. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center analyzed compiled reports relating figures concerning guns and homicide, thus finding substantial evidence to show that more guns means more murders.

Fareed Zakaria mentioned in his article in Time  that the Gun-homicide rate per capita in the US is almost 30 times that of Britain and Australia, 10 times that of India, and 4 times that of Switzerland. No sane biologist will argue in favor of a violent-gene mutation occurring in the area bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, nor will any sociologist say that such an area simply contains 30 times more crazy people compared to Britain. However, what the US actually has is easy access to guns. There are 89 firearms per 100 people in the United States. No other country has a rate higher than 40, and the US handgun ownership rate is 70 percent higher than that of the next candidate in the list.  The consequence?­­­­­­--fifteen of the worst twenty-five mass shootings in the past half century have occurred in the U.S.

 Not to think that crime rate has increased in the US in recent past. On the contrary, the crime rate has actually decreased.  For example, violent crimes have fallen by 20 percent, aggravated assault by 21pecent, motor vehicle theft by 44.5 percent, and even non-firearm homicides by 22 percent. Only one category is a misfit in the curve: firearm mass homicide.  Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murder scenarios that were carried out with firearms across the country, and, in almost all cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally.

Literally everywhere in the world, you will find crazy people like Adam Lanza, who was responsible for the Connecticut massacre; troubled or deranged attackers are not in fact unique American phenomena. I remember back in 2003, a similar incident occurred at the National University of Singapore, where I was studying for my PhD. One day a university technician suddenly went maniacal, threatening to kill all the teachers until he eventually killed one of the academics at the National University of Singapore campus.  But here, the situation changes because the attacker could not commit any mass murder. The reason behind,  he was using a knife--not a gun, which would have given the attacker the propensity to be much more lethal. Look at another very recent incident in China as well. Just several hours before Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults Friday in Newtown, a 36-year-old man half-a-world away in China attacked 22 children at a primary school. None of the kids died. The reason? The man in China had only a knife.

Some think that gun control is unconstitutional in the US because it supposedly undermines freedoms that were spelled out during the founding of the United States of America. I, however, find the opposite to be true. Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history of the US in his book  Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, where he argues that,contrary to  popular belief, guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws to ban the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in even the early days of 1813.  The same thing happened in Indiana in 1820; Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839, and Ohio in 1859. Similar laws were passed in Florida, Oklahoma, and even in Texas, the state that is often associated withan image of a “Gun-carrying” cowboy.  The governor of Texas at that time (1893) explained that the  "mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man." Here is an article of Zack Beauchamp where he systematically debunked the five myths that Gun lobbying propagates, including “The Second Amendment prohibits strict gun control”.

It was probably during the seventies when the right-wingers started to campaign in favor of carrying guns, wrongly-citing the second amendment to show that the unchecked right to bear guns was their “constitutional right”. But let us remember that the Second Amendment was originally intended to allow people to fight against a tyrannical federal government of the late eighteenth century. In today’s changed world, I don't think that an assault rifle will be of any help to the ordinary citizen if the government wishes to play the tyrant. Moreover, nobody thinks that a democratically elected government is something tyrannical that they will have to worry about, much less, fight against. Rather, US citizens are facing a different, more relevant problem -- mentally unstable, gun-carrying fanatics who are going into public settings, like movie theaters and elementary schools, and shooting innocent people, including children on a regular basis. One can easily argue, James Madison never meant Second Amendment to allow guns of Sandy Hook shooting. The mantra needs to be changed, as one Commenter suggested in one of the CNN articles, from the "right to bear arms" to the "privilege to bear arms."  -

“Let's change the mantra from 'the right to bear arms' to 'the privilege to bear arms'. Privileges have to be earned, they aren't a given. Prove that you are mentally stable and have a reasonable need to own a gun. Make gun owners undergo mandatory training; locking up your gun, loading and unloading safely, storing bullets separately, practices that make gun ownership safer. Give police powers of inspection - checking gun safes, safe storage, training. No-one can buy a gun without a training certificate in addition to background checks. No internet sales of guns or ammunition and no walking out with the gun the same day. Responsible owners will cherish their privileges. It will make it much more difficult for those that haven't earned the privilege to get their hands on weapons”.

The Connecticut shooting incident touched the heart of the President as well.  President Obama wiped his tears in mourning, calling the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting a “heinous crime”. He uttered, “we have endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years”, and stated that “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics.”

 But how such "meaningful action" promises have been thwarted in the past, largely because of the power and wealth of the National Rifle Association (NRA)! The NRA and similar  special-interest groups have agendas that help protect and expand the firearms-market and weapons companies that bankroll the groups’ multi-million dollar lobbying and influence operations. As a result, the NRA has not only been advocating for a more violent society, but is passing its favorite laws in the congress. Of course, the NRA is not the only one to blame when rightwing, Fox-loving nuts are also playing their roles. A few weeks ago, Jovan Belcher, an American football player for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed the mother of his 3-month-old daughter, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide in the parking lot of the team's practice facility. NBC broadcaster Bob Costas

used his halftime segment on "Sunday Night Football" to say,

"In the coming days, Jovan Belcher's actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."

‘Guns-don’t kill’ right-wingers did not like Bob’s statement at that time. He was severely criticized by right wing media, who had forgotten that he actually quoted extensively from a piece by ‘Fox Sports columnist’ Jason Whitlock.

I think it will be different this time -- at least I hope it will be. Obviously, simply calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. Obama needs to turn his tears to action. The actions already being talked about are as follows:

  • Fresh attempts to ban assault weapons.
  • Changes to the mental health system to help identify and prevent those with violent inclinations from acting
  • Further attempts to beef up school security, etc. 

Think for a moment. You can’t enter a CVS store and purchase half-a-dozen packages of Advil even though there is no official restriction on the drugs, and they are readily available over the counter; however, you can probably walk into a gun dealership and purchase a .50 caliber rifle as long as you have an easily-obtainable license. In fact, anyone can  buy five, ten, fifteen of such killing weapons —there is no limit imposed by the law. This insanity has to be changed. But politicians should also be careful while making new laws. To revise the old saying, guns, all by themselves, don’t kill people; people, who are often mentally-disturbed, kill people. Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech shooting), Jared Lee Loughner (Tucson, Ariz. massacre), James Eagen Holmes (Aurora, Colorado Theater shooting), and now Adam Lanza all had significant mental health issues. Robert Lieder, a fellow at University of Pennsylvania School of Law, opined in a column in Wall Street Journal that, “as part of this conversation, we need to update federal firearm laws as they relate to persons with mental illness—laws that currently are primitive and rooted in stereotypes”. 

  “Can we honestly say we are doing enough to keep our children safe?” President Obama said to the mourners in Newtown on Sunday night, “we can’t accept this as routine”. True. Michael R. Bloomberg, the current mayor of New York, who endorsed Mr. Obama in the last election, said during an appearance on “Meet the Press” on NBC “this should be his No. 1 agenda. He’s president of the United States. And if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns in the next year.” I would like to draw a parallel here to the 1996 shooting in Scotland, in which a 43 year old man first killed 16 kindergarteners and their teacher before proceeding to kill himself. That shooting forced official government enquiry and eventually led to the banning of private ownership of handguns in the United Kingdom. If such a similar occurrence in the United Kingdom can completely alter gun policy laws, then why should the same reformation ideas be dismissed in the United States?

To conclude, let us remember and learn from Bob Dylan’s compelling message in his song “Blowing in the wind”:

Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?

Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died? …

The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind

The answer is blowin' in the wind.

 

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Dr. Avijit Roy, a computer professional and the science writer writes from Atlanta, USA. He is the author of seven Bengali books including, “Alo Hate Choliyache Adharer Jatri”, “Mohabisshe Pran O Buddhimottar Khoje” and the editor of most recent book “Biswash O Biggan”.  He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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