Friday, January 14, 2011

Americans dying for their right to guns

Update as of June 12, 2016 - the day after the worst mass killing yet in the U.S., at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Based on the number of mass killings noted in this story and the ones that have happened in the intervening years since I wrote this, there have now been 126 mass killings in the U.S. in the last 50 years. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on the gun issue. I categorize it with issues like abortion, religion, war and Capital Regional District sewage. Most people's minds are made up, so columns don't have much point.
But this latest mass killing in Arizona can’t go without comment. It’s just too blatant a reminder of what can happen when a country loses a grip on gun control.
I know the U.S. is intense about its citizens’ right to bear arms, even when it means leaving the door wide open for deranged, violent people to lose their minds in a most damaging way.
 But surely the citizens themselves must be growing horrified by the truly awful crimes happening in their public spaces. Sometimes even dearly held beliefs need to go by the wayside.
Mass killings like the one in Tucson, Arizona this week are still extremely rare events, of course.
But they’re no longer once-a-generation aberrations like they once were. A 2007 story on the MSNBC Web site reports 100 mass killers in the U.S. since 1966 - the year sniper Charles Whitman climbed a University of Texas tower and started shooting people. Add in at least another dozen in the last three years.
Loose gun laws - laws that most recently allowed a wild-eyed, dangerous young man in the grip of delusion to buy a gun on impulse - have much to do with that.
That’s not to suggest the gun laws are to blame for Jared Loughner’s killing spree. I’m sure any number of wrong turns led to the disastrous decision young Loughner made on Saturday. His being able to buy a handgun in a state that sells them as easily as a pack of smokes was just one of many factors.
But if it weren’t for the Glock in his hand, Loughner couldn’t have done the same damage in such a short period of time. You simply can’t consider the phenomenon of mass public slayings without talking about gun control.
I completely agree with that old saw about how guns don’t kill people, people do. But until we’ve perfected the human being, gun control is all we’ve got.
Fortunately, we live just north of a country that stands as a stark example of what happens when you let that go. Canada has a habit of doggedly following the U.S. into all kinds of trouble on many fronts, but at least on this issue we have taken our own path. May we never stray.
Bearing arms is a constitutional right in the U.S. I don’t think they’re going to give that up. It says a lot that President Barack Obama hasn’t uttered a word about gun control in the days since the Tucson shooting.
But even in a country that views gun ownership as a treasured right, does that require that guns be available to virtually anyone, in every corner store?
One of the popular arguments against limiting sales is that guns are readily available on the black market anyway.
OK, that’s a point. Certainly those in the business of packing guns for illegal activities - gangs, for instance, or professional hit men - would barely register any impact as a result of gun control. Wherever the guns are, they’ll find them.
But it’s not gangs and hit men who are the problem when it comes to the gunning down of random citizens in Safeway parking lots. Nor is it black-market guns.
No, the lone-gunman scenario that has become such a standard story line in the U.S. virtually always involves a deranged, delusional man using a weapon he bought legally. Legal guns are the problem.
The deluge of media coverage on the Tucson killings has brought forward several good points.
It’s true that political rhetoric in the U.S. has reached a fever pitch, in ways that can sound like a call to war to minds that are already fractured and inflamed. It’s also true that expelling an unhinged student from college and leaving him to stew in his own hatred was, in hindsight, an unfortunate development. It’s true that better security at the event might have made the difference.  
But Loughner still couldn’t have killed six people with ease and efficiency were it not for the gun in his hand. I hope ordinary Americans wake up to that truth soon.
U.S. gun laws aren’t responsible for producing a mentally unstable young man full of hate. But they did make it possible for him to become a mass murderer.


Bernard von Schulmann said...

There is something in the culture of the US that is making the gun a fetishistic icon of a certain element of society. The idea of armed resistance has become part of the political discourse in the US.

Gun control is not likely to be the answer as much as a change to the culture of the nation. The mass shootings are only one tip of the iceberg. The prevalence of guns among the inner city gangs means the number of murders among blacks in the US is three to four times the national average.

Canada manages to have a rate of murders that is about 40% of the US, there has to be some way for the US to emulate Canadian culture and reduce the number of deaths and the number of crazy people that think gun violence is a solution.

e.a.f. said...

Guns are part of the American culture. It is not something they will give up easily, if every. It doesn't matter how many people die, the NRA has a firm grasp on the pulse of the electorate.
They are a country which was founded by revolution, then had a massive civil war, and then went to war against the First Nations People. They got where they are by the use of guns.
One hundred years ago Americans were still carrying guns and were still a rural society.
One hundred years ago we had the RCMP and a federal court system, which worked.
Today Americans like to think they are still where they were in the mid 1800s. However, they simply haven't kept up with the times.
The americans also have a much larger poverty problem than Canada, Japan, and Europe has. When there is just disparity, the "haves' are concerned it maybe taken from them and arm themselves and those at the bottom of the economic scale, with no hope of getting out, use guns to stay alive and get what they want.
Of course guns are big business and who wants to close all those businesses. They have more murders than they lost in 911 but there has been no move on gun control but they have us searched to our skin to avoid a plane crashing into a building.
It is a country which is over populated, under educated, going down hill fast.

Huntly Ketchen said...

Before we judge history in the USA let's look at the war Canada waged against the First Nations People. In a campaign of genocide Newfoundland killed the last indigenous native in 1825, fifty years before Custer's last stand. Lest we forget Canada's civil war with the Metis and Louis Riel, or in our century Pierre Elliott Trudeau declaring martial law in Quebec, Oh yes we had the RCMP and Federal court system that worked? Ask Louis Riel about that when he was hung in Saskatchewan after the jury appealed no death sentence. Or let's check our suppression of First Nation children taken from their parents and families, placed in schools to be raped, tortured, and abused. Yes we Canadians can certainly point fingers at our neighbours to the South, and quickly put aside our own shortcomings.
However, we seldom remember the American Red Cross being bankrupt from helping so many in need, or the aircraft carrier quickly coming to the aid of natural disasters in foreign countries. Always first responders to any international catastrophe, yet you have the nerve to declare them over populated, under educated and going down hill fast. You should be ashamed. I urge you to Google Gordon Sinclair's broadcast in 1973 re the USA.

Do we forget Canda's mass murders such as the 14 women shot at Ecole Polytechnic, Montreal. Or the murder of Pierre La Port by the Quebecois

Jody Paterson said...

Huntley Ketchen, in no way do I diminish Canada's terrible record on indigenous issues, nor have I forgotten that we, too have had a mass murder. I am not trying to hold up Canada as the golden child, other than on not having nearly so many guns. But we do not have random acts of devastating public violence at a level that even remotely resembles the U.S. I had to reread my piece just to see if I actually might have said something that sounded like I was saying the U.S. is "over-populated, under-educated and going downhill fast," but found nothing like that.