Saturday, 15 December 2012

"From our cold dead hands"

It is staggering to me that, as 26 children and adults lie dead following another school shooting in the US, the response from some seems to be either that this might not have happened if teachers had been armed as well (!!). Or that the reason for this tragedy, according to Bryan Fischer, was not that the perpetrator was potentially deeply messed up in the head and fully able to acquire a gun to inflict his rage with, but that there's not enough focus on God in American schools. Brilliant.

If you're pro-gun-ownership, if you believe it should remain the constitutional right of every American to bear arms, and that this right outweighs the other laws of your constitution, you're entitled to your opinion. But in the immediate wake of these needless and irredeemable deaths, now is not the time to air this belief. Your opinion on this matter does not trump the grief of those who have lost, and the trauma of those who have witnessed so many deaths, fully unprepared for such horror. Rather, it insults everyone who is struggling to understand why, yet again, it has been possible for this to happen. There have been at least 62 mass shootings in America in the last three decades.

Gun ownership in the US is actually on the decrease, and long may that continue. As much as pro-ownership folks might like to claim otherwise, it seems obvious to me that the harder it is to access a gun, the less likely it is that these crimes will happen at such volume. The stats that chronicle mass shootings in the US are shocking. How about this: 24 in the last seven years.

"People who want guns will get them illegally if they can't get them legally", some cry. No - some people will. Others won't, because not every violent crime is a planned attack. So many are impulse crimes, motivated by fury or shock or jealousy or sheer mental breakdown, and if a gun isn't there to be reached for, the damage inflicted is likely to be so much less. Others might stop at the planning stage if getting a gun proves to be difficult enough. Not all, but the majority of guns used in these mass shootings were legally owned.

On the same tack, teenagers should not have access to guns. An acquaintance of mine told of his childhood at a US school, where there was a shooting range.

I was taught how to shoot guns in my liberal Oregon high school as a kid. The shooting range was underneath the school stage and the NRA handed out awards to all the kids like candy. One of those kids, Ken Janowski went on to shoot/kill his parents a year later. My senior year I had a gun pointed at me from a drunk pissed off kid within a 1/4 mile of the school. I have never seen a gun here in the UK other than on a few cops.

Kenneth Janowski was released in March 2012 after nearly 30 years in prison for the murders. He was 18 when he shot his parents, using a rifle obtained from a friend.

What teenager needs to be able to shoot or get a gun? If they wish to enter the army and use guns in defence of their country, they will be taught those skills when they enlist. Again, I'd suggest that a young man or woman who shoots up a school full of children potentially has something very psychiatrically wrong with them, which requires medical help. How can any pro-gun lobbyist argue that society and the constitution should make it anything but harder for someone so unstable to get hold of a gun?

Equally, those arguing that godlessness in schools is the problem are missing the point entirely. Hasn't thousands of years of history, including our bloody present times, shown us that religion doesn't defend against human violence? More often, it's used by the power-hungry as a political tool to control people and perpetrate and prolong violence, in the name of a 'higher purpose'. (Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares series is instructive on this point.) Religion should be preserved as a personal right, for those who feel strengthened and guided by it. But it should not be the framework around which our countries are governed or our children educated. And it certainly will not prevent someone in a murderous rage from obliterating those around him if the tools are close at hand to enable it.

It should be illegal to carry a gun unless your job requires that you do so. A gun should always, always be cause for alarm, because it's a machine that, at the click of a button, allows you to punch a hole through another human body from a distance. If you want to carry a gun to show that you can defend yourself or those you love, to show that you won't be bullied, then learn to fight and defend yourself using your hands and feet, not a machine that with one click can cause such senseless destruction.

Carrying a gun won't stop you getting shot, it won't stop a bullet in transit - it'll just mean you can shoot back. The more guns in circulation, the higher the death toll rises. The clearest way to bring gun crime down is to get as few people owning and using guns as possible, while addressing the social, personal or economic causes of these crimes.

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