Friday, 21 December 2012

The answer to guns is not more guns

Following calls for a change in US gun laws after the shooting of 26people (including 20 children) in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, the national rifle association (NRA) have decided to add their opinion into the debate.

Now as this is the NRA, no one would have expected them to support any kind of tightening of gun ownership. However I equally don't think most expected quite such an extreme statement either.

Firstly, the point was made that the only thing that could stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun. Well perhaps there is some merit in that, but it could surely then also be argued that the one thing that could stop a good guy with a gun is, a bad guy with a gun. And how can we ever be sure who is the good guy and who is the bad? After all, Adam Lanza had no previous history of violence before he entered a school last Friday and ended 26 innocent lives.

There was also a call for a national database of the mentally ill, and for the media to stop demonising lawful gun owners. So how do we define mentally ill in terms of being suitable for entry into a national database? And doesn't mental illness have enough stigma attached, without labelling everyone with mental illness in this way? While I think it fair to say that someone who goes on the rampage with a gun almost certainly has some mental health issues, it does not automatically follow that everyone with mental health issues has the potential to turn into a gun toting maniac. The gun used in last Friday's shootings was legally owned, but demonising the mentally ill is, it seems, preferable to putting any question mark over someone's legal right to own a semi automatic rifle.

However the NRA have gone one further in their encouragement of gun use, and have suggested that if all schools were armed then such a tragedy could be prevented in the future. They called for congress to fund armed security across all schools.

Except there is yet again a flaw in that proposal, because, as stated above, the one thing that can stop a good guy with a gun is, a bad guy with a gun. So what the NRA are in fact proposing is that US schools be turned into potential battle grounds where, if all goes according to plan, good will defeat evil. Except this isn't the movies, and real life doesn't work like that.

No one wants a repeat of the Newtown tragedy, but surely the answer is not to make guns in schools the norm, or to send the message that the answer to murder and violence is murder and violence.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Where there's death, there's a gun, time to change US gun law?

So yet another shooting in America.  This time a kindergarten in Newtown, Connecticut.  .  27 people believed to be dead including twenty children.  And as is customary in these shootings, the gunman of course then turned the gun on himself.


And so the discussions follow.  President Obama says that action needs to be taken, something needs to be done.  David Cameron and the Queen have sent their messages of shock and sadness.  The world is horrified, because the shooting of twenty innocent children is just so horrific as to be incomprehensible to the majority of normal thinking people. 


And then we ask the question again, the question that comes up every time another person in the US goes on the rampage with a gun, a phenomenon which seems to occur with frightening regularity.  And the question is when are the US going to do something about their gun laws? 


This isn’t about knee-jerk “let’s ban all guns” reactions.  This is about having tighter regulation on just who can go into a shop and buy a gun.  And the types of guns that people can go into a shop and buy.  Why, for instance, does any average individual need to own a semi-automatic rifle?  Why?


One of the arguments I’ve heard for not changing the laws is that if someone is determined enough to go on a killing spree, they will find the means to obtain a gun and do so whether they are illegal/regulated or not.  Well that may or may not be the case.  However equally it’s possible that if someone goes on a mass shooting spree, this is often because of a reaction to something that has caused the shooter to snap.  In which case, not having a gun to hand would certainly prevent someone from being able to pick up the gun and reactively go out killing people. 


We have tighter gun laws in this country, and even in Canada and Switzerland where the prevalence Of gun ownership is higher, and the gun crime rate is much lower. 


Any crime can be committed by someone determined to do so.  We don’t make the argument against making crimes illegal for any other circumstance, so why should guns be any different? 


For me the realisation became real when I read that in many schools in the US they have lockdown drills, where children are prepared on how to react to a mass shooting.  So how does it become acceptable that, instead of tightening the laws and procedures that make such mass shootings easier to carry out, a country instead teaches its children that mass shootings are the norm and something to be prepared for, like a fire alarm? 


I have lived in countries where terrorism was prevalent and as such, bomb drills were the norm.  However an individual going out on a mass killing spree with a gun is not and should never be prepared for as an anticipated event, and we need to seriously question the mentality of a society that thinks this way. 


The American constitution apparently gives the right for all Americans to bear arms.  But what about the rights of the innocent victims of this constitutional right?  Since when was the right to live safely, in an environment where gun drills didn’t exist and mass shootings weren’t a part of the educational process less important than every man and woman’s right to own a gun?


How many deaths will it take before the Americans begin to question whether the right to own a gun really is that important?  Will this shooting be remembered as the one that changes the laws of gun ownership or will we just look back at it in six months time when CBS is reporting on the latest gunning down of innocent people somewhere in the states? 


This morning twenty children got up and headed for school.  They will have been excitedly anticipating Christmas which is just ten days away.  Eagerly wondering about what Santa will bring them.  They are still young enough, you see, to believe in Santa, some of them as young as just four years old.  This morning twenty children had their whole lives ahead of them.  And tonight twenty sets of parents will not be tucking their children into bed.  Will not be anticipating putting the presents under the tree in ten days time which will already have been bought and wrapped.  And all because a man had the right to own a gun. 


As I write this, I am suddenly struck by the contrast with another story that has been in the news this week, where millions of people have sought to blame two Australian DJ’s for the suicide of a nurse after they made a prank call to the hospital where she was working with the Duchess of Cambridge.  They have been sent death threats, there have been calls for prank calls to be banned and even some suggestion that either the DJ’s or the Australian radio station they represented should be charged with either murder or at best corporate manslaughter.  And that was a hoax.  Badly thought out, but a hoax none the less. 


And yet a lunatic goes on the rampage with a gun and kills 27 innocent people and still millions of people out there defend their rights to own a gun.  How did it happen that people’s priorities became quite so skewed?