America’s front pages tomorrow will once again be dominated by news of a school shooting, this time in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, with the mainstream media of the States already delving into comparing the latest atrocities to those which have occurred previously at other educational institutions such as Virginia Tech, Columbine and the Christian Oikos University.
Whilst the families of the deceased must be given time to grieve properly, there will soon come the inevitable discussion that follows all of these horrendous events – gun control. America will once again be thrust into the spotlight to see whether it can learn from what it hasn’t learned from (or refused to learn from) before, take stock of yet more needless deaths and, at the very least, undertake reviews as to why, out of all the first world countries, it suffers with the highest gun-related homicide rate. It is not a question of if America finally undertakes a national review of gun control policy, but when. For the first time, it appears that the shooter is not a “low-life”, “social reject” or foreigner, the easy to scapegoat loners of society. For the first time, the powerful lobbying of the NRA cannot get past their dog-whistle ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ stance as, for the first time, a mass shooting has occurred in a rural, tranquil and affluent area. For the first time, the issue really will be about the ubiquitous nature of guns in all areas of American society.
The second point to raise is the data showing the age of gun-related homicides in the US. Before today, almost 40% of all US gun murders were undertaken by people between 18 and 24, of which this age group accounts for 10% of the American population. There has to be review taken to try and understand why young American adults are so over-represented in gun crime, why they feel compelled to take life in the most brutal of ways for what often seems like how they feel they are perceived in society. It is a review that can save lives.
Overall, the data shows that deaths from gun related homicides in the US have been falling over the past decade. The falls are small, but falls none the less, perhaps due to the minor swing of the pendulum in favour of gun control or, probably more likely, the proliferation of mobile phones for quick emergency response. Either way, the US still remains stubbornly high in country by country league tables for homicide rates (OAS/WHO etc). El Salvador is a mainstay of such lists and last year posted 50 gun related deaths per 100,000 of the population. Compared to the US 9 per 100,000, you may think the figures don’t look that bad.
However, El Salvador, alongside Mexico, Colombia and other South American countries, all who feature high on the lists, have a terrible record of gun-related deaths due to the unrelenting drug war being fought between cartels and police. It is not a worthy comparison. Much better is the comparison between other first world countries. Take the UK for example, possibly Americas most similar country in terms of political and social makeup, which posted a firearm homicide rate of 0.03 per 100,000. That’s roughly 100 times less than the US. Similar comparisons can be drawn against other Euro nations.
There’s one major difference between the UK and the US when talking about gun related homicide rates. The UK has strict state control over weapons and the vast majority of citizens cannot legally obtain guns (mostly that honour is reserved for farmers). The US solution however, is to allow regulation underpinning the market, with the extent of regulation dependent on what state you happen to live in. Whilst some states may have stricter control, it is not beyond most citizens capabilities to drive a few hours to a more relaxed state and arm themselves if they so wish. Texas would be a fine destination for would be gun owner. No state license is required to own a rifle, shotgun or handgun and best of all there’s no waiting list! Or maybe best of all, you can technically buy assault-rifles like this little fella: http://www.guns.yfa1.ru/eng/image/AR15_A3_Tactical_Carbine.jpg
The argument therefore is for the American people to understand that the second amendment to the constitution for protecting against tyrannical government or repelling invasion is doing more harm than good and that law enforcement is not the prerogative of the citizen, but of law enforcement. The argument for guns as in the second amendment to protect has lost, somewhat emphatically.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the US’ Bill of Rights is not absolute. For example, the first amendment guarantees the right to free speech, but that doesn’t protect US citizens from libel – Rights can clash. In the case of the first (right to peaceful assembly) and the second (right to bear arms), it has clashed on too many occasions. The issue over the years is that the second amendment has seemingly been judged by America as a more important marker of a free society than the first. The families of Sandy Hook may well disagree tonight.
It is wrong to suggest that the status quo defendants are in anyway to blame for these tragedies. However, it has become clear that defending an amendment design to protect, yet is resulting in thousands of needless deaths, is no longer an argument of the justifiable and that review, discussion and facts in favour of gun control need to brought to the political table to challenge knee-jerk reaction against the perceived threat to liberty, and of course, against the strong lobbying power of the NRA who hold vested interests. The safety, security and wellbeing of all US citizens will be improved with stricter gun control, which can be proven through real life examples around the world as listed above.
It may take time, but for America, the repeal of the second amendment it is a venture worth undertaking. The constitution must adapt with the times. America is a very different country to what is was when the bill of rights was drafted.
Condolences and love to the families and friends of the victims at Sandy Hook and anyone else who has been affected by gun violence in the past.