My Right to Own an Arsenal

Vigil at Aurora, Colorado. Image: International Business Times.

Vigil at Aurora, Colorado. Image: International Business Times.

Charles Whitman in 1966, Edward Charles Allaway in 1976, James Oliver Huberty in 1984, Pat Sherrill in 1986, James Edward Pough in 1990, George Hennard in 1991, Columbine in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007, Michael McLendon in 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan in 2009, Jared Lee Loughner in 2011. Americans are experts when it comes to shooting tragedies such as the one that occurred Friday night in a Colorado movie theater. We know exactly how the events will unfold following the horrific shooting that killed 12 people and injured 58 others.

There will be candlelight vigils and memorial services. The county sheriff will address the media a few times. The president travels to meet with the families of the victims. The shooter’s profile along with journals, letters, videos, blogs, or tweets, and the details of his upbringing will surface. There will be calls not to politicize the tragedy and then the debate over gun laws will resurface. It will be begin thoughtfully and then spiral out of control until it’s nothing but rhetoric and hyperbole. Somebody will say something insensitive on Twitter and other Twitter users will jump all over it. Some unfortunate guy with the same name as the shooter will be harassed on Facebook.

AR-15 rifle with a Stag lower receiver California legal (only with fixed 10-round magazine), public domain.

When Americans think of gun violence, we tend to think about gangs, inner city crime, and weapons bought illegally behind the little market on the ghetto street corner. James Eagen Holmes is white and grew up in an upper-middle class community. His mother was a nurse and his father a mathematician. Holmes graduated college with honors in neuroscience. According to police, Holmes used AR 15 assault rifle, a Remington shotgun, and a 40-caliber Glock handgun when he opened fire in the Aurora theater during the premier of the Batman movie Dark Knight Rises. He wore black bullet-proof gear, including helmet, vest, leggings and a groin and throat protector as well as a gas mask, goggles and black gloves. He threw tear gas into the crowd. The weapons and bullet-proof gear were legally obtained by a person with no criminal record who turned out to be a highly intelligent lone-wolf terrorist with a booby-trapped apartment.

Veronic Moser, 6, killed in Friday’s shooting. Image by New York Daily News.

Americans will wring their hands and ask why and how this could happen and mourn and pray. Then it will be over and it will be back to business as usual until the next massacre. And while these mass shootings are dramatic, they don’t say much about daily gun violence, which gets little attention from the media perhaps because it’s just so routine.

Sadly, the Colorado shootings, like massacres before it and daily firearm violence, will not likely spur changes in American gun laws. Pundits will note various reasons for this such as the powerful gun lobby, the association of guns and America’s heritage, the belief that Americans are generally responsible with respect to firearms handling, and the belief that guns provide some level of protection against criminality and tyranny. But the elephant in the room is this: my (misguided belief about my) Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is more important than your life and the lives of your children.

I’ve written before that Australia has an ethos of “mateship”. It’s no surprise then to learn that Australia has some of the most restrictive firearms legislation in the world. Only about 5% of Australian adults own and use firearms compared to 47% of Americans. There were 13 mass shootings in Australia between 1979 and 1996 until the Port Arthur massacre transformed gun legislation. There hasn’t been a shooting massacre in the 16 years since. The rate of suicide and homicide dropped too.

Americans are fiercely individualistic. They will not support stricter gun laws to protect the community if it means giving up the right or privilege to buy a firearm that you might need that to kill the person trying to steal your television set or that suspicious black kid with the hoodie “just walking around, looking about”.

The Colorado shootings, like those before it, are a tragedy, but the bigger tragedy is that this will happen again. And again. And again.

What will it take for Americans to wake up to gun violence?

Comments

comments

7 Comments

  1. The meme on FB right now with his image says “If I were Arab the shooting would be terrorism. If I were black I’d be a thug. But I’m white so it’s mental illness”. This is one of the truest statements.

    We need to start using the correct terms. He is a terrorist. This was domestic terrorism. Not mental illness, terrorism.

  2. I generally disapprove of turning such tragedies into political issues, but I suppose it is inevitable… so if everyone else gets to put in their two cents on it, I will, too. Or rather, just on your specific post and then I’ll probably shut up about it.

    Most of the gun violence that occurs in America is committed by people who obtain guns illegally anyway. The vast majority of people who own guns legally don’t commit crimes with them. In America, I had guns for self-defense purposes. I’ve been assaulted, raped, stalked several times, and I’ve lived in areas that are high crime where home invasions are commonplace. A gun is really the only way I can equalise a fight and have a chance of coming out of it alive. Protecting oneself against unsavoury characters is a perfectly legitimate reason to have a gun and frankly, I think more women should carry.

    When it comes to horrific massacres, I think the basic problem is that we don’t lock up lunatics in asylums anymore. Time and time again, the people who knew the killers always say there was something wrong with the person and that they were just waiting for him to do something crazy. People like that should be locked up for their own protection and for society’s protection, but nothing is ever done about these people who are essentially ticking time bombs until after they’ve hurt someone.

    Right now, Australia can still afford to take the approach it does to guns. I liken it to a person who has always lived in a crime-free gated community where no one locks their doors and who has never experienced real crime being unable to understand why anyone would want or need a gun. No, you don’t really need one when you live in a relatively safe place. And by and large, Australian cities are safe. Much safer than American cities. And it’s not because people don’t have guns. It’s because the caliber of people living in Australian cities is a fair bit better than what you see in America. There’s still crime, but it’s usually low level crime. You can murder someone with any number of other readily available weapons or even everyday objects. The UK has a serious problem with knife-related violence that they never used to have. The problem lies largely with the people, not the weapons available. Good people don’t generally feel a need to commit murder, regardless of the weapons available. Bad people who do want to commit murder will do it by any means they can find.

    Additionally, I think Americans have a lot more reason to be suspicious of their government than citizens of Australia do and I think Americans are a lot more likely to have a need to defend themselves from government. I don’t know of any major incidents in which the Australian government has murdered its own citizens the way the American government does.

    Anyway, I apologise if any of this sounds bitchy. I’m having a major case of PMS today.

    • I don’t think you sound bitchy; I think you make some valuable points, but I want to highlight a few others.

      I’m not against gun ownership. I’m against the easy access to certain kinds of weapons and gear. I favor mandatory firearms training.

      Shooting massacres are dramatic and make headlines, but they don’t say anything about everyday gun violence. Bullets fly here in Miami everyday and I’m glad to be getting away from that.

      Health care is an angle to this story that definitely deserves deeper exploration. America doesn’t know what to do with mental health patients and many slip through the cracks. And sadly, following these kinds of shootings, uninsured victims find themselves in a real financial bind.

      Australia is generally safer, but that could very well be ascribed to the tight gun laws. It’s a hypothesis that can’t really be proven, but we can at least say that when it comes to shooting massacres, it wasn’t always as safe as it is today.

      • A normal, decent human being doesn’t immediately turn his thoughts to murder when a gun is placed in his hands. In fact, I would think the normal reaction to that would be for the person to either put the weapon down or handle it very carefully. There is something wrong with people who have an urge to murder, regardless of the weapons available to them.

        Due to the poor reputations that lunatic asylums earned for themselves in the past, I think there is a general knee-jerk reaction to the idea of institutionalising people, especially against their will. But despite the atrocities that went on in such places in the past, I think there is a real need for a place to put people who are a danger to themselves and others BEFORE they harm anyone.

  3. This is a really wonderful post. I agree with you that gun ownership shouldn’t be illegal, but when you think about it putting the words “semi-automatic” in the name of a legal weapon is terrifying. Anything automatic takes the thought out it, the deliberation. And THAT is scary.

    I also think it’s really interesting that you bring up the fact that the media gets plastered with pictures of the perpatrator’s face, name, etc. It really does play into the fascination with fame and notoriety that draws *some* people (albeit not all) to crime. If you commit a mass murder looking for attention and then the media gives it to you well what does that say?

    Again, great post.

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