An American Infatuation
There was another horrific massacre in the U.S that took many lives, maimed, and injured over 500 people. Mass shootings are a side of American gun culture and it happens every so often. It is reported that USA's gun-related homicide rate is 25 times more than that of a comparable nation.
Everyday many Americans die on the streets, in the inner-city poor neighbourhoods, and in other places by the indiscriminate use of guns. Gang violence, gang in-fights, violent robberies, random shootings, guns in the wrong hands such as mentally deranged; it is all happening all across the USA on a greater scale than any place in the world. It looks like no place, schools, churches, nightclubs, airports, shopping malls, is a safe place from a determined gunman’s range.
After every tragic incident, there is always non-stop media coverage; pundits, politicians, supporters, and critics engage in vociferous, and passionate, sublime to ridiculous, arguments over the airwaves on pros, and cons of gun ownership. Tragically, mass shootings happen repeatedly due to the inability of the rational-minded people to convince the gun-loving Americans to put a stop on firearm proliferation.
Lately, St. Louis, and Chicago were in the news for all the wrong reasons. Chicago is the third largest city in the US, with a population of about three million. This year it achieved the notorious title of "Murder City" due to the exorbitant increase in gun-related deaths. In 2016, Chicago had its share of gang violence that resulted in too many gun-related deaths. According to published reports, there were 762 homicides in 2016. That was a 57% increase and the highest in the past 60 years. Inefficient gun control laws, general apathy of both police, and lawmakers, and an overloaded court system were also partly to blame for such a spike in gun crimes.
America's fascination with guns is on the rise. There are 90 guns per 100 people in the US. Every year close to 33,500 people killed by gun-related violence. Over 20,000 Americans kill themselves with guns. Those staggering statistics outnumber the deaths by motor vehicle accidents on American roads. According to the US Centre for Disease Control, death rate by firearms is about 10.4 per 100,000 people. Every 17 minutes a person dies due to gun violence. More women in America are murdered by the use of guns in domestic violence compared to women in other countries. Children are not exempted from this statistics: seven young people under 19 years of age are killed with guns in the U.S. on any given day. Nicholas Kristof (The New York Times) wrote, “More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on the battlefields of all the wars in American history.”
Thus, everyday Americans kill themselves on the streets, and in the inner-city poor neighbourhoods, in disrupted homes, and other places by the indiscriminate use of guns. Gang activity, gang wars, violent robberies, and random shootings by criminals and mentally deranged occur all across the USA on a greater scale compared to other places in the world.
‘Right to bear arms’, and an assortment of laws
The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right of individuals and recognized by the Second Amendment of the US constitution.
American laws on firearms are an assortment of federal and state laws with many exemptions, adaptations, and amendments. Some states allow gun owners to carry guns (concealed, and open); some other states have pre-emption for federal gun laws as they make their own gun control laws. Yet, some other states have the right to pass more stringent gun laws than that of other states. Then, there are other states with ‘castle doctrine' and ‘stand your ground' laws. These laws allow gun owners' to justify the use of firearms in self-defense situations. In many instances, federal law requires background checks for sale/purchase of guns, but there are loopholes that circumvent such restrictions.
Americans are solidly polarised with strong opinions on the pros and cons of gun ownership. On one side of the issue, there is the vociferous minority, the self-proclaimed defenders of the constitution, and the politicians and lawmakers with their own agendas who hide behind the pro-gun lobbies that profit from the gun proliferation and ownership. On the opposite, there is a loosely organized silent majority including gun control advocates, and a bewildered group of law-abiding public. While they discuss and argue, criminals, gangs, drug pushers, and other antisocial elements carry out their businesses as usual. Caught in between are the innocent victims, children, young, and old, and their families.
Why such fascination?
That question was forwarded to many experts. No one had clear-cut answers. As usual, some supported gun, some were against, some referenced the constitution, and some identified the historical background and the culture. The pro-gun lobby blamed the government, people, and the lack of mental health care, but not the proliferation of guns. Conversely, the anti-gun lobby found faults with the lax laws, gun culture, and the ease in acquiring firearms and the gun-lovers as a whole. Yet others highlighted the shortcomings in the laws and blamed the politicians for not standing up to the pressure tactics of the pro-gun lobby. Police blame ‘lack of meaningful gun laws', ‘demonization of cops', ‘too many administrative processes that lessen proactive policing', and "emboldened" criminals as the causes.
No matter the reason, there are thousands of people killed every year by firearms: police officers in the line of duty, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfires, woman, and children during violent domestic disputes, shopkeepers during armed robberies, and strangers during mass shootings.
The infatuation with the guns is ingrained in the culture as the ‘right to bear arms' is guaranteed by the constitution. The Wild West mentally is still very alive as Americans adore their guns, gunfights, and the gun-toting yesteryear real-life heroes, and of the movies.
In America, gun ownership is a highly contested rights issue. Americans will have a tough time to opt for a change towards gun ownership no matter how many times Sandy Hook, Fort Hood, or Orlando happens. It is rather difficult to get gun control legislation due to the lack of majority consensus to amend the constitution. Amending the US constitution is a monumental task, as it requires not only the federal congressional majority but also approvals from the majority of the states. Again, gun control is difficult so long as the US Supreme Court does not reverse itself on the interpretation of the ‘right to bear arms' clause embedded in the second amendment.
An excerpt from Dahlia Lithwick’s (www.slate.com) column exemplifies the helplessness felt by ordinary Americans, “Sunday night, when my son asked me why we shoot each other dead almost every day in America, I got to tell him that it’s because we are ‘free.’ …we are free to feel paralyzed and trapped in a system that is literally killing us.”
Life goes on
Meanwhile, life goes on as usual. Media find other news du jour to cover, as pundits and analysts cry and decry over other mundane issues. Politicians do what they do best: engage in petty and partisan politics. While the blame game goes on, more gun shows open and sell guns without any restrictions. More guns, pistols, and semi-automatics get into the hands of unsavory and mentally ill people. More vaguely written gun laws come out of the politically divided legislatures. As usual, pro-gun lobbies contest them, courts repeal them, and thugs thwart them. Many criminals go to jail, and even many get an early release from jail due to overcrowding and other technicalities. As rehabilitation is seldom, more of them fall through the cracks, and re-offend and end up back in jail. Thus as the cycle continues, many more people die on the streets, campuses, theatres, schools, bars as their lives cut short by criminals, mentally deranged, and fanatics.
Americans are free to buy and sell guns and other firearms since it is a right protected by their constitution. Thus, despite many measures, it is difficult to control the exploding demand for guns. Indeed, it is a conundrum with deadly consequences. Meanwhile, the gun infatuation is draining the American people, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.
(The author, a technology professional, resides in Toronto, Canada with his family)