The murder of 20 children and 6 teachers in Newtown, Connecticut has to be one of the most terrible events in recent US history. It is inconceivable that someone, no matter how deranged or angry he may have been, would deliberately shoot a single young child, let alone 20 children.
As a parent, my sympathies go to the bereaved parents and families of all the victims, young and old.
In other school or college shootings, there has been some connection between the murderer (s) and the victims or at least the institution. More facts may well emerge as the investigation proceeds which may uncover a connection to the school or one or more of the staff. But it is a huge stretch of the imagination to believe there could be any connection between the shooter and the young victims.
There will be the inevitable calls for stricter gun controls, but that is obscuring the real problem. This is not a gun problem, it is a societal problem. Yes, guns are the tools that make it, sadly, easier for murderers to kill more victims in a short time, but that is still all they are, tools. Cars kill more people than guns, but we do not call for a ban on cars after serious road tragedies.
People get killed in accidents involving a huge variety of tools, equipment, animals, sports activities, medical mistakes, but it is only guns and to a lesser extent dogs, that attract such a reaction for more controls.
I had been a gun owner for all my life since my father first trained me to use a shotgun responsibly at age 12. More training and a few thousand rounds fired during 10 years of military call ups reinforced that. Guns have saved my life on more than one occasion, without me having to shoot anyone. The visible presence of a weapon and my determination to use it were enough.
Regrettably, Canada’s overly restrictive gun laws and discrimination against responsible, legitimate gun owners made it too prohibitive to bring my weapons from Zimbabwe. The difficulties of owning, restrictions on using and treatment of the owner as a criminal if he should dare to use a gun to defend himself, his family or his property means it is not worth the hassle. That is obviously the intention of the government, a compliant, cowed and unarmed population.
To me that is a denial of one of the most basic human rights, the right to security and safety, the right to defend myself or my family. More in line with a communist regime or a dictatorship that a democracy.
The result is that the criminals have the guns, farmers and hunters can have shotguns and rifles. Only approved members of gun clubs can have pistols or revolvers. All types of weapons subject to such strict storage regulations (unloaded, trigger locks, ammunition stored separately) that the owner would be dead trying to get his weapon ready long before he could confront an armed intruder.
I do believe that all guns should be locked in a secure gun safe when not in the hands or on the person of the owner. But to make it an offence to have a loaded magazine on a secured weapon is bordering on the ridiculous.
Despite my belief that it is the right of every sane, competent, responsible person to own a gun, I cannot see any reason why an individual in an urban environment should have an assault rifle, sub-machine gun or any type of semi or fully automatic rifle.
That is an area that does need control. Those types of weapons are neither necessary or the most effective choices in the vast majority of self-defence incidents. Being designed for longer range military combat, they make it too easy to kill or injure large numbers of victims in a short time. They should only be possessed by security forces or people with a genuine need for longer range firepower – farmers in remote areas for instance.
The other area is mental health. We have to accept that formerly competent people can be affected by mental illness. Just as some physical medical conditions require a vehicle driver to surrender his or her drivers license, so should certain mental conditions temporarily or permanently preclude gun ownership
America is not the only country with a high gun ownership. Switzerland requires it’s able-bodied male population to be in the military reserve and keep a military issue weapon at home. Israel has high gun ownership. In both of my previous countries, South Africa and Zimbabwe, most business people and farmers carried guns. Mass shootings of innocent victims were unheard of and crimes of passion using licensed weapons, very rare.
In those two countries, shooting victims were overwhelmingly the consequences of criminals using unlicensed weapons, of politically inspired attacks or the result of targets of both defending themselves successfully.
Those factors do not apply to Switzerland, perhaps it is their European reserve and respect for law and order that keeps them safe.
No other countries with high gun ownership appear to experience the same mass shootings in schools or businesses.
Even fairly lawless countries with terrorist sympathies and awash with AK47 s in the hands of ill-disciplined militias like Hamas or Hezbollah, confine their murderous activities to their real or perceived enemies, not their own school children.
If it is not a gun problem, then what is it?
Perhaps one of the differences is that with the exception of Switzerland, most of the other countries with high gun ownership are not as affluent or “safe” as the USA. Certainly in the two that I am familiar with, we survived long periods of adversity, with terrorist wars, requirement to do military service, sanctions, the feeling that it was us against the world, abandoned by our allies. Much of that would also apply to Israel.
We had a purpose, to defend our countries, we did not have the luxury of taking tomorrow for granted. We also had no social security safety nets, we worked hard and prospered. If we failed or lost a job, we had to pick ourselves up and get moving again very quickly. Those that could not handle it had to move to a welfare state in Europe if they could through a claim to European passport.
After returning to Zimbabwe as Rhodesia had sadly become, it was not long before the illegal farm invasions started, years of more adversity with daily intimidation, neighbours getting attacked and forced off their farms. But we did not crack up and shoot school kids.
Even in the terrible conditions experienced in both world wars, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and despite the abundance of automatic weapons, as far as I am aware, there were very few cases of servicemen or women deliberately shooting their fellow soldiers. Accidents, a few cases of arguments resulting in weapons being used, but no mass murders.
- Is it a symptom of the good times no longer so good?
- Of the old school-college-lifetime job-pension model no longer working?
- Of a lack of discipline in schools and in homes?
- Of their being no or few consequences for mediocre performance?
- Of rewarding failure in both sports and academic performance?
Or is it that life had become too easy, expectations become too high and the 2008 recession enforced correction too difficult to accept? This cannot be the only cause, as these types of horrors started years before the recession (Columbine 1999).
Looking at the case of the Norwegian mass killer, it seems that political correctness played a part. His perception that his government’s lax immigration policies and favourable treatment of non-locals was destroying his country. Tenuous and unpardonable as it might be, there was a link that his twisted logic could use to justify killing innocent supporters of a political party.
Will the real or perceived favourable treatment of ethnic, religious or sexual minorities prove to be a factor? Do the current penalties for verbally criticising any of these minorities lead unbalanced people to take murderous action?
Have these and other factors created an inability for some people to use discernment, to choose between good and bad actions?
There is a problem, and I can’t help but believe that lack of common sense in many areas contributes to the problem.
Is the solution to be found in the “Broken Window” policy that reduced New York’s murder rate dramatically? Enforce discipline and respect for the law at an early age with a zero tolerance for any form of bad behaviour or lack of effort.
The answer needs to be found quickly, and it won’t be found by taking away responsible people’s guns.
Wishing you success and peace.
Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net