The tragic, premature and incomprehensible loss of so many young lives due to the horrific shootings recently in Connecticut are a blight on American society. Unfortunately, this is not a new thing, although the massacre of children so young may finally have permeabilized the thick skin of prevailing American culture.
When I arrived in the US in 1998, there was an expression I heard in the lab that I had not been familiar with: “Go postal.” I learned, to my horror, that this referred to a string of violent weapon-based attacks by US postal workers (often ones who had been recently fired) on other postal workers–or people waiting in line at the post office. Apparently, such attacks were frequent enough to elicit an actual expression for someone becoming deranged and killing others with a firearm.
To be fair, I have been in this country for nearly 15 years, and I have yet to see a weapon in the hands of anyone not in police or military uniform; despite the fact that there are almost 300,000,000 guns in the hands of private citizens in the US.
My own views of guns and weapons are very clear; having fought in the military and carried a heavy, oily and uncomfortable weapon with me for 3 years, I would be happy never to see another weapon in the rest of my life. There’s nothing like having to take one’s weapon in the shower, toilet, to meals, and even sleep with it inside my sleeping bag (to avoid the possibility of it being stolen)–to “deromanticize” owning an assault rifle. The punishment for losing one’s rifle in the Israeli army (at least during my time) was 7 years in military prison. The punishment for misfiring it or even pointing it at another person in jest, even more severe. I think many of the “wanabee military” people might see things differently had they actually served their country.
On the other hand, from a purely practical standpoint, collecting 300,000,000 guns from the US public is a nearly impossible task–even if there were ever agreement for such changes in regulation. I admit that the solution is not as simple as in Scotland after the Dunblane murders, or in Australia after the killings in Tasmania. What I am most concerned about is the lack of recognition that things are not as they should be, and that modest and common sense measures can go a long way to making such horrible incidents less likely to occur. There are never any guarantees that all violent acts can be prevented, but there are certainly opportunities to decrease their likelihood.
I therefore felt an awful tightening of my gut this morning as I watched the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) being interviewed on one of the news channel talk shows. Mr. LaPierre advocated for armed guards in schools, and used Israel as an example where this system provides preventative measures. I would argue that the concerns in Israel are entirely different, with violence being more ‘predictable’ in the form of terror, and the situation being radically different. Nonetheless, despite these points, I can’t entirely disagree that retired police officers or trained security personnel might partially make our schools safer. But when asked about any change to the current gun laws, Mr. LaPierre was suddenly entirely dismissive, unwilling to admit that banning ammunition clips that hold 30 or more bullets, or that background checks on gun purchasers at gun shows would also likely help decrease the number of the tragic mass murder incidents.
This lack of common sense in approach–the idea that it being legal for citizens to own assault rifles with ammunition clips that allow them to fire tens of rounds in a minute–is jarring. Every time he was asked by the interviewer why he would not support these two simple common sense initiatives, there was no real reply. It was either avoiding the question and returning to armed guards, or changing the subject.
My 15 years experience in the US has taught me that the American people are sophisticated, clever and honest. In the past election I watched as Americans rejected backward agendas and pushed forward with common sense to embrace civil rights for gay couples, common sense approaches to contraception, abortion, and other social issues. For this reason I retain optimism that the American people will see through the NRA’s slippery slope argument–the weak and out of touch argument that if assault rifles and military-style ammunition clips are banned then soon all so-called 2nd amendment rights and gun ownership will come under scrutiny. After all, there is no other reason that the NRA puts forth to support their position on not closing the loophole that allows anyone to buy guns at a gun show, and anyone to buy these high caliber military style assault rifles–except the slippery slope argument.
I call on the pragmatic people of this country in both major parties–those grieving the tragic loss of life–to call the bluff of the NRA and act–before the next mass shooting occurs and we awaken to the reality of having done nothing to try to prevent it.
Note from Dec. 25, 2012:
Since posting this, spokespersons on behalf of the Israeli government have taken issue with Mr. LaPierre’s comparison of Israel’s use of armed guards in schools, pointing out (as I did) that armed guards are used to contain terror, not random mass shooters–and that restrictions on guns in Israel are tight and only security personnel are allowed to own and bear arms.