Sunday, December 30, 2012

Again and Again

In the four years I have been writing this blog, there have been three deliberations on mass killings. In July of 2011 Anders Behring Breivik unleashed terror on a youth camp on an Island outside Oslo in Norway. Last year Jared Laughner fired at a US congresswoman in Arizona, in the process killing six. Earlier this year in Colorado at a movie theater James Holms ended the lives of twelve, one among them a six year old. There have been many single shooter mass killings in between these events about which I have refused to write, partly because I had no new arguments to add to the debate. But when this month in Connecticut, the horror was brought too close to home, when little children paid the ultimate price, I was compelled to write yet again about a plague that is eating at a nation and its people. This unconscionable event has reignited the gun control debate with much vigor, as a president shed some rare tears at the loss of innocence in the aftermath of a bloodbath.

As I have argued in my previous postings, the remedy to the abominable violence in America is staring in everyone’s face. The will to act as always is muted and mired in ugly politics. The will to do something meaningful is as short lived as the memory of such tragedies. Whether the memory of this catastrophe will last longer, long enough for a nation, a president and a congress to decisively act, only time will tell. The solutions have never been more apparent.

A day before the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, half way across the globe a knife-wielding man attacked 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central 
China. The latest in a series of attacks at Chinese schools and kindergartens that have left many in shock. While many were traumatized, there were no deaths reported. Japan, a nation that has the toughest gun control laws in the world, saw about twelve people die of gun violence this year. United Kingdom, a western nation with tough gun laws, has one of the lowest gun related homicide rates in the world. So when supporters of gun ownership in America hide behind the 2nd Amendment - an arcane constitutional law that awards every citizen the right to legally own guns - and say that "guns don't kill people, people kill people", the evidence to prove otherwise could not be starker.

 Much like a world without nuclear weapons is unthinkable so is a world without guns.
Many solutions have been proposed to tackle this recurring slaughter and many are intelligent and implementable. The solutions have to be practical and realistic. With gun ownership being very high in the US a buy back program –like the one that was enacted in Australia in 1996 and 2003 - is not possible and is prohibitively expensive. Though successful buy back programs have been implemented on a city and state level. Some argue that the fact that people own guns, and there are enough of them who are responsible, it prevents gun violence. While this “deterrence” idea might work with nuclear weapon states, there are numerous examples to show that it simply does not work when applied to individuals. In a country where gun ownership is a state issue, and owning assault weapons is as easy as owning a pet, and where passions around ones constitutional right to own guns run high and deep, the solutions have to be sensible to avert anarchy.

Regulation needs to be on the ammunition side. The constitution gives one the right to bear arms, but does not say anything about the amount of ammunition one can carry. One could conceivably make ammunition extremely expensive, and regulate it like one controls prescription medication and  contraband. The president has already called for a ban on assault weapons in the aftermath of the Connecticut massacre. Sales of automatic and semi-automatic weapons have shot up as a result. The weapon of choice in the recent killing, The Bushmaster, has become a rare commodity. Americans have begun hording guns and ammunition, in fear of regulations that are to come. The NRA (National Rifle Association) has come out swinging, vowing to fight any regulation as they lobby the gun manufacturing industry more than gun owners. Any regulation will be an uphill task in gun crazy nation and it will test the president and the congress' metal. The manufacturing industry, the vendors and the illegal black market need to be tightly managed and policed to see any improvement.

There is no doubt that the culture we live in, not just in America but around the world is increasingly turning violent. From women and children caught in real war zones to fictional wars on larger and larger TV and movie screens, exposure to gun violence is a constant. While some argue that media violence does not directly spawn violence in humans, there is no doubt that it certainly creates an attitude that is numbing towards violence. So when a nation like the United States which clearly has serious mental health issues amongst its citizenry, looks at the symptoms of gun violence, it has to pay attention to a population in crisis. Being the leading manufacturer of weapons, weaponry and violent media in the world, America needs to look within. The shooter in Connecticut was the son of a gun enthusiast, and was on the verge of being committed to an institution for a mental disorder. Proximity and proclivity to weapons created conditions that turned explosive with extreme consequences. In most mass shootings in the US, a similar scenario has been the backdrop.

The debate over guns and its place in our society has been ongoing for decades with very little action. With more and more senseless killings in places where you would least expect it, the debate for the time being has reached a feverish pitch. Leading to a nation waking up in a paranoid state, more suspicious of their neighbor and the community that they live in. This unintended consequence will only lead to a more guarded society, where people will only feel safe by being under the gaze of surveillance cameras at all times or by having a false sense of comfort by having more people in uniform around them. What is needed at this point it to step back and make an assessment of the world we want to live in and understand where as a society we are heading.

In Newtown, Connecticut a memorial was held for 26 adults and children. The president presided over the memorial. There were 28 who died that day. A mother and a son were missing at the memorial. The killer deserved some sympathy as well. He was not born to kill. No one is. It is society that molds an individual therefore everyone needs to bear some blame. To accept the perpetrator as a product of the same society that awards him or her the means to commit a crime, is a place to begin the healing.

It is the end of the year. To end it in an uplifting manner is what one hopes and expects. I was resisting broaching this topic in my year-end post but could not relent. The shooting in Newtown left an indelible mark on America and me. It shook me to the core. Weeks after the incident the conversations in living rooms, cafes and corner shops are still ripe, as the national debate takes absurd turns. Parents are worried, politicians feel an urgency to act, communities are perturbed and schools and innocent children are now expected to prepare for a calamity on a daily basis. So as the year comes to an end it is with hopeful eyes that I look to the future and hope that sanity will prevail. It is what it is.