Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, July 2012
Colorado Massacre and the American Motto of Free, Armed, and Stupid
By Lawrence Davidson
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 23, 2012
Well here we go again. Late in the evening of 20 July “a masked gunman entered a Colorado movie theatre playing the new Batman movie and “opened fire … killing at least 12 people and wounding 50”. The gunman was not a large anthropomorphized bat but rather a young white male, and he “was armed with a rifle, a shotgun and two handguns”, all of which he had legally obtained.
This is nothing new in the “land of the free”. Among the more notable victims of the nation’s love affair with deadly weapons have been Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan and, of course, John Lennon. Then there are the recent (and periodically on-going) mass murders among the population at large: the Colombine High School shootings, the Beltway sniper incidents, the Virginia Tech massacre and the 2011 Tucson killings. To this can be added to the daily shootings that occur in every city in the country. Taking the representative year 2007, there were 31,224 deaths from gunshots with 17,352 of them (56 per cent) being suicides. The numbers have, generally, been going up.The gun advocates’ excuses
Those who stand against tightening up the nation’s presently useless gun laws have a variety of arguments most of which are in good part delusional. Thus:Excuse #1: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”
a) It is certainly true that while sitting on a shelf, locked in a draw or carried in a holster, guns are inert pieces of machinery and, ultimately, it takes a finger to pull the trigger. Yet this fact is actually irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because guns are not manufactured to stay on shelves, in draws or holsters. That inert status has nothing to do with why they exist. So, we can go on and ask,
b) Why are guns manufactured? Why do they exist? Primitive firearms were invented in China sometime in the 12th century. They were invented to be used in warfare, that is, to kill and injure other people. As the technology spread westwards, first into the Arab lands and then to Europe, the technology was improved, but its raison d’etre (its reason for being), to kill and injure others, stayed the same. The only thing that has changed over time is that in certain lands, particularly the US, a monopoly on the possession of such weapons ceased to be held by the state and guns diffused into the population as a whole.
In the United States, this process of diffusion was allowed based on a
peculiar interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US constitution.
That amendment says that the right of the citizens to bear arms shall not
be infringed. But that statement forms a dependent clause in a sentence
that links the right to bear arms to the maintenance of “a well-regulated
militia”. Apart from the National Guard, the modern US does not maintain
militias. And, most of the membership of the National Rifle Association
(NRA), along with the other gun-toting tough guys walking the streets of
(particularly) the mid- and southern US, don’t even belong to National
a) If you go on the web, you can find surveys that allege the use of guns for self-defence numbering in the millions of episodes per year. However, these surveys are often carried out by biased organizations and are methodologically flawed. They have therefore been demonstrated to be unreliable.
b) More reliable studies, conducted by unbiased sources have shown,
among other things, that: very few criminals are shot by law-abiding
citizens; most criminals are shot either by the police or by other
criminals; and firearms reported to have been used in self-defence are,
most of the time, used against members of a family or erstwhile friends
It seems not to matter how many times these massacres take place. Nothing is likely to change. Here is what an article entitled “Still little interest in US gun control”, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer of 22 July 2012 had to say: “Despite periodic mass shootings … the political calculus seems locked down. Most Republicans adamantly oppose tighter gun controls, and most Democrats would prefer to focus on other issues.”
Why so? The reason has to do with a very flawed aspect of our political system. Ours is a system that allows a relatively small number of citizens (in this case gun zealots) to form a special interest, or lobby group, that raises and distributes great amounts of money nationwide and, in some parts of the country, exercises strong voting influence. These lobbies can hold crazy ideas that demonstrably harm society and make us look like an insane nation to the rest of the world, but that doesn’t matter either. The politicians will positively respond anyway to get money and electoral support. In this sense, we live in a land devoid of “national interest”. There is only the interest of lobby groups and the politicians controlled by them.
Nor is this situation unique to the problem of the nation’s gun laws and the power of the NRA. If we look at foreign policy, we see that similar lobbies skew policy with disastrous results. The Zionist lobby has the entire US government head over heels in support of the basically racist state of Israel. And, this position does demonstrable harm to our standing throughout the Middle East and Muslim world. It’s crazy, but it has been going on for at least 65 years. The Cuban lobby of anti-Castro fanatics has intimidated Washington to blockade, sanction and otherwise isolate Cuba even though the rest of the world is content to trade and have normal relations with the island nation. Our politicians say they take this stand because the Cuban government is a communist dictatorship. So what? Do we have normal relations with China? Do we trade with Vietnam? They are obviously being less than truthful. They take the stand because they are bought and bullied by a bunch of well-organized, well-funded fanatics. The whole thing is crazy and has been going on since 1960.Conclusion
There is simply something wrong with our
political system. Too few people can command too much power in the name of
relatively small minority groups. We need campaign finance reform and much
more transparency when it comes to the operations of special interests. We
need shorter electoral periods and limits on how much it can cost to run
for any office. We need honest and open regional and national debates on
both domestic and foreign policies that affect large numbers of our
citizens (whether those citizens know it or not).
– Does “freedom” mean that just about anyone is free to carry weapons
that potentially put the rest of us in danger? Free to carry weapons that
are most often going to be used to shoot off the carrier’s foot, or shoot
someone he or she imagines is acting abnormally, or shoot a family member
in a heated argument or, in a fit of depression, to blow one’s own brains
out? Does it mean that people are free to carry weapons that they may
decide to use in an act of mass murder?
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