Friday, 14 December 2012

From Their Cold, Dead Hands - the killing of innocence

Yet again, hot on the heels of the Dark Knight killer, a gunman has shot many innocents dead in the USA. In this case, at least 27 people, 20 of them very young children in a kindergarten school in Connecticut have been shot dead, apparently by the 20 year old son of a teacher in the school. Others have been injured, while some remain unaccounted for.

The coming days will see more details revealed about the pathology of the killer, perhaps his obsession with some PC game or obscure film, his apparent normality to others or his "loner" style behaviour. People around the world will fulminate about the impact of films, social media, and so forth. And also, very briefly, they will talk about America's gun culture and the ease with which people in most states can obtain firearms legally and often without needing a licence. Foreigners will shrug their shoulders, taking a view that a country with the fewest holidays on the planet and the most guns has to equal serious trouble; while Americans, even under the allegedly liberal Obama, will take no real steps at all to curb the phenomenal levels of gun ownership in their country - there are 89 privately owned guns for every 100 Americans (adults & children); 62% of US households contain more than one gun.

Taking their cue from the second amendment to their 230 year old Constitution which, responding to the 19th century needs of Frontier Conquest, confers the right to bear arms, American citizens are proportionately more heavily armed than the people of the troubled state of Yemen and possibly even the failed state of Somalia. It is little wonder then that in an environment so soaked in the power of the gun (a culture fostered by the profit-seeking gun-making business) that violence results and on far from infrequent occasions manifests itself in the appalling acts carried out yesterday.

No joke - American guns-for-Xmas advert
America is in decline; its global reach is shortening; like any decaying Imperial power, many of its people are perplexed by the levels of dislike registered towards their nation (though usually not them personally) by people around the world, and they are fearful of their future. The Patriot Act, the Tea Party, Fox News and a welter of Evangelical Christian and rightwing neoliberal Republicans add to this anxious zeitgeist by repeatedly preaching that a largely fictitious white American society is under perpetual threat from crime, terrorism, liberals, gays, people of colour and foreigners. On these grounds, with the National Rifle Association at its head, they justify the need to continue with widespread gun ownership. "From my cold dead hands!" the (now dead) Charlton Heston defiantly proclaimed to an NRA rally as he held a rifle aloft, just days after the murders of children at the Columbine school.

The consequences are obvious - little children, having barely begun their lives, destroyed by terrible acts of violence; their teachers dying as they tried to save their tiny wards; distraught parents and siblings damaged for life. All so shock jocks and fundamentalist preachers can continue to spout their spite and sow the seeds of fear and alienation that casualise and glorify violence. And each time one of these gunmen (and they always have been men) walk into a school or cinema  or workplace and take vengeance for some minor or even entirely fantastical grievance, the media attention sets the scene for the next similar atrocity.

Some liberal Americans fear it is about the very nature of their society - one friend of mine cast it thus:
Have you seen "Bowling for Columbine?" Regardless of what one feels about Michael Moore, his films are good, and that one goes through the factors involved in our school shootings. The common denominator turns out to be our culture of violence. We are a competitive, punishing, violent, isolating culture. Thankfully we can all work together in our own lives to create a supportive, loving, cooperative, & nurturing culture.

Well, culture may be part of it- a doggedly individual and overtly competitive society undoubtedly breeds more aggression and resentment than one which emphasises community and co-operation. But America is not alone in fostering such traits via its political economy and yet other countries, including increasingly neoliberal Britain, still register infinitely lower levels of gun violence and firearms offences. It seems fairly unlikely that ordinary Americans are so very different from people in other nations that they have an inherently greater tendency to undertake such appalling acts of random violence. So what is the driver?

The one thing that is different to most other socities is gun ownership and the ready ability in the USA to become a gun owner - Obama has made this even easier in recent years. Hence the huge levels of ownership of guns by private citizens. And there is evidence from the UK that gun owners are far more likely to commit violent crimes than people who don't have them.

Consider this- only 1 in 60 Britons legally own a gun; applicants for firearms certificates are background checked (though not always as thoroughly as imagined) and even many of them are not allowed to keep ammunition outside of a gun club. However, in the UK, even with these checks and restrictions, 1 in 2 domestic killings and 1 in 5 of overall murders are committed by people using a legally owned fire arm. So, putting it crudely, if you are British and your partner owns a gun, you are thirty times more likely to be killed by them than if they do not.

Britain has had three massacres carried out by lone gunmen - the shootings in Hungerford in 1987, Dunblane in 1996 and Cumbria in 2010. All of the gunmen held firearms certificates and killed their victims with legally owned guns. QED.

America and the world mourn the dead children of Newtown. They are the latest victims of a string of tragedies permitted by the selfishness of rightwingers, survivalists and pseudo-patriots. If America does not want more toddlers' and teens' blood spilt, rather than dwell too long on the psychopathy of the man who committed today's crime or argue about violent movies, it should do what is obvious to nearly everyone else in the world - get rid of the guns.

Shane left town 150 years ago.

Twisted patriot - Charlton Heston and his cold dead hands.

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