The horror perpetrated at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA on Monday morning is beyond the comprehension of someone like me. Thirty two people were killed at the hands of Cho Seung-Hui, yet another of America’s outcast underbelly.
I’m not going to traipse over the details as I’m sure, unless you’ve been avoiding the story, you’re all aware of them.
The one quote that I found most interesting was that of John Markell, the owner of the shop, Roanoke Firearms, that sold Cho the weapon.
“It was a very unremarkable sale,” he said. “He was a nice, clean-cut college kid. We won’t sell a gun if we have any idea that a purchase is suspicious.”
A very unremarkable sale.
In my world – one where there is no right to bear arms – the sale of a gun to someone who has absolutely no need for it would be a very remarkable sale.
A nice, clean-cut college kid.
How often do the neighbours of serial killers comment in post-arrest interviews that he was “a nice man, quiet, kept himself to himself”?
They won’t sell a gun if we have any idea that a purchase is suspicious.
Well if instincts and suspicions were 100% right all the time then there would be no doubt and no murders. There was a short-story and subsequent movie about this – it was called “Minority Report” and it was science fiction.
The right to bear arms
My knowledge of the US Constitution (enacted 1789) and the Bill of Rights is minimal but it was the Second Amendment to the US Constitution that protected the people’s pre-existing “right to keep and bear arms”. It is this Second Amendment right that the National Rifle Association (NRA) vigorously aims to protect through its aggressive lobbying in the United States.
While the English Bill of Rights (1689) included a provision that granted persons to use arms for defence “as allowed by law”, it was effectively a privilege rather than a right. The right to own and use guns has not existed for centuries. To own a gun in England you need to demonstrate a need and show that you are sufficiently responsible.
Similarly, in Ireland, you will not be granted a licence for any weapon for the purposes of personal protection, protection of others or the protection of property. Ireland has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.
Am I concerned that I’m going to get shot by a burglar or mugged on the street by a handgun-wielding drug addict? No, I’m not. Even though the weapons black market exists and it is probably not too hard to get a gun, we don’t have this passion for guns that exists in the United States.
The American obsession with guns is not even morbidly fascinating. It’s, at best, puzzling; at worst, disturbing.
There have been attempts to tighten gun laws but when some of these merely restrict fixated patrons to one gun a month or ensure that you’re not a convicted felon before selling you a fully-automatic weapon it doesn’t amount to much. Basically it’s akin to shutting the gate after the gun-shaped horse had bolted.
Statistics demonstrate that States with strict gun laws often have higher homicide and robbery rates than ones with liberal laws. Washington DC’s murder rate has risen 134% since restrictive gun control laws were implemented in 1976. New Jersey’s murder rate went up 46% two years after their strict gun laws came in to force in 1966.
Guns are so pervasive in American society and culture at this point, it will take a nationwide amnesty and ban to get control.
The Gun Owners of America, another US gun lobby group, issued a predictable and nauseating statement saying the shooting showed that gun bans were the problem and Americans should have the right to carry arms to defend themselves.
“It is irresponsibly dangerous to tell citizens that they may not have guns at schools,” said director Larry Pratt. “The Virginia Tech shooting shows that killers have no concern about a gun ban when murder is in their hearts.”
It is irresponsibly dangerous not to have a gun. If that’s not a society gone wrong I don’t know what is. Mr Pratt (hmm) is effectively recalling the “my Dad is bigger than your Dad” psychology of the Cold War: let’s all get weapons and point them at each other and no one is going to be stupid enough to push the button first.
This right-wing ideology does not allow for a deranged loner on a suicide mission no more than a top-heavy nuke arsenal could dissuade terrorists from flying planes in to buildings. In the landscape that Mr Pratt talks about a gunman could still manage to pull the trigger a number of times before he is taken down by someone else with a handgun.
In Ireland a deranged loner does not have access to firearms in order to commit such a heinous crime. Instead they take their own life, usually by hanging themselves in their bedroom taking their hate and resentment to the grave with them – but thankfully not 32 innocent people as well.