The enabler of death
If the Mayan calendar prediction is right and the world ends on December 21, 2012 (5125 in the Mayan calendar), then this will be my farewell article. Of course, if the Mayan Doomsday turns out to be slightly exaggerated, then people will have to pay for their maxed out credit cards after all.
I wish I could write about something cheerful and positive for this holiday season, but mightily as I tried, I could not erase the nightmarish image of the 20 murdered children in Newtown, Connecticut, their bodies riddled with multiple bullets, their bright futures snuffed out just when they were beginning to blossom.
I just cannot fathom what possessed 20-year old Adam Lanza to kill his mother and then enter an elementary school, armed with her three licensed firearms – a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, a Glock and a Sighauser – and proceed to kill 26 people in cold blood.
Cause of the rampage
There is widespread speculation that Lanza’s rampage was caused by his mental illness – a neurodevelopmental disorder called Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Others attribute his action to the influence of the violent video games he played regularly like WarCraft with foreboding titles like Tides of Darkness and Reign of Chaos and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 which sold $1 billion in record worldwide sales in its first 15 days. Still others blame it on the pervasive Hollywood culture of violence in movies like the Expendables and Inglorious Basterds.
But the mental illness, the violent video games and the movies spreading the culture of violence are a global reality, they are everywhere. And yet mass murders do not break out anywhere else in the world.
The Newtown massacre was the 7th mass killing in the US this year, the 30th in the last five years. Outside of war zones in Syria, Afghanistan and Central Africa, this is more than the rest of the world combined.
More guns than people in the US
What easily distinguishes the US from the rest of the world is the overwhelming availability of firearms. There are more than 300 million of them in the US, half of all privately-owned in the world. Even though the US comprises less than 5% of the world’s population, it accounts for 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries of the world. More Americans have been casualties of domestic gunfire in the US than have died in all US wars combined.
Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee denied that the December 14 mass murder of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was caused by the easy availability of firearms, maintaining instead that it was because “we have systematically removed God from our schools.”
But God was in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5 this year when Wade Page opened fire and killed 6 devout Sikh members who were in prayer. God was also in a Korean Christian College in Oakland, California on April 2 this year when One L. Goh killed 7 people including a Filipina immigrant working as a receptionist. Have we removed God from a Sikh temple and a Christian college?
Tragedies must end
In his speech at Newtown, Connecticut two days after the massacre, Pres. Obama pledged to end the epidemic of gun violence plaguing the nation. “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and it is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this….Because what choice do we have?”
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” he said. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that the violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
Pres. Obama was clearly referring to the “freedom” embodied in the Second Amendment “right to bear arms” – the most sacred right in the US Constitution according to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its faithful allies in the Republican Party. Other freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights – like freedom of speech and freedom of peaceable assembly – are subject to limitations but not the Second Amendment.
In fact, in the last four years, this “freedom” has been greatly expanded in 37 states where Republicans control the legislatures, passing 99 laws making guns “easier to own, easier to carry in public, and harder for the government to track.”
Eight states now allow firearms in bars. Missouri allows citizens to carry guns even while intoxicated and even to fire it if “acting in self-defense.” Kansas allows permit holders to carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools. Five states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Most of these states now recognize handgun permits from at least some other states. The NRA is pushing for a federal reciprocity bill – backed by GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan – that would make any state’s gun permits valid nationwide.
There was a time in the 1980s when Republicans could safely vote for “gun control” bills like those that banned the manufacture of plastic guns that could pass through metal detectors or the manufacture of armor piercing bullets that were called “cop killers”.
End of assault weapons ban
Voting in the minority against both “gun control” bills was Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyoming), who received the highest rating of the NRA. When the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) came up for renewal in 2004, after it passed in 1994, Vice-President Dick Cheney made sure that it was dead and buried.
After the AWB bill expired, gun makers resumed the large-scale manufacture and sale of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, the kind used by Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik in the mass killing of 69 teenagers in Utoya, Norway on July 22, 2011. The same 30-round magazine clip was used by Jared Loughner when he shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the head, killed 6 and wounded several others in Tucson, Arizona in January, 2011.
The mantra the Republicans and the NRA have used repeatedly to oppose gun control is “guns don’t kill people, people do.” But New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff argues “many auto deaths are caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly. But we don’t shrug and say, “Cars don’t kill people, drunks do.” He asks: “Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?”
Easier to buy guns than adopt pets
Kristoff points out that the US regulates ladders (there are 5 pages of federal regulations about it) but unsafe ladders lead to the deaths of only 300 people a year in the US, just 1% of those caused by gun deaths. As one reader noted, it is more difficult in the US to adopt a pet than to own a gun.
It is so easy to purchase a gun in the US that Adam Gadahn, the American-born al Qaeda operative, posted a youtube video encouraging terrorists to carry out attacks on the United States. He said “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check, and most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
Al Qaeda can thank the NRA and its 4 million members for making the streets safe for criminals and terrorists. But actually, NRA members shouldn’t be blamed. A poll of NRA members conducted recently by Republican pollster Frank Luntz revealed broad support for gun control.
NRA members support gun control
The poll showed that 74% of NRA members voiced support for background checks, 68% of them believe that individuals who have been arrested for domestic violence should not be eligible for gun permits, and 75% agree that concealed weapon permits should not be available to people who have committed violent misdemeanors.
But the NRA leadership is not guided by the opinions of its members. What counts more are the opinions of gun manufacturers like Smith& Wesson which have contributed up to $38.9 million to the NRA, a figure based on publicly listed “sponsorship” levels on NRA fundraising pamphlets. The actual figures are much higher.
As Bill Moyers wrote, “the NRA is the enabler of death — paranoid, delusional and as venomous as a scorpion. With the weak-kneed acquiescence of our politicians, the National Rifle Association has turned the Second Amendment of the Constitution into a cruel and deadly hoax.”
Adam Lanza was the killer of the children of Newtown but the NRA was the enabler.
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