Yesterday, November 8, 2018, America was shaken. Ian Long, a 28-year-old Marine veteran opened fire in a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, killing 12 people and injuring several others. In better times, this would have been treated with horror, a rare incident amongst a sea of good days. For the USA, however, this shooting is just another horrifying statistic, adding to the 300-plus shooting incidents that have taken place in the 312 days of 2018. That is almost one shooting every day. Just a few days prior, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ do the usual rounds on social media. But when will they yield any practical result?
According to the Small Arms Survey of 2017, the USA has a staggering ratio of 120.5 guns per 100 people, making it the highest ratio in the world – more guns than people. To put things in perspective, Yemen is second on the list. The poverty stricken, violence afflicted, civil war riddled nation still has less than half that number – 52.8 guns per 100 people. When did the American Dream change to hoping your children will still be alive at the end of the day at school?
Situations like these often lead to a multitude of articles and opinions flooding the internet. One such article stated ‘research shows that countries with fewer guns have lower homicide rates.’ You mean to say that countries that have less weapons of mass destruction available to the public have lesser intentional deaths? Who would have thought? The saddest part is that this painfully obvious fact seems yet to occur to the US administration, who continue to push the agenda that ‘guns do not kill people, people kill people.’ How very convenient, to bypass the glaring truth that people with guns are infinitely more likely to kill people than people without them!
As mental health is increasingly being claimed as one of the reasons behind shooter’s decisions, some say that this association only serves to increase the stigma surrounding mental struggles. Malcolm Gladwell in his 2015 essay addresses this, “The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.” A chilling example of this occurred just a few days before the Thousand Oaks shooting. On November 6, in Arizona, an 11-year-old shot his grandmother and then himself. Let that sink in for a moment. Eleven. And the reason? He did not like being told to clean his room. Does anyone miss the good old days when the highest form of rebellion was sulking behind a closed door in high dudgeon? This obviously does not mean that nobody has dark and primal thoughts entering their head at all. Human beings are a destructive race after all. But how can legally handing us the weapons of destruction even be considered as an effective solution?
Here are some stellar examples that America would do well to imitate in this regard – after a 1996 shooting, the Australian government under then Prime Minister John Howard initiated a massive buyback policy, using government funds to buy back and destroy guns and ammunition. Reports show that there have been no school shootings since, and the number of gun related deaths halved. In Japan, laws were reformed to include stringent procedures that hamper unfit people from legally obtaining firearms. These include taking an entire day of classes, scoring above 95 per cent accuracy in a shooting range, a written test, mental health evaluation, and a background check. The tests have to be repeated every three years. As a result, gun-related deaths decreased to under 10 per year, for a population of about 127 million people. Norway believes in maintaining trust and cooperation between the citizens and the police force, leading to a belief that their safety is protected and looked after – they do not have to take matters in their own hands. An analysis in 2015 found that the number of fatal shootings by police in Norway in the past nine years was less than the number of fatal shootings by US police officers in one day. Meanwhile, the US federal laws continue to do a loop-holed bare minimum, even worse after Trump repealed the Obama reforms made after the Sandy Hook shooting, and the police force repeatedly mows down black Americans who are simply minding their own business.
The midterm elections saw the Republicans retain the Senate, and the Democrats took the House. This means that the Republicans have lost the power to send bills to the President on the strength of their majority alone. Although the Democrats have the majority in the House of representatives, they may not be able to implement major changes as long as President Trump gleefully wields his veto powers. However, it does mean that states controlled by Democrats can now have more liberal federal laws, and can halt the rapid influence of Republican ideologies from impacting an entire generation – even in the area of gun control.
Meanwhile, all that remains is to wait. And offer thoughts and prayers.