Safety issues and evidences in the changing scope of gun violence.
Right before Christmas, I ran into a lady and her two granddaughters at Central Park in New York. She told me that she was originally from Houston, but is now living in Cairo, Egypt since her husband’s job was transferred there seven years ago. She mentioned that she lives near Tahrir Square, and that she witnessed the Egyptian revolution last year.
Having watched the Egyptian uprising on TV, I assumed that being a Christian American in Egypt during this Islamic resurgence must be a terrifying experience. I asked if she felt safe walking the streets. She replied, "Well, it is certainly not as safe as it used to be, but still—from what I hear—it is still a lot safer than living in the U.S." Her answer took me by surprise. How could she think Cairo is safer than Houston? She reminded me that more children were killed by gun violence in Newtown in Dec. than in the entire country of Egypt last year. She added, "I often worry about my grandchildren here. I worry when they go to the mall, to the movies, or even to school." It is far too easy for a crazy person to have access to firearms in the U.S. In Cairo, you may worry about being robbed or yelled at—but not about being shot.
I always viewed "other parts of the world"—such as the Middle East or North Africa—as violent and unsafe; but not my hometown. As I look back, I remember the Columbine school massacre in 1999. It happened on my birthday, which makes that tragedy particularly memorable to me. Unfortunately, this shocking trend is escalating. The mentally disturbed have found a great way to get our attention and leave their mark in our recorded history. I wonder if we are really as unsafe as it appears to the rest of the world. I decided to do a bit of research. The results are sobering.
A deadly trend. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings in the United States. Of these, 25 have occurred in the past six years (over one-third). Seven of these took place in 2012 (nearly one-third). The Tucson massacre took nine lives and permanently disabled congresswoman Kathy Gifford, wife of our beloved astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly. The horrific mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado on July 20 took 12 innocent lives and injured 58. Every parent's nightmare at Sandy Hook Elementary claimed 28 lives, the majority under eight years of age. These are just the latest in an epidemic of gun violence directed at innocent and defenseless children in our country.
Are we genetically prone to violence? According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, our gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia and 12 times higher than other developed countries. Most Americans can trace their genetic heritage back to England, yet the Brits have less than 2 percent of our gun homicide rate. There is no evidence to suggest Americans have a higher genetic predisposition to violent acts. Many people believe that America is simply a more violent, individualistic society. But data does not support that. When it comes to most crimes, like theft, burglary, robbery, and assault, the U.S. is within the range of other advanced countries. The only category in which our rates are off the chart is gun homicides.
Are we crazier than the rest? David Keene, president of the NRA blames this deadly trend on a "devastatingly broken mental health system in this country, because most of these people—as a matter of fact all of them—are severely mentally ill people." If mental disorder is the main cause, then we should have 12 times the mentally disturbed population. But we do not. In fact, Americans take mental health seriously and invest more in this area than any other country. Of course there is always room for improvement and we can always do more. But, while mental illness is still a taboo subject in most countries, we recognize it as a pathological disorder and are transparent about diagnosing and dealing with it.
Are we more obsessed with “shoot ‘em up” games? Youth in England and Western Europe are exposed to virtually identical video games as youth in the U.S. The Japanese are at the cutting edge of video games but their gun homicide rate is close to zero. The popularity of realistic shoot out video games, such as "Grand Theft Auto," certainly has a desensitizing effect. But this side effect is similar in all cultures and countries.
Should we blame the gun or the shooter? Many argue that guns don't kill people, people do. Others have shown effectively that this masochistic process starts in someone's mind long before it is executed by a firearm. In my opinion, both these statement are true. While many factors, including a misguided shooter, can explain a single massacre, a persistent pattern of behavior at random locations cannot be explained by that thought process. A few hours before the Newtown murders last week, a man entered a school in China’s Henan province. Obviously mentally disturbed, he tried to kill children. But the only weapon he was able to get was a knife. Although 23 children were injured, not one child died.
Should military style assault weapons be banned? The question is not whether we should be allowed to purchase firearms for self-defense or gaming. The real question is should we make our gun laws more universal and less porous. Obviously, no gun dealer intentionally sells firearms to the mentally ill. However recent events clearly suggest that psychologically sick people can walk into a gun show and purchase heavy duty firearms and high capacity magazines fairly easily. The second amendment gives us the right to legally own and bear arms. While no one should question the second amendment, let’s not forget, when the Constitution was written in 1776, fully or semi-automatic assault weapons with military features and "Cop killers" did not exist.
What can be done? We must be more selective about who can and cannot have legal access to military-style automatic firearms and high ammunition clips. The guy who goes to a store and asks for a gun and bullets that can pierce a bullet proof jacket is probably hunting for a police officer, not a deer.
I hope this tragic incident leads to a sincere discussion about how to limit access to guns, and not just another toothless horse and pony show, loaded with ear marks and exceptions, which the gun lobby would later use to “prove” that such bans don’t work. Less than 5 percent of the world civilian population owns more than 50 percent of the guns in the civilian world. How can any of us feel completely safe in our own backyards when we know that lunatics here can easily access heavy fire power and then go on a misguided effort to "settle the score," targeting innocent bystanders in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Fareed Zakaria said, "The problems that produced the Newtown massacre are not complex, nor are the solutions. We do not lack answers. What we lack in America today is courage."