MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md. — January 27, 2011 - I have been waiting to gauge the reaction to yet another episode of violence that caused several deaths and injuries resulting from the unabated possession and use of fire arms in my country.
Sadly, since the episode in Tucson, I have only seen sporadic and rather weak responses to what should really upset any civilized society. While the show of compassion by the public and government have been marvelous and worthy of the best that our nation has to offer, almost nothing has been said about the real cause of these killing fields that have become so common in our country.
I have only received one notification that several city mayors, led by Bloomberg, are calling to an end of “loopholes” in the gun laws. Everyone else, notably politicians, have stayed away from the obvious causes of tragedies like the one in Tucson. It seems that just talking about gun control makes people terrified.
Even the president was cowered into silence during his State of the Union speech.
Rationally there are two main reasons for the Tucson massacre. First a lack of a serious mental health policy in the US and secondly, lax gun control laws that allow people to get guns and kill people.
Both in the Tucson and Virginia Tech shootings, friends, family, teachers, co-workers and ex-girlfriends came forward and said that the murderers were unbalanced persons that they feared could cause damage to themselves and others.
Even so, those radically violent individuals were still allowed to go on plotting their acts unencumbered by any limitations; they were able to purchase killing weapons, including extra large magazines for their pistols, as in the Tucson case.
Why is this? Since the 1980s, mechanisms to detain or commit persons under the suspicion of possibly causing harm to themselves and others have become very complex. This complexity makes officials reluctant to start any kind of action to detain or commit a person suspected of being mentally unstable or dangerous.
Arguably the 1980’s era origins of these changes in policy can be traced to President Reagan and conservative legislatures during that time. Conservatives have never believed that insane people should be excused from crimes because they were not responsible for their actions.
I have to assume that in their thinking, if you didn’t commit these people, they were more likely to be declared sane. Additionally, I see this as an excuse to limit the number of social programs dedicated to treat mental illness, and use the funds for something better, like tax breaks for the wealthy and increases to the military budget.
This lax position toward mental health care also dove-tailed with the new forms of health insurance that were non-supportive of mental health problems. HMOs that were started about that time found this new approach to mental illness very accommodating to their bottom lines. I remember starting to see homeless persons walking our streets around this time. Many were in a state of complete mental confusion leaving me wondering why they were not in some kind of an institution.
I don’t remember this happening prior to that time to any degree.
The hangover from those years is still with us. Many of us have identified people that were like an armed bomb ready to explode. How many are still around, giving us a reason to fear?
The second reason for these criminal assaults is the proliferation of fire arms.
Assuming that the Second Amendment (Amendment II) actually gives all citizens the right to own any weapon they desire but this amendment was passed during a completely different era. Adopted in 1791, the Second Amendment was designed for pioneers heading to the frontiers of the West that were governed by the law of the gun and where there were no protecting government representatives to enforce laws.
The Second Amendment also has roots in the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and whose purpose was to protect people from disarmament from the crown. Founding father’s also wanted to empower the citizenry to be able to bear arms against an undemocratic government, invasion, insurrection, and a natural right of self-defense.
The right to bear arms was also important as it allowed people to participate, when called upon, in law enforcement and to create and participate in a militia system.
Even if fire arms were necessary for self protection then, that is not the case any longer.
Most countries have come to this realization and curtail severely the ownership of fire arms. It is no coincidence that in most cases, the rate of crime, violent deaths and incarceration are much lower than ours.
First coming to the US, a friend told me that American’s love for guns and cars was irrational. To this day, this advice has proven to be prophecy. In the last 50 years there have been numerous cases of fire arm assassinations and mayhem, but instead of the clamor to have increased control of this cancer, the gun lobby, the NRA has effectively stopped all reformers and turned them into sheep.
Don’t get me wrong, fire arms are fascinating. I had my love affair with guns when I was a child and as a young man. Fortunately my “Dear John” letter came with my combat stint in the military during Vietnam.
I will always remember 647 enemy dead after the battle of Soie Tre, as well as the death of my best friend and brothers that either never made it back or were severely affected for life.
Since I separated from the service I have neither fired a weapon nor possessed one. I see fire arms for what they are, only useful to kill and maim people and animals.
Last year almost 59 law enforcement officials were killed nation-wide by fire arms a significant increase from the year before and a significant percentage of the total number of officers killed from all causes (160).
Some would claim that if we were to enforce current laws, the number of killings would be significantly reduced. They fail to see that the US has the largest percentage of incarceration in the industrial world.
A full 1% of our population is now in our jails, this is about 3,000,000 men, women and children and one must wonder if gun laws were more stringent, or even just enforced if that number would be less.
Either way, it is apparent to me that our approach is not working.
Read more of Mario’s writings at the 21st Century Pacifist.
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