Once again, gun violence is in the news in the US along with renewed calls for tighter regulation of firearms, after a shooting rampage in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The shooter, alleged to be 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot and killed his mother before executing an attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School, which took the lives of 20 school-aged children and 6 adults.
The assailant, armed with a .223-caliber Bushmaster assault rifle and several 30-round magazines, inflicted multiple gunshot wounds on his victims, some of whom were shot 11 times, before he took his own life.
Ironically, the attacker’s mother and first victim, Nancy Lanza, not only was a gun collector who owned the semi-automatic weapon used to kill her and the other victims at the school, but also was the person who taught her son Adam to shoot.
Calling the shooting a “heinous crime,” President Barack Obama acknowledged, “As a country, we have been through this too many times.” Hinting at a possible legislative push for gun control by his administration Obama declared, “And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” Anticipating legislation restricting gun ownership, many Americans are now purchasing weapons as has happened in the past after similar shootings.
Referring to the young victims of the shooting and extending condolences to their parents and grandparents, Obama said, “The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” To further dramatize his sympathy for the parents of the children and relatives of the other victims slaughtered in the shooting spree, Mr. Obama even managed to shed a few tears on primetime television.
The latest gun violence follows closely on the heels of another grizzly mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, on 20 July 2012 in which the attacker, James Holmes, armed with assault weapons opened fire in a movie theater killing 12 persons and wounding 50 others. Once again calling the incident a “heinous crime,” Obama assured US citizens, “We will take every step possible to ensure the safety of all our people.” Declaring, “Such evil is senseless — beyond reason,” the US President opined, “We will never know fully what causes someone to take the life of another.”
These are hollow words, indeed, for a man that decides who is to be targeted by US assassination drones, whose strikes in Pakistan alone have killed over 800 civilians including 168 children. These targeted drone strikes, which have claimed an estimated 3,000 civilian lives in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere over the last 10 years, continue to be authorized by this same US president at a rate 6 times that of the former. And not a single primetime tear has been shed by Obama or his predecessor for the grieving families of the innocent victims who are killed in these “signature strikes” and merely written off by Washington as “collateral damage.”
That the latest shooting melee took place in a school is not an anomaly either. Rather, it is one more calamity on a long list of such violent events that seem to occur with frightening frequency in US schools. Just in the past few years from February 2010 to date, there have been 27 shooting incidents in US schools in which a total of over 60 people have died of gunshot wounds.
One such especially violent school shooting occurred on 20 April 1999 when students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched an assault on Columbine High School in unincorporated Jefferson County, Colorado. Heavily armed with sawed-off shotguns, 9-mm assault weapons, pipe and propane bombs, and a Molotov cocktail, they killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured 21 others before committing suicide themselves.
Nor was the Sandy Hook catastrophe the deadliest school shooting. On 16 April 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a mentally disturbed student, opened fire at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia killing 32 people and wounding 17 others before killing himself, making the incident the deadliest school massacre perpetrated by a lone gunman in US history to date. Regrettably, Virginia Tech was the scene of another shooting on 8 December 2011 in which the gunman took his own life after fatally shooting a police officer.
This latest tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, underscores the grim reality that the United States is a violent nation with a gun homicide rate about 20 times the average rate of all other developed countries, according to data compiled by the United Nations. With an average of 88 firearms per 100 people — the highest in the world — it should be no surprise that guns are used in 60 percent of US homicides.
And the corrosive atmosphere of violence in the United States has had a profound detrimental effect on American children, as was pointed out in a recent report by the US Department of Justice:
– 60 percent of American children are exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, and communities.
– Almost 40 percent of American children are direct victims of two or more violent acts, and one in ten is a victim of violence five or more times.
– Children are more likely to be exposed to violence and crime than adults.
– Almost one in ten American children sees one family member assault another.
Nonetheless, the gospel according to guns continues to be preached by the influential gun lobby, whose high priest is the National Rifle Association, an organization of gun owners boasting a membership of 4 million. They insist that not only is the right to bear arms enshrined in the US constitution, but also that gun ownership actually saves lives by giving private gun-toting citizens the ability to “neutralize” a deadly shooting incident before it happens, as is explained on the NRA’s webpage, “Armed Citizen.”
“No group does more to promote gun safety and respect for the laws of this land than the NRA,” said the iconic actor-president Ronald Reagan, the idol of American conservatives, praising the politically powerful gun fraternity. He went on to say, “We’ve both heard the charge that supporting gun-owners rights encourages a violent, shoot-em-up society… Don’t they understand that most violent crimes are not committed by decent, law-abiding citizens? They’re committed by career criminals.”
Unfortunately, for the 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary and other victims, Reagan was dead wrong. The Sandy Hook shooter was not a “career criminal,” nor was James Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold. The truth is most perpetrators of such mass shootings have had little or no criminal record; rather they have had undiagnosed or incorrectly diagnosed mental disorders. And yes, America is a “violent, shoot-em-up society” as can be seen from the numerous school shootings, and the homicide and gun ownership rates previously cited.
And the gospel according to guns as preached by the NRA and the Republicans appears now to be cast in legal concrete by the US Supreme Court, whose neocon-appointed majority has interpreted the constitutional “right to bear arms” as an individual right in a 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, and extended it in a 2010 decision in McDonald v. Chicago, which nullified certain restrictive state and local gun ordinances.
Thus, the reader should not be surprised that, following the requisite political hand-wringing by US legislators and studies by various prestigious think tanks, absolutely nothing will be done to alter the sacred American right to bear arms, and that school children will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of gun ownership.