Monday, August 6, 2012

Another acceptable loss?

Sixteen days. That’s how much time has elapsed between the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, which left 12 moviegoers dead, and the next sensational mass shooting, on Sunday, in which at least six worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin were murdered by someone whose motives at this point are unclear. Sixteen days.

If I ever doubted that the numerous and periodic loss of life due to gunfire is a loss America is willing to accept, those doubts vanished after the Aurora shooting.

On the Internet and in the media, there was a stunning rush by supporters of America’s gun culture who – while offering sympathy and prayers for the innocent victims in Aurora – pleaded that under no circumstances should the national tragedy be sullied by bringing up anything as uncouth as the idea of restricting, in any way, the sale of guns used in such killing sprees.

Well, it wasn’t so much that they “pleaded” to keep the topic of gun control out of public discourse; the tone was more “demanding”, as if daring anyone to even propose a public debate on the issue.

I started to wonder:  if a fresh rampage by a gun-toting madman every year or six months isn’t shocking or alarming enough to spark a real debate about gun control, then how often do Americans have to endure such carnage before they feel incensed enough to bring up the subject in polite company?

There must be a frequency and scale of gun deaths at which public opinion finally turns vigorously against the gun lobby. What would be that tipping point be? 

Would it take an Aurora-scale massacre happening every month or so to enrage the public enough to consider some restrictions on guns and embolden US politicians enough to stand up to the NRA? Or would it require rampages on a weekly basis? Twice weekly, even?

I certainly hope it would never take such appallingly high body counts to force Americans do more than simply shrug their shoulders at the news of another shooting. The way things are going though, I’m not overly optimism.

In Finland, following shootings at two schools and a shopping center, laws concerning handguns were tightened. Effective at the beginning of the year, anyone planning to buy a handgun must show that they are an active member of a shooting club and may also need to provide a certificate of mental health. Under these requirements, the murderer in Aurora could not have legally obtained his guns.

Okay, I know some will say you can’t compare countries like Finland and the US. Finland doesn’t have the levels of crime that the US has. Finns don’t have Americans’ huge appetite for narcotics, and consequently isn’t such fertile ground for large organized criminal gangs. Also, Finns don’t generally fear their own duly elected politicians and don’t feel the need to defend themselves against the eventual apocalyptic subjugation by government that apparently prompts some (maybe many) American gun owners to stockpile enough weapons and ammo to kill entire platoons.

When it comes to the issue of guns, you could say that Finns live in a normal, reasonable and peaceful world. Sometimes, I wonder where Americans live. 

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