The Hebrew observation “a stranger won’t understand it” will kick into gear in the next few days as the world watches America engage in yet another round of internal bickering over its outrageously liberal gun laws in the wake of the murder of 12 Batman fans in Aurora, Colorado early Friday morning. Presidential politics might fuel this familiar charade, played out after each of the 28 mass shootings that have occurred over the past decade, but the song, rest assured, will remain the same.
Guns induce violent crime, the proponents of stricter gun control will argue. No, it is people who shoot the guns that are the culprits, firearm fans will retort. Government must control guns, say the former, but carrying guns is a freedom enshrined the constitution, the latter will respond. A colorful ad placed by company called “Gun, Inc.”, inviting customers to come to a “Gun Demo”, that appeared on top of a Denver Post web report on the latest massacre provided graphic illustration on Friday of the side that invariably wins these debates.
Random mass shootings by enraged young men, armed to the teeth and usually white, are a particularly American phenomenon. In the eyes of the world, these rampages define America no less than baseball, computers or apple pie. Just as Israeli generations are classified by the country’s wars, Americans can be categorized by the crazy shooting sprees that they recall, from the day Charles Whitman shot 16 people to death from the observation tower at the University of Texas on August 1, 1966, through the 1984 murder of 21 people in a California McDonald’s, the 1991 massacre of 23 at Luby’s Cafeteria in Texas, the infamous 1999 Columbine High School killing of 13, the 2007 Virginia Tech slaughter of 32 and now the murder of 12 moviegoers in Aurora, just 19 miles away from the site of the Columbine shootings, immortalized in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” in which a Canadian observer of American violence famously remarks: “If more guns make people safer, than America would be one of the safest countries in the world. It isn't. It's the opposite.”
The statistics are clear cut: Americans own over 300 million guns, and despite a significant drop in violent crime rates in the past decade, the U.S. holds a place of dishonor among Western democracies in homicides, in general, and in firearm homicides, in particular. According to the latest UN statistics, there are 5.2 homicides for each 100,000 Americans, a figure that is surpassed only by Russia and a host of relatively lawless African and Central American countries. In Israel the rate is 2 per 100,000; in the UK and Australia, it is closer to one. No less than 60% of American murders are carried out with guns, compared to 12% in Israel and Australia, and 7% in the U.K.
Of course, gun proponents are correct in asserting that it is people, and not their weapons that carry out these heinous crimes. The savagery inherent in America’s legacy of the conquest of the Wild West, the barrenness and loneliness of modern American life, the breakdown of family, the erosion of values, the deterioration of public education, the frustration of contemporary American youth, the sensationalism of American media, the glorification of well known criminals as well as the unbridled on-screen brutality in computer games and movies – these are all factors that have been cited by experts that need to come together at once in order to produce a mass murderer like the one that operated at the Century complex in Aurora. But without the AK-47s, the Remington shotguns, the Bushmaster semi-automatics, the Smith and Wesson revolvers the Colt and Glock handguns and the wide range of guns produced at a rate of 8 per minute and widely available across the counter in many U.S. states – many of these rampages as well as individual murders would never come to pass.
That’s the way it seems, at least, to most people, not only abroad but in America as well. But gun supporters and enthusiasts have succeeded in building a powerful lobby that exerts considerable political influence and subverts significant moves to reform, especially after the Republican romp in the 2010 Congressional elections and in many state legislatures. Prospects for change, therefore, remain dim, at best.
But you can rest assured that within a year, the perpetrator of the Aurora massacre, now identified as 24-year-old James Holmes, will come to be known as “the Batman Murderer," and will probably secure a multi-million dollar book and movie combo deal for the story of his life, complete with photographs of him proudly holding the 12 gauge shotgun that he bought at a gun mall across the street and with which he mowed down his helpless victims.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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