Sunday, October 21, 2007

America on the edge, Part A: Facing a dead-end?

An open wound that has proved difficult to heal in America is the plight of widespread private weapon ownership - specifically high crime rates resulting from guns put into use against targeted individuals or the wide public. In fact it appears that the wound has become gravely affected; two of the most deathly incidents involving indiscriminate public shootings have occurred within the past twelve months, the first in Pennsylvania, the second in Virginia. And while the Amish killings and the Virginia Tech massacre respectively haunt our individual and collective memories, a Cleveland teenager came very close to lengthening the list of gruesome incidents: on Wednesday, October 10, he opened fire at his former high school wounding four before killling himself.

That no band-aid exists to stop the excessive bleeding and that no pill can cure the wound from inside-out is of course alarming; it is also a testimony to the fact that the ill is much more serious and complex than it is often made appear. Last week's edition of the British "Observer" features staggering statistics about deaths from shootings as well as a comprehensive analysis of the root causes of gun violence in the United States -including political, sociological, historic, legal arguments- only to conclude that weapons are intertwined with American culture and hence almost impossible to combat.

The political response to the shootings of last year centers around a Bill passed by the US House of Representatives which stipulated among others that there must be rigorous background check of prospective gun holders to reduce the probability of weapons reaching people not fit to use them. Still, the Bill is at an early stage and must go through the Senate before it reaches the President.

Of course I do not claim to have the solution to this complex problem. On the other hand, I feel extremely uncomfortable with the "hands-off" approach or the quiescence of many who refuse to even bring up the question. I am also very skeptical of the thesis that gun possession serves their owners as a means of self-defense. Is this the way to go about solving violence? Is arming people making America more safe? I highly doubt it. Not only that, but I believe that the argument is in its core flawed: suppose momentarily the proposition was correct - what about all the people that cannot afford a weapon? Would they not have the right to feel safe in their country?

It is true that weapons alone cannot be held responsible for the form of urban violence one sees today. But they do trigger some very nasty situations - and this should concern people. It should not take another tragedy in some other state to take serious action. When we speak of safety in America, it should not involve terrorism discourse only. Threats need not result from the outside, they can very much originate inside America.

Sadly, the answers seem no longer/not anymore [pending your perspective] satisfactory. Worse still, there are a number of other things that should concern like... (to be continued...)


Guns take pride of place in US family values

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