Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mass Shooting, again: a European Perspective.

This summer, I wrote extensively about Americans and guns after the mass killing in Aurora. (here and here).

Sadly, but expectedly, nothing has changed since then, and I could easily copy and paste what I said last July today. Only this time, the horror has reached a new peak with the death of so many children: undeniably the most sacrilegious killing in our Western societies.
Could this new abomination be the defining moment that may turn American public opinion in favor of gun control?

This is the kind of questions the rest of the world, and certainly the Europeans have been asking since yesterday.

And if we are to take president Obama at his words, something may be done:
We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.

High profile NY mayor Bloomberg, a long advocate of gun control, is keeping the pressure:

The country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem," Bloomberg wrote. "Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response.” (Huff Post)
And maybe this time, the American people will as well. (here).

If things change, it won't be easy, if you look at the reactions of gun supporters.

Just hours after the shooting, some Gun Advocacy Group (Gun Owners of America) claimed that gun control is actually the reason why the shooting took place. Yes, seriously. Their "logic" is that if the teachers had had guns, they could have killed the guy. Read this amazing statement:
Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.(Here)
You think this is just from some crazy group? Think again: a this week, Michigan passed a bill that would allow guns in schools. (here) :
Most of the attention on the new bill has focused on provisions allowing hidden handguns in places where they are now forbidden, such as schools, university dorms and classrooms, and sporting stadiums (Michigan Live)
You'd think that a non-violent religion like Christianity might have helpful points to make. And indeed, many people turn to faith on such terrible trials.
Unfortunately, some major leaders - like a former governor and presidential candidate - have a very different view of God:
Mike Huckabee attributed today’s deadly massacre in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut to the lack of God and religion in public schools. (ThinkProgress)
If we followed the logic of this statement, then Europe should have a lot of violence in its schools. Fortunately, it is not the case.

This may be a good opportunity to give this a little perspective by looking at statistics and compare our the U.S. with a few other industrial countries:

                                            (The Guardian)

                         Gun ownership                                        Gun murders
USA:            88.8 per 100 inhabitants                            2.97 per 100 000
Canada:        30.8 per 100 inhabitants                            0.51 per 100 000
The UK:       6.2 per 100 inhabitants                              0.07 per 100 000
France:         19 per 100 inhabitants                               0.06 per 100 000

(Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime)

To be fair, it must be stressed that gun crime in the U.S., like all crimes, is going down. (The Guardian or National Institute of Justice), and....

... despite what is often said, so is gun ownership:
Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home.  In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do.  Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes. (The Monkey Cage)
But it is still much higher than in any other Western country.

That being said, it is hard to compare the situations in America and in Europe: different histories, different results.

If we want to think of possible solutions, we need to look at the present reality as it is: there are already significant numbers of guns in circulation in the U.S. Once a lot of people have guns, it may seem more natural to want your own to defend yourself.
As Lexington put it yesterday on the Economists's blog, this may be "tinged with a blend of excessive self-confidence and faulty risk perception.":
I am willing to believe that some householders, in some cases, have defended their families from attack because they have been armed. But I also imagine that lots of ordinary adults, if woken in the night by an armed intruder, lack the skill to wake, find their weapon, keep hold of their weapon, use it correctly and avoid shooting the wrong personLexington 
The problems is that most Americans have too much confidence in the success of what they do. This has a lot to do with education, as we have discussed on this blog: Americans tend to be over confident, while the French are actually too pessimistic and have too much low self-esteem.

As for the common used argument of preventing tyranny:
As for the National Rifle Association bumper stickers arguing that only an armed citizenry can prevent tyranny, I wonder if that isn’t a form of narcissism, involving the belief that lone, heroic individuals will have the ability to identify tyranny as it descends, recognise it for what it is, and fight back. There is also the small matter that I don’t think America is remotely close to becoming a tyranny, and to suggest that it is is both irrational and a bit offensive to people who actually do live under tyrannical rule. Lexington 
Banning all guns will never happen, but stricter regulation is clearly needed.

Just as importantly, if not more, but never mentioned in the media, Americans need to have a discussion on their mythical approach to violence (see my post here), especially in popular culture where violence is often shown as the normal way of resolving issues, where the violent past such as wars is often glorified, and where children are so often exposed to violence in movies, series, and videogames.

Here I am not talking about censorship, but about a way of discussing the real impact of violence on people's real lives, and make it a big deal. It might be also a good idea for a lot of politicians to tone down their violent rhetoric against their opponents (like here)

It remains to be seen if, once the emotion wears off, anything meaningful will really happen. Personally, after so many years of hearing the same things, I have some doubt. But if the killing of 20 children does not do it, nothing will.


Anonymous said...

Lots of good points! Unfortunately, this is a debate Americans must have amongst themselves, and it's an uphill climb. One slight critique of your statistics on gun ownership: the number of households owning guns is falling, yes, but of those which do 3/4 own multiple guns, like Ms Lanza ( Among other things, this illustrates how agendas are driven by committed minorities when the public at large doesn't care enough or is ambiguous about the issue.

Anonymous said...

Très bon blog, quasiment toutes les clés pour comprendre la "culture" française.