|Seven hundred dollars. Twenty lives.|
Thoughtful people all over the world are attempting to find reasons why a young man armed with a semiautomatic assault rifle walked into a school and opened fire. The shooter, it is alleged, had Asperger’s syndrome, a brain-related, high-functioning form of autism marked by poor social skills, trouble communicating and repetitive behavior, but there’s no apparent correlation with the cold, premeditated violence that broke out. We therefore ask ourselves whether the shooter was also ‘mentally ill’. Nevertheless, as people wrestle with the loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, people with autism are finding themselves the focus of misunderstanding and more than a little scrutiny.
Diagnosis and treatment of mental illness is stigmatic, expensive, error-prone and its propensity for violent behavior, it must be admitted, is not well understood. The easier target and perhaps the one more likely to succeed is to attempt to restrict the availability and type of weapons. Once again, therefore, gun control legislation is high on the White House’s agenda. As one who handles guns very rarely and always with the same caution as one might handle a venomous reptile, I fail to understand why a weapon of such destructive power could ever be able to be legally placed in the hands of someone other than a trained soldier and even then only on a battlefield. Which hunter could possibly require a discharge rate of a full 30 round magazine in less than a second. I further fail to understand why gun sales - in particular, sales of semiautomatic weapons - spiked dramatically after the event, unless purchasers were afraid of knee-jerk legislation banning sales of such items.
The Second Amendment was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689 after James II sought to disarm Protestants. The wording is specific – the arms borne are ‘those allowed by law’ and the arms borne are ‘for [their] defence’. Dianne Feinstein’s call therefore for a ban on assault weapons with high capacity magazines seems entirely reasonable. It would not be unreasonable also to restrict the sale of the popular .223 calibre ordnance, specifically because of its high impact fragmentation. What perverted logic asserts that such things are for defensive purposes only?
The US has had a love affair with weapons since its inception, it romanticises their carrying and almost fetishises their use. Raw statistics speak for themselves – in countries where more weapons are freely available, more people get shot and the people who want most fiercely to obtain and use guns include many of the same people whose access to guns society most needs to restrict. The USA has 88.8 privately owned guns per 100 people, 270 million in a country of 312 million, the highest in the world - such a disturbing statistic must surely give major cause for concern. Like race relations and gay rights, if America comes to terms with its own deeply rooted paranoia concerning self-defence, a cultural shift will, indeed must, presage legal reform. But, this of itself may not nearly be enough. Guns are America's Moloch and gunpowder toxically flows in her bloodstream. The gun, for her, is a metonym for redemptive violence, and there is a pervasive culture of death that has been present since her wars of attrition at the beginning of her nationhood. To deprive the national psyche of guns altogether would be to fatally emasculate it. Wherever reason surfaces, therefore, not in the committee rooms of Washington, initially, but in a thousand small villages and towns where the groundswell of dismay over a million gunshot wounds annually will eventually and hopefully permanently shift the axis of change. The consequent paradigm shift will redefine America at the core level of national identity. Twitter and Facebook both went viral with comment and sympathy; as we learned from the Arab Spring, social media has teeth.
The residents of that small town are now sitting down in the ashes and many, I expect, are wondering ‘where do we go from here?’ Words like ‘justice’, ‘forgiveness’ and ‘revenge’ are probably swirling like dark clouds in their minds. The shooter himself is dead – there can be no lynching here. Forgiveness? When hell freezes over.