|Lessons for VI seen in US massacre|
|Thursday, 16 August 2012 09:23|
That quiet voice deep in my interior, from my mysterious subconscious, told me to hold my horses on this one: There was much more to be learned from this latest gun tragedy. It was not a simple notion that a lack of gun control was the cause. So I departed my desktop and turned the television to CNN. I was horrified at the breaking news!
For 12 ordinary moviegoers, July 20 was the last day of their lives. At about midnight, a 24-year-old Caucasian male, academically gifted, named James Holmes, went into the Century 16 Movie Complex in Aurora Town Center in Denver, Colorado. Aurora appears to be one of those relatively quiet places where not much happens. However, evil visited the town in the form of a young man in full body armour who was armed to the teeth. Ironically, Aurora is just 17 miles from where the Columbine Massacre took place on April 20, 1999.
Using tear gas as precursor to his deadly assault, the murderer shot 70 people in cold blood with an automatic assault weapon, killing 12 of them. The youngest victim was a 3-month-old baby, who fortunately survived injury. However, a precious 6-year-old daughter was not quite that fortunate: She died, plunging her family into a lifetime of pain and grief.
It is important not just to feel sympathy and empathy for the victims of tragedy, but to attempt to put oneself in their place. That is the closest one can get, who is not in that tragic position, to truly understanding the grief felt from sudden loss and bereavement. And remember this: Tragedy is random, and anyone could have been sitting in a front row seat the night of the shooting at Aurora.
Responses to massacre
One response to the shooting tells a story of a US culture with a love for guns and the frontier spirit. This response was reflected in a story that was reported in the British Independent newspaper of July 21, titled, “Aurora massacre an argument for more guns, says lobbyist.” In that narrative, Dominic Harris reported that the head of an American firearms lobbying group said the shooting was “an opportunity to loosen up gun laws.” Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America and a member of the National Rifle Association, a very powerful lobby, stated that anti-gun laws were “setting people up for this kind of disaster.” He added, “Most of our mass murders have occurred precisely where the criminal knew that he would find unarmed victims.”
On the opposite end from the stance of the gun enthusiast, the NRA, and supporters of the Second Amendment, are the views of men and women such as New York’s multibillionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Mr. Bloomberg’s reaction to the shooting was reported in The Huffington Post on July 20: “New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney Friday to detail their views to improve gun control in wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado.” Mr. Bloomberg is an active and outspoken member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that boasts a membership of 600-plus mayors from across the US.
In the Virgin Islands
Now, West Indians are fully aware that the Caribbean Sea and the surrounding Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are essentially a US lake. American media, culture, economics and politics inordinately influence the Caribbean, permeating cities, towns and village communities across the region. Caribbean islands possess highly porous borders. And it is a well-known fact that many countries in the West Indies are used as staging posts for illegal drug shipments to the US. This is supported by the illegal importation of guns into the region. These guns are then tragically used in the commission of a variety of crimes: murders, robberies and so on.
During the Virgin Islands’ election campaigns last year, the National Democratic Party expressed its intention to tighten up illegal gun possession laws in the territory. The lessons from the US are requisite learning on that issue for both politician and constituent. But look no farther than across the channel, where illegal guns in the USVI have created mayhem.
Every year, scores of people are slaughtered in St. Thomas and St. Croix, and some of this violence gets exported to this territory. This must not become the modus vivendi here, where the influences of geography cannot be ignored. Prevention is better than cure!
2 ‘strains of thought’
Returning to the mainland US, there appear to be two strains of thought on the gun issue. The first is held by those who believe that the best defence against the lone, random gunman is arming citizens with firearms. Then in the event of the dreadful and incomprehensible, one may be able to defend oneself.
Understandable! But would that have worked at Aurora? No! An armed public and theatre audience would not have changed the trajectory of tragedy that terrible night. In any event, the shooter was protected with full body armour, and he used the element of surprise to kill and maim.
The other strand of thought is the one held by Mr. Bloomberg and 600 other mayors: that there must be strict gun controls in place to protect life and limb. And that means only allowing guns in the hands of those who have been thoroughly vetted, and banning guns from certain places: day care centres, schools, hospitals, social meeting places, cinemas, theatres and so on. It also means putting in place strict deterrence in the form of tough prison sentences for lawbreakers.
A July 24 article in the Hoover Institution journal, Defining Ideas, by Professor Richard Epstein, was headed “Will Banning Guns Prevent Another Aurora?” The sage intellectual stated, “The sad truth is there is precious little any society can do to defend against periodic tragedies.” Epstein added, “Today, upwards of 200 million firearms of all descriptions are available for general use in the United States.” The professor asserted that the imposition of a tough registration programme would lead to a substantial reduction in the number of guns in circulation. But he went on to stress that even tough gun laws may have had little impact on people like Mr. Holmes. He also described the paradox where there was a dichotomy of opinion in the US on the issue.
In this life, one can find a piece of literature to justify any idea. And this gun hater still feels that this instrument of death is best kept under strict control, if not banned altogether. There is evidence that countries that ban guns have far less homicides from guns than those that do not.
Canada’s Now Magazine on June 28 published a story headed, “10 reasons we need a national handgun ban.” The article put it this way: “Handguns are blasting a hole in our national fabric, snuffing out young lives, and costing billions in healthcare every year.”
Writer Enzio Di Matteo gave the following reasons why he supported banning guns in Canada: Firearms are the third leading cause of death among young people; suicides and accidental deaths from guns account for two thirds of all gun related deaths in Canada; handguns accounted for 40 percent of all homicides in Toronto between 1998 and 2003.
Then, the cost of gun crime to the health system is approximated at 300,000 Canadian dollars per victim. The writer adds that two thirds of all guns seized by the police come into Canada illegally from the US; stats demonstrate that the threat to public safety does not depend on the intent of the user, but is related to the presence of the firearm itself; and the acceptance of guns and a gun culture is warping the values of young people, leading to higher school dropout rates.
Canada is a good model to study on the effects of guns on communities, if only for the reason that unlike America, where the gun issue is implacably contorted by the passions of the gun lobby, Canadians may be better able to look at this malignity more objectively.
For the VI, the best exhortation one can give is for the powers that be to continue the noble fight against illegal guns and gun crimes in the territory. That entails new anti-gun legislation; stiff sentencing by the judicial establishment; a robust stop-and-search regimen by the police; and the collaboration of all law enforcement agencies to end the gun scourge in this small community once and for all.