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January 26, 2011

The U.S. acceptance of violence

The Canadian Charger

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Five days after the shooting in Tuscon Arizona that killed six people and wounded 14 others, including Congresswoman Giffords, the CBC reported that in the four days after the shooting, 350 people died of gunshot wounds in the United States, yet this doesn't seem to be an issue, as little or no concern is being shown. Where is the moral outrage toward such senseless carnage?

To Stalin's axiom: When one person dies it's a tragedy, when many people die it's a statistic, it should be added, IT DEPENDS, of course, on the prominence of the person or persons who were killed.

On the Monday after the latest of the bloody rampages that are part of American life, gun sales in Arizona shot up by more than 60 percent and rose by an average of five percent across the entire country. The figures come from the FBI and speak volumes about a gun culture that has long baffled much of the world.

This follows a similar spike in sales after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, where a deranged student killed 32 people and himself in the worst such massacre in American history.

And yet as the debate rages about whether political rhetoric led to the shooting, and the motivations of a clearly deranged shooter, availability of guns is not even an issue. But then why should it be in a country where the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that it's a citizen's right to own a gun?

According to a CBS poll taken two days after Jared Loughner shot congresswoman Giffords in the head, Americans are almost evenly divided on the issue of gun control – 48 percent said gun laws should remain as they are or be made less strict, while 47 percent were in favour of more regulation. That is down from 56 percent in 2002 and confirms a Gallup analysis this week that found public support for stricter gun laws has declined over the past two decades.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution which states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed upon,” is often cited as a justification for gun ownership.

What does allowing every Tom, Dick, Jane and Harry to have a gun have to do with a well regulated militia, the purpose of which was to give the people the right to control an overwhelming government?

Would it be beneficial to have a well regulated militia capable of challenging the US government to a shootout in today's America? Moreover, it should be noted that the Second Amendment was written at a time when all guns were single shot muzzle loaded. Why is it that many other laws have become outdated, but not the Second Amendment?

In what would appear to be a strong case for gun control, John Lott wrote in his book More Guns Less Crime “American culture is a gun culture – not merely in the sense that in 2009 about 124 million people lived in households that owned a total of about 270 million guns, but in a broader sense that guns pervade our debates on crime and are constantly present in movies and the news. So, we are obsessed with guns…” However, Mr. Lott is one of the staunchest opponents of more gun regulation.

From 1994 to 2004, the rate of gun deaths – by murder, suicide or accidents – has held steady at around 31,000 a year and the murder rate has actually dropped. This is an argument the gun lobby will likely use when, and if, proposals for tighter gun regulations are brought forth.

The United States has by far the highest rate of gun deaths -- murders, suicides and accidents -- among the world's 36 richest nations, a government study found.
The U.S. rate for gun deaths in 1994 was 14.24 per 100,000 people. Japan had the lowest rate, at .05 per 100,000.  Canada was between the two extremes with a rate of 4.31.

The study, done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first comprehensive international look at gun-related deaths. The CDC would not speculate why the death rates varied, but other researchers said easy access to guns and society's acceptance of violence are part of the problem in the United States.

``If you have a country saturated with guns -- available to people when they are intoxicated, angry or depressed -- it's not unusual guns will be used more often,'' said Rebecca Peters, a Johns Hopkins University fellow specializing in gun violence.

``This has to be treated as a public health emergency.''

The National Rifle Association (NRA) called the study shoddy because it failed to examine all causes of violent deaths.

``What this shows is the CDC is after guns. They aren't concerned with violence. It's pretending that no homicide exists unless it's related to guns,'' said Paul Blackman, a research coordinator for the NRA in Fairfax, Va.

Remarkably, many Americans share Mr. Blackman's point of view. The NRA has nearly 4 million members, more than a three-fold increase since 1976.

Meanwhile, the US government's response to the latest slaughter of its citizens followed a familiar template. After the Columbine shootings, President Clinton said: I struggle to understand these dark forces.”

After the Virginia Tech shootings, President Bush said: “All Americans grieve with the loved ones of the victims. Our hearts go out to you.”

Now President Obama is being praised by both the left and the right for his heart-wrenching speech in Tucson, calling for healing and coming together. This has soothed the hurt for the moment, but it's just papering over the cracks in the wall before it crushes more and more Americans.

What these presidents are really saying is that they have no intention of doing anything about this never-ending carnage.

It's their poll ratings they're worried about, not the victims of the shootings, although Obama did look visibly shaken when he first appeared on TV after the shooting. Beneath his feel-good empty rhetoric, he must know that he could be next at any given moment, but then so could any American.

There were an abnormal number of death threats against him prior to his  Inauguration. American security officials took these threats seriously enough to have Defence Secretary Robert Gates prepared to step in as president in the event that Obama was assassinated on Inauguration Day.

But what else could they do in a country where anyone can own a gun, amidst a sea of eliminationist rhetoric, with no shortage of heavily-armed deranged individuals, some of whom would like nothing better than to become famous, like their heroes in Hollywood.

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