By Ahmad Abu Hayyan
In an era where the United States of America presents its way of life to the world as an example to follow, its own society is failing. At every level in America, innocent men, women and children suffer from unprecedented social disorder, which includes indiscriminate murder.
For the 15th time since Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, an act of mass gun violence has taken place in Oregon.
Nine people had been killed and seven injured in a shooting at a school before the assailant was shot dead by police.
Oregon college gunman Chris Harper Mercer has been described as an “uncommunicative” loner who was ejected from the US Army after less than a month of service.
The 26-year-old gunman in the deadly shooting spree is believed to have left behind a document that glorified mass killings and bitterly referred to his lonely existence with few human contacts outside the Internet.
Authorities confiscated 13 weapons associated with the shooter, six at the site of the killings and seven at his apartment. Also a flak jacket outfitted with a steel plate and containing 5 magazines of ammunition was found next to a rifle belonging to the gunman at the scene of the shootings.
Damning statistics of US gun crimes and atrocities
Statistics on US gun violence reveal how routine mass shootings and other firearm incidents have plagued the nation. This love affair for stainless steel has reached a level where there is nearly as many guns as there are people.
- In his Presidency, Obama has spoken publicly or issued a statement of 15 mass shootings. The deaths in Oregon were the 994th mass shooting of his second term alone – since November 2012.
- So far there have been 294 mass shootings in 2015. This is defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured by gun. This is more than one per day.
- Over the same period, there have been 45 shootings at schools, and 142 such incidents since the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary on 14 December.
- The vast majority of gun deaths in the US occur in smaller, often unreported incidents. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 9,956 people have been killed by firearms so far this year and more than 20,000 have been injured.
- So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country. According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the Revolutionary War to Iraq.
- The US spends more than a trillion dollars per year defending itself against terrorism, which kills a tiny fraction of the number of people killed by ordinary gun crime.
- According to figures from the US Department of Justice and Council on Foreign Affairs, 11,385 people died on average annually in firearm incidents in the US between 2001 and 2011.
- In the same period, an average of 517 people were killed annually in terror-related incidents. Removing 2001, when 9/11occurred, leaves an annual average of just 31
- No official figure exists for the number of guns in the US but there are thought to be about 300 million, concentrated in the hands of about a third of the population. That’s nearly enough guns for every man, woman and child in the country to own one.
Freedom of ownership vs Gun Control
By any stretch of the imagination, these are shocking and damning statistics. Indeed the American people continue to suffer in their society and live in fear of more gun violence. The unfortunate situation is that the discussion is between two sides. Those that believe lack of gun control is the cause and those that believe that they have the ‘freedom’ of owning guns
The right for citizens to own those guns is protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and fiercely defended by lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association, which boasted that its membership surged to around five million members in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Obama has blamed the failure of gun control legislation to make yet another address to the nation. He expressed frustration that countries such as Britain and Australia have been able to pass legislation that largely he argues prevents such tragedies.
“Right now I can imagine the press releases being cranked out. We need more guns, they’ll say. Fewer safety laws. Does anybody really believe that?”
The President called for news organisations to compare the number of Americans killed by terrorism over the past decade with the number who died in gun violence. He noted that the US spends trillions of dollars and has passed myriad laws to protect people from terrorism.
“Yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how to reduce potential gun deaths. How can that be?” he said.
Obama appealed to voters to elect politicians committed to strengthening gun control and to gun owners to ask themselves whether organisations such as the National Rifle Association, which pour large amounts of money into lobbying against restrictions, are really serving the interests of those who use weapons for sport and hunting.
The kind of opposition the President faces comes from county Sheriff John Hanlin, who was at the scene of the Oregon killings and spoke of the negative impact it would have on families he is close to. But in 2013 he wrote to the vice-president, Joe Biden, saying he would not enforce “unconstitutional” laws to restrict ownership.
“Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings. And actions against, or in disregard for our US Constitution and 2nd Amendment rights by the current administration would be irresponsible and an indisputable insult to the American people,” he wrote.
The USA is having the wrong debate
America does not know what to do about these atrocities. Limiting the purchase of assault rifles will in all likelihood not even reduce the number of casualties at the next massacre, because assailants have tended to carry more than one weapon.
There is a blatant contradiction when gun advocates quote the Second Amendment and then the other side press on Gun control. It is impossible to agree or even reach a compromise in the debate where the price is the lives of innocent people. Why should everyone have their freedom restricted when only a tiny minority abuse that freedom?
Freedom is impossible in America. Rules and laws are testimony, as by default it limits the freedom of the individual. But that remains the ‘elephant in the room’ for those that debate this matter in the USA.
The real question to be asked is where the lines should be drawn and upon what basis those restrictions should be made.
The ideal of freedom has actually closed of the real debate as it is almost forbidden to actually suggest this is the problem. The debate needs to ask why are there people who can own guns and feel they can do what they like with them?. People are different by their nature, however there are a minority that will use destructive weapons for their own purpose- regardless of what harm its brings to innocent people.
A Gun does not harm people- it is the person behind the trigger. Actions are based on the behaviour of the person holding the gun and how that behaviour has been shaped. But in a nation where freedom is held up as an idol, it has shaped people minds in an uncomfortable place there is an intellectual dilemma should they control guns (which contradicts the very foundation of the USA), or accept that there are people who will ‘abuse freedom’ and carry out massacres.
To achieve desired social outcomes, the western world have enacted legislation that has made a mockery of its own values which it claims to hold dear to the rest of planet. For example, the terrorist attacks of the early 21st century sparked legislation permitting state security activities that would have previously been opposed on the basis of personal freedom. This legislation has eroded the prized possession of “civil liberties”.
Indeed- the debate must stay firmly focused on Freedom and ask questions on this value. Gun crime has crippled a whole nation into fearing for the lives of their loved ones. The debate must be honest, transparent and ask how a nation like the United States of America produces people like Chris Harper Mercher.
“If the truth were to follow their whims and desires, the heavens and the earth and everyone in them would have been brought to ruin. No indeed! We have given them their Reminder, but they have turned away from it.” (Al-Mu’minun:71)