Ahlin: It’s the guns, America.
As the 74th school shooting in 77 weeks was chalked up this past week in Oregon, we should pause in national shame. As President Obama said in off-the-cuff remarks clearly marked by frustration, “This is becoming the norm.”
In December of 2012 after the horrific Newtown, Conn., shooting, an opinion piece in the Washington Post, written by Fareed Zakaria, “pointed to three sets of causes,” which are commonly discussed in the wake of mass shootings: “First, the psychology of the killer; second, the environment of violence in our popular culture; and, third, easy access to guns. “
As Zakaria did back then, let’s take a look at those factors one at a time. After all, even the most rabid gun owners must wonder occasionally why a report by the “U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime” showed America’s “gun homicide rate [to be] 30 times that of France or Australia and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries.” Why did we have “32,000” firearm deaths (11,000 homicides) in 2011 while “England and Wales” had about 50?
But back to which factor sets America apart from the rest of the developed world.
Those who want to put primary blame on mental illness and psychotic disorders are kidding themselves. Yes, shooters often are deranged. But the point here is one of comparison and whether it is national rates of mental illness that explain why we are the only developed country where such horrendous numbers of shooting deaths and school shootings occur.
Not a chance. Proportionally, no way are there “30 times” more mentally ill people in America than in France and Australia or “12 times” more in other countries in the developed world.
That brings us to the “environment of violence in our popular culture.” Here the focus is entertainment. Yes, we Americans are addicted to violent video games and movies, and yet, the same things are popular from Western Europe to Japan. (There’s not much crime in Sweden but think of the violence in the Swedish megahit book and movie “Girl With the Dragon Tatoo.”)
Well, what are we left with? It is easy access to guns – guns, guns, guns, and more guns.
Back in 1996 when a shooter killed 35 people and wounded 18 more in the tourist area of Port Arthur in Australia, Prime Minister John Howard – a conservative – reacted quickly. Within 12 days, Australia enacted bans on “automatic and semiautomatic weapons and instigated a gun buyback for high-powered and rapid-fire rifles.” In addition, a “uniform system for registering and licensing firearms was introduced.”
And what was the result? Although there “had been 11 gun massacres in the decade preceding 1996,” there has not been one since. Zero, zilch, zippo. In addition, a 2010 study done by two Australian economists showed a “65 percent decline in the rate of firearm suicides” and a “59%” drop in “firearm homicides.”
Be clear, gun ownership is still common in Australia. However, gun owners accept regulations as sensible safeguards against guns ending up in the wrong hands. Gun availability is treated – first and foremost – as a public health concern.
Here’s the kicker: the vast majority of Americans share that insight. But the NRA has a stranglehold on political leadership across this country. So instead of applying common sense to gun ownership, we were treated to open carry advocates with semi-automatic rifles prowling the aisles of a Target store in Texas a few days before last week’s school shooting.
Wonder where the next mass shooting will be.
Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email firstname.lastname@example.org