Guns, schools and the USA

The recent tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut, for which senseless is a vastly inadequate adjective, has prompted a louder questioning of America’s worship of the gun. One US senator is seeking to reintroduce the ban on assault weapons. That this will certainly be highly contentious is hard to fathom: what can ordinary citizens possibly want with assault weapons?

As news and commentary develop it gets more disturbing. The shooter’s mother, sadly murdered by her son before he went on his rampage in the school, was herself, to judge from news emerging, a mentally unstable person with paranoid tendencies and an arsenal of weapons including the assault rifle used by her son at the school. It is clear that police checks and licencing laws are wholly inadequate in preventing disturbed people from accessing weapons of a frightening type. An argument often used is that an armed population is able to defend itself against such people. Yet this has proved time and again to be manifestly untrue. One enterprising chap has posted a world map of school shootings since 1996. Of the 78 incidents, all but 17 occurred in the USA. So much for an armed nation able to defend itself against psychopaths. In fact, an armed nation has armed psychopaths.

It is worrying that a civil constitutional right is accorded almost dogmatic status by many right-wing or otherwise orthodox Catholics in the USA. As statistics show, such as that outlined by the map of school shootings mentioned above, the USA is dangerous beyond what it should by rights be, given its economic prosperity and stable democracy. Gun ownership in the USA far exceeds that anywhere else in the world. The nation with the second highest rate of gun ownership is Switzerland. There is a good reason for that: the population at large constitutes a military reserve to be activated in the event of invasion. Even so, ordinary reservists are issued ordinary rifles, and since 2007 ammunition is no longer kept at the homes of the reservists save for the minority who make up the rapid reaction force. No school shootings were recorded in Switzerland since 1996. There are socio-cultural factors at play, of course. One must surely be that the Swiss do not worship the gun.

A slogan often employed by the pro-gun lobby is that guns do not kill people, people kill people. But psychopaths with guns kill far too many people than they would with a knife. Another slogan employed is that criminals and psychopaths will always be able to access guns, so why bother restricting ordinary people’s access to them. But this is an argument more suited to the question of arming police than of arming citizens  Adam Lanza had been an ostensibly ordinary person; he had easy access to guns and assault weapons; the result was tragic beyond words. One advantage, beyond the obvious ones, is that by restricting access to guns by statute, is that a criminal or psychopath would have to go to some trouble, and would have to commit a criminal offence, in order to obtain a gun. This increases the chances of such a person being caught before he commits a more serious crime such as we witnessed in Connecticut. And though no one will want to mention it in the circumstances, Adam Lanza might be alive today, quite apart from his victims, if he had not had such easy access to high-powered firearms.

To be honest, I really do not understand how a Catholic can defend, on Catholic grounds, nearly unrestricted access to high-powered firearms by ordinary citizens. It is beyond me.

May the Lord receive the victims of the Connecticut shooting, young and old, quickly into his Kingdom; may he comfort those whose Christmas will be one of grief and emptiness; and may he have mercy on Adam Lanza, a sinner.

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