The recent massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut has struck an emotional chord in people around the globe because most of the victims were innocent children as young as five and six years old.
The tragedy has understandably sparked a call by many well-intentioned people to demand tighter gun control laws.
However, the real issue here is not firearms, but mental illness.
The killer, Adam Lanza (whose motives will never be known since he shot himself to death during the murder spree and also destroyed him home computer) was clearly mentally deranged. Apparently, he acquired the weapons he used from his mother (whom he also killed), who bought them legally.
Gun control opponents (most notably the National Rifle Association) are largely keeping silent now since the atmosphere is so tense and anything they might say will be virulently attacked and criticized.
But there is no doubt that Americans love guns – there are reportedly some 300 million weapons floating around this country, enough for every man, woman and child to be armed.
Obtaining firearms is far too easy – the waiting period is too short, background checks are lax, and too many crazy people now possess weapons.
But, guess what – despite the massive proliferation of guns in this country, violent crime has been plunging for the past twenty years.
Criminologists, sociologists and police are baffled by this phenomenon – after all, the population has increased, poverty has deepened and drug use remains widespread.
Why are homicides declining? No one knows.
In New York City where I live, murders have plunged from an all-time high of more than 2,000 in 1991 (at the tail end of the crack cocaine epidemic) to about 300 or 400 annually now.
That is a phenomenal decline, given that the city’s population has risen and the number of people trapped in poverty has jumped, especially since the 2007-2008 recession.
So, with all the guns available to people, why has the incidence of gun crime dropped so much?
I can only surmise that the people shooting and killing others are either criminals and drug dealers (who obtain their firepower illegally) or the mentally ill (like Lanza who got his weapons from his mother).
Thus, the overwhelming majority of gun-owners in this country do not hurt other human beings – they are either hunters or they keep arms in their home to defend against burglars and intruders.
Indeed, criminals do not care about nor fear gun laws, they will always be able to illegally acquire weapons in the black market.
One of my best friends in the world and a former colleague is a Pennsylvania man with a wife and three children. He is also as member of the NRA and a passionate hunter. He shoots deer, grouse and other wild game – but he would never harm another human being (unless, of course, they threatened his family). He is also a dedicated conservationist who truly loves Mother Nature.
I think 99 percent of NRA members are just like him. They are not the crazed, violent rednecks that the anti-gun advocates and Michael Moore would have you believe.
Adam Lanza should have been sent to a psychiatrist, treated and locked up – both for his own sake and the protection of others. That should have been a matter for his parents, teachers and mental health professionals – it has nothing remotely to do with the policies of the NRA or the dreaded ‘gun lobby.’
I believe in the Second Amendment – citizens should have the legal right to own guns to hunt animals and to protect their family and property. But they should not have the ability to acquire an arsenal of weapons as if they are preparing to wage war. Some restrictions must be applied to who can buy guns.
I should point out that I have never owned, nor fired, nor even held a gun in my hand. My maternal grandfather in India was a hunter in the 1930s was a hunter and owned many guns; my father grew up in a poor, rural, lawless region where guns and criminality pervaded; and my eldest uncle was a career military man who was quite intimately familiar with firearms.
But I have no personal history with guns – I neither grew up in a ‘gun culture,’ nor did I think anything was particularly with gun ownership.
Separately, there is a much larger issue that we must consider here – the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for violence in mass media.
Like drugs, tobacco, fast food, gambling and pornography, the vicarious thrills posed by acts of violence in mass media is an addiction to millions around the world (not just in gun-happy USA).
Movies, cable television programs, video games and professional sports generate billions of dollars annually by serving up an endless array of violent images to an audience that simply can’t get enough of it.
People are absolutely desensitized to it.
The newspapers and TV broadcasters live by a code called “if it bleeds, it leads.” Murders, rapes (and massacres) attract huge audiences.
Reports of atrocities committed far, far away (car bombs in Iraq, riots in Kenya, carpet-bombing on civilians in Syria, torture committed by Libyan soldiers, sectarian killings in Pakistan, etc.) have become so commonplace and routine that they have little or no significance – just numbers and faceless, nameless victims.
Perhaps the saddest outcome of the Connecticut massacre will be that (outside of the Newtown community) it will soon be forgotten by the wider world – to be replaced no doubt by the body-count arising from the next act of unspeakable violence.
It may be apocryphal, but Joseph Stalin (one of the greatest mass murderers in history) reportedly once declared: “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.