Denver shooting: 'learn from our tragedy'
On Friday 20th July, James Holmes walked into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Denver, Colorado with four guns, killing twelve people and injuring 59 others, adding yet another tragic story to the growing list of mindless American massacres. And again, Americans have reacted with emotions as potent as they are ultimately useless.
Like many, my introduction to the world of the modern American massacre came through watching Bowling for Columbine in my late teens. Michael Moore’s documentary used the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School as the basis for a discussion on the Second Amendment, American firearm legislation, and American teen gun culture.
The questions he poses are important ones: the fundamental validity of the ‘right to bear arms’, the flaws in existing American legislation that allow clearly unstable and unsafe young people to legally purchase weapons and ammunition, and the American culture that turns out, proportionally (in terms of both people and guns), far more of these tragic incidents than any other country.
But I want to talk not about the National Rifle Association and its dogmatic defence of the Second Amendment, not about troubled youths and their intense anger leading to violence, but about the normal, innocent, everyday Americans, just like you and me, who had absolutely nothing to do with the Denver shooting but who also will do absolutely nothing about the Denver shooting.
After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing Americans called for legislation requiring people to show identification when buying ammonium nitrate fertiliser, used routinely for farming but also for making bombs. Today only two states have such laws in place and the pressure on Congress has vanished. After the Columbine massacre the people of Colorado came out in force to demand stricter gun control, but one year later only 10% of Americans thought gun control was going to be a ‘big issue’ in the Presidential Election. And it wasn’t.
This weekend, in the aftermath of the Denver shooting, the Columbine massacre returned to the fore as a common cultural reference for the gun problem in America. ‘Columbine’ was trending on Twitter, and people were flocking to watch Moore’s documentary on YouTube and read Marilyn Manson’s opinion in a 1999 Rolling Stones magazine.
Today people are protesting on Twitter and Facebook instead of on the streets of Colorado, but the picture in 2012 remains largely unchanged from that in 1999. And on top of the tragedy of twelve people going to watch a highly anticipated blockbuster and never coming home, there will be a second legacy of the Denver shooting – nothing will change.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure where I stand on the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.” I don’t really understand Americans’ obsession with the right to own a gun, but I accept it and, living in Britain where the popular opinion on guns is just different, I feel I’m in no position tell them where to stick their 300 year old safeguard against colonial rule.
For the all the fuss that the everyday American will kick up in the aftermath of these tragedies, last year a record low 26% favoured a handgun ban and only half of Americans favoured a ban on assault rifles. Despite their sole use being to murder people, 50% of Americans want to protect their right to own an assault rifle, their son’s right to own an assault rifle, and James Holmes’ right to own an assault rifle.
Like I said, I don’t get it. But okay.
But the debate shouldn’t be about the Second Amendment, a debate which I believe has reached an impasse; it should be about gun control. By all means, protect your right to own a gun. But no one thinks that right should be without any restrictions, so for goodness sake please make those restrictions effective.
Just under half of Americans must believe that their legislation is effective, because 44% believe that firearm restrictions should be “kept as they are now”. 44% of Americans are wrong. Legislation that allows a man to legally purchase two pistols, a shotgun, an assault rifle and 6,000 rounds of ammunition and then walk into a cinema and gun down innocent people is not effective.
Failing to maintain active lobbying for something over an extended period of time is not a uniquely American problem. Neither is gun control. But I’m supported by the statistics when I say that it’s a bigger and more frequently occurring problem in America than anywhere else.
In 2010 fewer than 100 people in the United Kingdom were murdered with a firearm. In the United States, with a population five times larger, the figure was a disproportionately high 8,775. In terms of private gun ownership, hunting-loving, gun-toting Canada has approximately one gun for every five people. In the United States there are two guns to every three people.
In the aftermath of Columbine the father of one of the victims said that the time has come for something to change. He was right. But thirteen years later nothing has changed. Now, in the aftermath of the Denver shooting, something really has got to change.
After the Holocaust, Jewish survivor Simon Wiesenthal reminded us that the next victims might not be Jews, and begged the world to “learn from our tragedy.” On Friday night the victims were innocent Americans, living in a country where the gun control is just not good enough. Twelve people were murdered, many more injured and some are still in critical condition. It was yet another ‘Columbine’. And if America doesn’t learn from their tragedy, we’re just one nutcase away from another. And another. And another.