Saturday, April 28, 2007

Trigger-happy America

Pub Date: 24/04/2007 Pub: ST Page: 19
Day: Tuesday
Edition: FIRST
Headline: Trigger-happy America
Page Heading: REVIEW
Source: SPH

In Seoul
ON APRIL 16, a 23-year old English-major student massacred 32 people on the
campus of Virginia Tech University, then shot himself. The president of the
school called the act “incomprehensible”. What is incomprehensible is that
anyone finds it incomprehensible.
Since 1960, more than a million Americans have died in firearm-related deaths.
Violence Policy Centre executive director Josh Sugarmann says: “Mass shootings
have come to define our nation. The recent shooting in Virginia is only the
latest in a continuing series over the past two decades.”
Gun shops outnumber McDonald’s franchises in America by a ratio of about 10:1.
There are about 65 million registered gun owners throughout the United States,
and that many guns alone in the state of Texas.
According to one estimate, the number of children killed by guns in America in
2004 was almost 3,000. Comparably, the number of children killed by guns in the
Republic of Korea annually is basically zero. Every three hours in America, a
child dies from a gunshot wound.
A 2003 study showed that that people who live in houses with guns are three
times more likely to die from gunshot wounds than those who don’t.
Since 1983, nearly 40 people have died in 11 separate US Post Office shootings,
coining the expression “going postal” and spawning a litany of satires spanning
TV, film, literature and even computer games, depicting the dangers of the
disgruntled postal worker run amok. Online encyclopedia Wikipedia references
six films, three documentaries, three plays, 25 television series and 35 songs
featuring “school shootings”. Add to this about 20 novels based on the same.
America is a nation constantly at war (more than 200 wars fought, according to
Gore Vidal), with a self-described “war president” at the helm, where military
spending exceeds that of almost all other nations combined; where “the right to
bear arms” is written into the Constitution; where many residents, especially
in rural areas, have guns; where it’s only too easy to buy firearms and
ammunition; where the National Rifle Association brainwashes us that guns make
us safer; and where Hollywood can’t make a decent movie without excessive blood
and pyrotechnics. Reading the above, gun culture and violence makes perfect
sense. What, then, is so incomprehensible?
Consider the ease with which Cho Seung Hui bought one of his weapons. Some
reports said it took as little as five minutes. THAT is incomprehensible.
In 1966, Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas and
opened fire with a rifle from the 28th-floor observation deck. He killed 16
people before being shot to death by police. In 1991, nutcase George Hennard
ploughed his pick-up truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, and then
shot 23 people before killing himself. On April 20, two teenagers – supposedly
inspired after watching a Hollywood film – killed 12 fellow students and a
teacher before taking their own lives at Columbine High School near Littleton,
Colorado. And now we come to Virginia Tech University and Cho who, no matter
how hard we try to forget, will be resurrected somewhere, somehow, just as he
resurrected the ghosts of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the dark architects
of the Columbine massacre – before him.
My friend John is an American teaching English in the Republic of Korea. He’s
from Kansas, and he says: “The kids I went to high school with, they just want
to fight. They just want to shoot, to kill. Iraq, Afghanistan, it doesn’t
matter. They don’t care who, where, what, how or when. They just want to
fight.” Then, he pauses and adds: “I’m keeping my options open. I’m kind of
looking for another place to live.”
The gun mindset needs to be abandoned. The military industrial complex, and the
mindset of the military industrial complex, which Eisenhower warned about, must
be abolished if America wishes one day to return to sanity. For America is no
longer a free country, nor has it been for some time. It is a country of people
living in fear, “protected” on the outside by the world’s largest military, and
on the inside by overweight cops draped in Kevlar vests.
What America needs is for both the government and the citizens to give up their
weapons and stop living in fear. We are talking serious arms reduction here, on
both the foreign and domestic level. Abolish the military industrial complex.
This is absolutely necessary, or mass murderers in America may soon be
competing with suicide bombers in Iraq to see who can produce more buckets of
The writer once lived in America.

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