Flicking through the TV channels on Saturday night, I wanted to watch something silly, to stop me thinking about the massacre on Friday at a Connecticut school. It was all so sickeningly familiar; the mentally unstable murderer, the mother killed first, the hail of semi-automatic rifle fire, the ultimate suicide. Only this time, the 27 people slaughtered were mainly kids under ten years old.
The show I ultimately landed on was Las Vegas SWAT. Instead of light relief, I found myself drowning in the irony of a real-life SWAT team conducting a drill at a US high school, teaching students and staff what to do if a crazy person tries to shoot them all.
How can America put kids through drills such as this without addressing its gun laws?
American schools face the real possibility of a nutter breaking in and indiscriminately gunning down students and staff. Yet the best they can do to protect themselves is rehearse for this horrendous scenario with real SWAT teams, because the country’s gun laws are failing them. Today, a prayer and a security system are the schools’ best defence against a maniac with the Bill of Rights on his side.
Friday’s horror didn’t happen in Las Vegas. It happened in sleepy Newtown, at ‘picture perfect’ Sandy Hook Elementary School. A new security system had just been installed. Maybe they had drills too. None of it was enough to stop the killing.
America’s gun laws were created in 1791. The 1790 census recorded the population at 3.8 million. The civil war had just ended. The right to bear arms, part of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, was there to ensure a civil militia could be rallied in case North turned again on South.
Today, there are 300 million people living in America across an estimated 110 million households. According to recent figures published by Reuters, one in five adult Americans suffered from a mental illness in 2010. That is 50 million people. Half of American households – 52 million of them – own 260 million guns. It’s just too easy now for a mentally ill person to get hold of a gun and inflict a horrifying death on others and then themselves.
Media sensationalism is always flagged as a reason for these massacres. But we can’t turn off the news. There is a Morgan Freeman quote (unauthenticated) doing the rounds on Facebook where he lays blame for all these tragedies squarely on the seductive power of the media. But however broad the coverage of these atrocities, it’s the images not broadcast that continue to haunt me; Christmas presents for children who went to school on Friday that will now never be opened. The sheer terror those who perished must have felt as Adam Lanza came at them. Parents having to identify what is left of their beautiful kids after an autistic man they’d never met blasted them to pieces, with a military standard Bushmaster rifle his slain mother taught him how to use, with lethal accuracy, for fun.
The truth is, this shooting – like those in the past – is not the fault of the people whose job it is to report what happened. Blaming the messenger is ludicrously pointless. This latest senseless bloodbath is the result of laws that no longer work because they were made for a small population 220 years ago living in a very different world.
The right to bear arms as it stands is simply not valid in 2012. It’s success as a constitutional right, and therefore for the greater good, relies on a small number of sane people using guns in self-defence. Instead, the right to bear arms allows gang youths in over-crowded cities, infatuated by the illusion of invincibility, to kill each other every day. It is responsible for desperate robberies turning into murders and accidental tragedies, such as that of a seven-year-old-boy shot dead in the back of his dad’s car, by a bullet forgotten in a barrel.
The Second Amendment was created so that civilians could protect themselves. Now this anachronistic piece of legislation means American children are forced to learn at school how to dodge bullets, fired by someone driven mad by illness or grievance, from an assault rifle they have the constitutional right to bear.