Monday, December 31, 2012

Guns and Freedom: An American Conundrum


I didn’t grow up with guns. I have never owned a gun. In fact, as a child and young adult in Great Britain, I never even saw a gun - except on television.

The United States is very different to Great Britain. It has different freedoms and a unique history that has given birth to those freedoms. Because of this, threats to take away people’s guns by force would go nowhere. Nor would it solve the issue of gun violence. Criminals will always get guns – legal or not.

In the aftermath of the murder of 20 six and seven year-olds, as well as six adults, at a Connecticut school, there has never been a more critical time for serious debate about guns. The National Rifle Association’s claim that the reason for mass school shootings is not the prevalence of military-style weapons but the lack of armed officers in schools left me cold. This misses the point entirely. It also assumes that living in an armed society is normal. It isn’t.

Even though I’m not a citizen, I have lived here as a legal resident for two decades and support the right to bear arms. But I would suggest some common sense restrictions, especially with regard to military-style assault weapons that release a round of bullets with one pull of the trigger.

The NRA has easy answers. Gun control advocates have easy answers. But the answers are not easy. The issue is far from simple, and changing the law is not going to make guns disappear from the black market. What is needed is dialogue, not unilateral dictates. Those children cannot have died in vain. After each of the recent massacres there has been excuses and inaction; now is the time for action.

Armed guards wouldn’t make classrooms safer, let alone promote a learning environment. There would have to be guards in every classroom and not just at the entrances as there are many ways to get into a school. A student simply has to put a gun in a bag, come to school as normal and start shooting, and there will be multiple deaths before an armed guard could get there. Schools should be safe sanctuaries, not armed camps.

So, what to do? For a start, severely restrict or ban the relative easy access to military style assault weapons, whose purpose is to kill human beings. Close the loopholes that allow guns to be sold without background checks, and have a mandatory training course for all guns purchased.

Consider the issue of mental illness and alienation in society. Most—if not all--of the recent perpetrators of mass shootings seemed to be mentally ill. Beef up the background checks for mental illness. And buying guns and ammo on the internet just seems like a really bad idea.

A recent no-questions-asked gun buyback program in Los Angeles was a huge success. Expand this to other towns and cities. Fewer guns on the streets can only be a good thing.

Today children are bombarded with violence throughout the gaming industry, movies, and the media. Where is the outrage about the ever increasing violence in video games?

In a free society there has to be reason and I hope there will be a shift in the conversation. America is better than this. What next? Kids going to school wearing bullet proof vests?