Op-Ed: After Newtown Shooting, Ask Why Later

Written by NY Press on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive, Opinion and Column.


By Nora Bosworth

Via Flickr / kcdsTM

Americans looking at the tragic events of the Newtown school shooting need to stop talking about mental healthcare entirely — for now. Yes, we have a woefully inadequate support system for the mentally ill and it should be fixed. But it is our rampant supply of firearms that enables the homicidally insane to take innocent lives down with them. Without this access, Friday’s killer would have just been a damaged mind in need of help. Without this access, twenty first-graders and six educators from Sandy Hook elementary would still be breathing. To focus on the “why” and ignore the “how” at this historical juncture is an act of deadly negligence.

Our country’s proliferation of guns is a scourge to our safety, our children’s safety, and to our freedom.

On average, 30,000 people are killed by gun violence in the United States each year. If you discount suicide, that number is closer to 12,000. An American dies every 20 minutes from a firearm.

In America you are 20 times more likely to be murdered by a firearm than in any other industrialized country — discounting Mexico, whose drug war boosted their homicide rate even beyond our own.

Anyone who thinks that our gun-related death toll is twenty times higher than other developed countries’ because we have so many more crazy people is practicing self-deceit. American children from the ages of 5 to 14 are 13 times more likely to be murdered by guns than are children in the rest of the developed world. That’s not our only unique statistic.

We also win first place for the number of guns in our homes. America has an estimated 270 million privately owned firearms. At nine guns for every ten Americans, we also have the most guns per capita. The runner-up is war-ridden Yemen, with roughly half as many.

The numbers are jarringly clear, and easy to interpret.

We are not the only wealthy country to ever harbor homicidal maniacs who commit mass shootings; we’re just the only one that consistently chooses not to do something about it.

On April 28, 1996, an Australian man murdered 35 people using a semi-automatic rifle. Less than two weeks later, The Australasian Police Ministers Council convened a special meeting and agreed to a national plan for the regulation of firearms. This agreement outlawed self-loading rifles and self-loading and pump-action shotguns, placed limitations on firearm ownership, and led to the buyback of over 500,000 guns.

The bill didn’t deprive everyone of their guns; it just cut the number of privately owned guns by twenty percent, which were also the types most commonly used in mass killings. In the two decades prior to the national firearms agreement, Australia witnessed 13 mass murders; since the law passed, they haven’t seen a single other case. Their overall firearm homicide rate has dropped by 40 percent.

Scotland has a similar story. In Dunblane, 1995, a 43-year-old entered a school with four handguns and murdered sixteen children. Two years later, the United Kingdom had banned the private possession of all handguns. Since then, the UK’s murder rate is 50 times lower than our own.

These countries acted immediately and saved countless lives.

Friday’s shooter fired up to eleven bullets into each of the six and seven-year-old bodies he targeted; he used one of the several semiautomatic guns his mother kept legally in their home. Needless to say, not a single shot child survived. Some point to Connecticut having relatively “strict” gun laws as evidence that gun control is not the solution.  But Connecticut having some of the “strictest” gun laws is a sign of national failure, not of “gun control” not working. Why did this person’s mother need semi-automatic weapons? Why does anybody who’s not at war need those? Having four such guns in your house, with a mentally ill son, is not “gun control.”

We do not have gun control.

But despite America’s overflowing history of shootings, what happened in Newtown was the first of its kind on our soil—a man massacring children still in primary school.

I’m in my early twenties. I grew up in the Columbine-era, when the image of the bullied teen in a trench coat and leather boots opening fire on his peers became a stereotype almost as quickly as it became fact. Columbine happened, and gun policy remained the same. Will the next generation grow up knowing the “elementary school shooter “ as a facet of their culture?

If we don’t demand that twenty children slaughtered in broad daylight on an otherwise typical school day be the bottom line, then there will never be a bottom line.

On Sunday, addressing the broken parents of Newtown, President Obama alluded to taking a stand against the gun epidemic: “I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” he said.

“Let us carry on and make our country worthy of their memory,” he continued, referring to the twenty small bodies waiting to be buried over the following days.

Will we hold him to it?

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