Friday 4 December 2015 – Mass shootings in America

Wednesday saw another mass shooting in the United States. This time a husband and wife – Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27 (pictured below) – opened fire at a Christmas Party in San Bernardino, California. They killed 14 people and injured 21 others. They were both later killed by police in a shootout.  When their home was searched an arsenal of weapons were found – including pipe bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

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The attack has stirred the fears of both gun crime and terrorism in the States. The attackers were Muslim and some are suggesting the shootings were inspired by Islamic extremism. That may be the case. but it makes no difference to the victims. It was the deadliest mass shooting since the horrendous shooting dead of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012. It was the 355th¹ mass shooting this year in the US, with still a  month to go! This staggering figure is incomprehensible to people outside the United States but in the US seems to have little effect in persuading enough people or politicians of the need for real and effective gun control.

Speaking at the White House yesterday on another mass shooting – the second in a week – President Obama called on politicians to address the issue. He said that “right now it is just too easy” to get firearms. He continued: “It is possible that this was terrorist-related, but we don’t know … It is also possible that this was workplace-related.” President Obama’s public expressions of horror and grief are genuine but they are changing nothing and fall on deaf ears with many in the US.

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It all follows a terribly predictable sequence:

1. There’s a mass shooting – “Someone’s shooting up the classroom, we need help”;

2. Another bunch of Americans are added to this year’s roll-call of the dead;

3. The media and public express shock and disbelief – “I don’t understand how this could happen, they must be evil”;

4. Obama makes a statement, he looks Presidential behind his podium at the White House. He perhaps sheds a tear and declares “We need more gun control, maybe we shouldn’t be giving automatic weapons to our mentally-disturbed kids”;

5. Social media erupts with claims and counter-claims over gun contol and the Second Amendment – “It’s our God-given right to bear arms, now pass the ammo and Fuck the Federal Government .. oh,  and Fuck that Obamacare commie stuff”;

6. The National Rifle Association turns up in an affected town and says “shucks, guns don’t kill people, people do.”;

7. Politicians feign horror as the gun lobby smiles knowingly over their shoulders and rustle up a few more Benjamin Franklins;

8. The world watches on with incredulous disbelief – “Only in America”;

9. Nothing changes;

10. Wait for a few days, or a few hours if you’re the impatient kind, then go back to No.1 and repeat. – “And you all have a nice day now.”

I know that many, many Americans are apalled by the continuing loss of life to guns in their country. I admire those Americans and American organisations who are trying to put an end to the litany of death that has resulted – indirectly and diirectly – from the obsession of many, many other Americans who tell us that owning guns is not only a Constitutional right, but also a God-given right – and are quick to say so when anyone criticises this right. Do people saying this know just how pathetic and callous it makes them sound when another heavily-armed and mentally-disturbed kid has just shot dead half his classmates?

Americans do indeed have a right to own firearms, but it is not a God-given right but a poltically and militarily-motivated right given to Americans in 1791 under the  Second Amendment of the country’s Constitution. The Amendment was aimed at making sure the population were armed (as an organised militia) and prepared to defend themselves, their families, and their country from outside forces – most notably the British. It specified that such ownership should be unfetted but, as we have seen with some gun control laws over the years, the Amendement does not entirely rule out regulations on gun ownership. We have also seen through various court rulings that the Amendment can be interpreted in ways both for and against regulation.

It is not for me to tell Americans how they should interpret their own Constitution but I am entitled to express my opinion, which is shared by many Americans. I believe that lax or weak gun control laws in the States often mean it is ridiculously – and clearly dangerously – easy for people with ill-intent to purchase or access an array of deadly weapons. It seems too easy to bypass regulations and controls. California has stronger gun laws than most States, but this hasn’t stopped the latest mass shooting. Even if it is terrorist-related the weapons used all seemed to have been purchased legally within the United States.

The most comon argument I see for not having gun control is that people will kill if they are intent on killing even if they don’t have guns. This is true but ignores the fact that it is very difficult to carry out a mass killing with a knife or weapons other than guns. With guns you can kill from a distance, with knives it has to be up close and personal. The drastically lower number of gun deaths in other Western countries is partly testiment to my argument. In the UK, where I live, the average person has probably never seen a gun in real life and wouldn’t know how to get one (less than 7 people in 100 own a gun in the UK). Of course, others do get hold of guns and use them in crimes but the level of gun crime in the UK is vastly smaller than in the US – some 30 times less per capita (as I’ll discuss later).

Ownership of guns isn’t necessarily the problem – though personally I don’t believe that any individual should own a gun unless they have a professioanl reason for doing so. What is the problem is lack of effective gun control. If your allowed to own a weapon under law, why do you need two? Why do you need three? Why do you need assault weapons? When do you decide that you have enough weapons to meet your need for self-protection or to protect your family? Who should be banned from owning guns – criminals? Sure. What about foreigners? What about the mentally-ill? What age do you have the right to own a gun? Does the term unfetted in the Second Amendment mean you have the absolute right to own as many guns as you like? Does it mean that no contols can be introduced?

These are some of the many questions that people should be asking themselves and each other in America today. America tops the list of per capita gun ownership with 112.6 guns per 100 residents – the only country in the world with more guns than people! America is well ahead of other countries. Serbia has 69.7, Yemen 54.8 then, surprisingly, Switzerland with 45.7 guns per 100 people. Canada and many countries in Europe have around 30 guns per 100 people yet these Western countries don’t have the degree of gun crime as the States – even if you factor in that America has over three times as many guns per capita.  The UK is way down the list with 6.6.  See the  end of this blog entry for this years’s reign of gun terror in the United States – the land of the free, the home of the brave … and the land of the heavily-armed.

I believe that gun control laws in the US are often weak to the point of being useless. Yet the desire for tighter controls by Obama and others get nowhere because of the power of the gun lobby – represented in many cases by the National Rifle Association (NRA). It has huge financial and political influence and power over many politicians in the US. They use this to quash any attempts to introduce meaningful gun control – often so effectively that politicians don’t even bother trying. The NRA were on social media hours after the San Bernardino shootings urging people to ring their Senators and urge them to vote against any, and all, gun control proposals.

It is, of course, for Americans to do something about gun control but I and many others outside the US watch in utter bewilderment and incredulity that the situation is allowed to continue – year after year. Some 12,000 plus people have been killed by guns in the US this year – so far. A mass shooting involves 4 or more victims (including the shooter) – and there have been 353² of them this year (up to 3 December). Over 60 of those mass shootings have been in schools, colleges or universities!  It has been calculated that 1.4 million people were killed by guns in the States between 1968 and 2011. This compares to 1.2 million killed in ALL wars involving America since the 1770s – that includes the Revolutionary War, Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq! Compared to the UK, the number of gun murders in the US in 2012 was 30 times greater (2.9 per capita in US and  0.1 in UK – or just under 30 people in every thousand, comapred to 1 every thousand in UK). Of all murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearms. In the UK it was 10% (Britain has some of the toughest gun control laws in the world), 31% in Canada (which also has large gun ownership, but not the mass shootings of the US) and 18.2% in Australia.

Sources for the above statistics are all cited in the BBC report at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-34996604

In San Bernardino the authorities are investigating the possible terrorist link with some evidence emerging to suggest the shootings may be terrorist-related. Syed Rizwan Farook is said to have had contact with extremists in the US and abroad.  But this doesn’t necessarily prove he was an extremist, though it seems likely they were as evidence has also emerged that his wife supported Islamic State.  We should remeber before rushing to judge that since 9/11 the authorities in the US have investigated thousands of Muslims with just such contacts, but few have been charged with anything. 

What we do know is that Farook is an American and was born in America. His wife was from Pakistan originally and had lived in Saudi Arabia until last year. They met in Saudi Arabia when Farook went there in 2013 for the Hajj pilgrimage. He visited again the following year and Malik came back with him and they married in the US.  As a long-term resident of Saudi Arabia it seems possible that she may have been radicalised there.

Whatever their motives, they attacked the gathering together and died together. They had left their 6-month-old daughter with Farek’s mother and instead of going to a doctor’s appointment went on their shooting rampage – armed with  assault weapons and dressed in black “tactical” clothing. All of the weapons they used in the attack itself were purchased legally and the couple hadn’t been on the radar of law enforcement before the attack.

It seems amazing that a couple – one of whom has just moved to the States from Saudi Arabia and the other a two-times visitor to the country in two years – can  buy at least four assault weapons legally and have an arsenal of weapons and explosives at home (which were discovered after the attack) – and yet not be on anyone’s radar. With the ratcheting up of surveillance, monitoring, and general suspicion of Muslims in the US since 9/11 it seems strange that this couple didn’t raise warning flags.

NOTES

¹ The 355 figure for mass shootings in the US in 2015 (as of 3 December) was quoted in The Independent newspaper, 4 December 2015. The Independent also broke down the figure further  (see below) – giving the number of mass shootings for each day and month. However, their breakdown only adds up to 351.

² The BBC report above says the number is 353 (up to 3 December), and say their figure was calculated by Shooting Tracker, Gun Violence Archive.

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Breakdown of mass shootings in  US in 2015. The Independent, 4 December 2015.

MonthMass shootingsDays with shootingsDays without

January – 24 – 19 – 12
February – 16 – 13 – 15
March – 30 – 23  – 8
April – 18 – 10 – 20
May – 39 – 20 – 11
June – 44 – 25 – 5
July – 43 – 21 – 10
August – 40 – 20 – 11
September – 38 – 19 – 11
October – 22 – 17 – 14
November – 35 – 21 – 9
December (1st-3rd only) – 2 – 1 – 2

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Other links…

The San Bernardino shootings (BBC)

San Bernaradino shooting in numbers (BBC)

Police officer describes ‘unspeakable carnage’ at scene (The Independent)

National Rifle Association (NRA official website)

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