Wed, Dec 19, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Latest mass killing again shows absurdity of US gun culture

The high rates of gun violence in the US and Latin America can be traced to their origins as ‘conquest’ societies, but owning a gun to protect against tyranny and guard freedom is an archaic belief whose repercurssions are seen in the near-monthly massacres that occur in the US

By Jeffrey Sachs

Since citizens’ militias are anachronistic, gun owners now use the second amendment merely to defend individual gun ownership, as if that somehow offers protection against tyranny. A reckless, right-wing US Supreme Court has agreed with them. As a result, gun ownership has become perversely linked to freedom in the vast, gun-owning US subculture.

However, instead of protection of freedom, Americans nowadays are getting massive bloodshed and fear. The claim that gun ownership ensures freedom is especially absurd, given that most of the world’s vibrant democracies have long since cracked down on private gun ownership. No tyrant has risen in Australia since Howard’s gun control reforms.

Simply put, freedom in the 21st century does not depend on unregulated gun ownership. The US’ gun culture is a threat to freedom, after the murder of a president, senator and other public leaders, as well as countless assassination attempts against public officials over recent decades.

Yet US gun culture remains as pervasive as it is unrecorded. The US reels from one shooting disaster to the next and on nearly every occasion, politicians dutifully declare their continued devotion to unregulated gun ownership. No one even knows how many guns Americans hold. The number is estimated to be about 270 million, or almost one per person on average. According to one recent poll, 47 percent of households have a gun at home.

The shooting in Newtown was not only especially horrific and heartbreaking, but is also part of an increasingly common pattern — a specific kind of murder-suicide that has been carefully studied by psychologists and psychiatrists. Loners, often with paranoid tendencies, commit these heinous acts as part of their own suicide. They use carefully planned and staged mass murders of innocents in order to take revenge on society and glorify themselves as they take their own lives.

The perpetrators are not hardened criminals; many have no previous criminal record. They are pathetic, deranged and often have struggled with mental instability for much of their lives. They need help — and society needs to keep guns out of their reach.

The US has now suffered about 30 shooting massacres over the past 30 years, including this year’s deadly dozen, and each is a gut-wrenching tragedy for many families. Still, each time, gun owners scream that freedom will be eliminated if they are unable to buy assault weapons and 100-round clips.

The bloodbath in Newtown is the time to stop feeding this gun frenzy. Australia and other countries provide models of how to do it: Regulate and limit gun ownership to approved uses. The US’ real freedoms depend on sane public policy.

Jeffrey Sachs is a professor of sustainable development, and health policy and management, as well as director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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