Categories
Crime Society

Why is it harder to buy anti-psychotics than a gun in the USA?

As we recoil once again in disbelief after yet another mass killing in the USA, people across the world (and also in America, let it be acknowledged), are asking how a killer could so easily obtain a weapon of mass destruction.  There’s almost no other country in the world where such a thing would be possible and certainly no country among the developed democracies where it would even be contemplated.

Omar Mateen used an Ar-15 to murder 50 people in Orlando and to destroy the lives of 500 more. He used a weapon that he bought in a shop under Florida’s lax gun laws.

The AR-15 is a fearsome weapon, made famous in these parts by Sinn Féin’s Danny Morrison when he spoke about the Armalite and the ballot box, and yes, that’s what the AR-15 is. An Armalite. Following modifications that increased its weight, it was adopted by the US military as the M-16, a version many military people regarded as inferior to the original which was light, portable and lethal.

We saw that capability in Orlando where a single shooter was able to massacre so many people on his own but we should not be surprised. This weapon, the AR-15, can fire a small projectile at such a high velocity that anyone struck by a bullet, in any part of their body, will almost certainly die. That was the designer’s intention. This weapon can shoot through walls and still kill you. In fact it will kill you worse, since the flying thing that  hits you will be a mis-shapen lump of high-velocity lead that tears a gaping hole in you.

This was also the designer’s intention.

ar 15 assault rifle

Now, the National Rifle Association is seen today as the body that does most to promote gun ownership in the United States and perhaps it is. The NRA is seen as the political wing of the American armaments industry and perhaps that’s true too. But if so, this is a very recent development indeed. If so, this is far from the traditional American attitude to ownership of weapons.

In reality the NRA’s support of unlimited access to weapons is less than forty years old. As far back as 1934, it supported the National Firearms Act, introduced to combat organised crime gangs following the Prohibition era. At that time, Karl Frederick, the NRA President stated as follows:

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. … I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.[/dropshadowbox]

Somehow, between the situation we find ourselves in today and the NRA’s  establishment in 1871 as a response to the perceived inadequacies of American military marksmanship, the NRA morphed from a quasi-official research organisation to a full-blown advocate for the major small-arms manufacturers. It was a classic example of a peripheral obscure quango taken over for profit, regardless of the consequences.  Though it had been lobbying since 1934 for a change to the gun ownership law under the the Second Amendment, that lobbying was on behalf of  hunters and competitive marksmen.

Even as  Charlton Heston entered his 50s, his hands not yet dead or cold, the NRA was still opposing widespread ownership of firearms, and it wasn’t until 1977 that it went fully political, becoming a thinly-disguised front for the arms industry.

Why do so many Americans today believe that the Second Amendment conferred the right to carry high-velocity assault rifles? Nobody knows. The National Rifle Association certainly never claimed any such thing until shortly before Ronald Reagan took office. The framers of the amendment never imagined anything more lethal than a muzzle-loading musket and certainly not a high-velocity automatic rifle that one man could use to shoot fifty people dead. Their concern was about keeping a militia available to defend against the return of the colonial power, and any other reading of the amendment is downright perverse.

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[/dropshadowbox]

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State …

The Second Amendment, which is now entirely superseded by history, has to do with maintaining a militia, not with giving a redneck the right to own a bazooka and yet it has been used to foster a national love affair with firearms.

Perhaps this obsession with guns has been fostered through an endless diet of movies and TV series in which the gun has become an object of fetishistic veneration. Perhaps it was aided by the rise of the Western novel towards the end of the nineteenth century or maybe via the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s. Maybe it was the war movies of the forties right up to the present day. Who knows?

What does seem to be true is that many Americans firstly believe the gun is the answer to all life’s problems and secondly that the world consists of good guys and bad guys.

Of course, I can’t say that this childish binary mindset was caused by Hollywood. For all I know, reality is the reverse and Hollywood was caused by this childish mindset, but one way or the other it seems to exist and it seems somehow to have dominated the entire world through force of arms and economic muscle, which might not necessarily be two different things in the case of the United States.

What I find baffling is the complete inability of the USA to see that it is not in any sense the leader of the putative “Free World”, and I’m quite sure this is a feeling shared by most people in Europe and elsewhere when Americans refer to their President as our leader. How much self-delusion is required before a nation can believe such nonsense? How much Orwellian indoctrination? How much insularity? How much ignorance?

Only a nation whose citizens have never travelled abroad could possibly convince itself that its President is the leader of some mythical Free World it knows nothing about.

Is America really Hollywood made real or is Hollywood the real America?  I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that this vast, immensely powerful nation has a juvenile understanding of the world that extends right up to its top echelons as we saw with the utterly stupid invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, culminating in the creation of Islamic State, thanks to a complete disregard for other cultures. They were going in to take out the bad guys and that was all that mattered.

Hollywood might not have intended to create the militaristic tendency of the United States, but the military sure as shootin’ bought into the clichés provided by the film industry, just as the Mafia bought into The Godfather. Pretty soon, you’re not sure who’s talkin’ like who or where it all started. Pretty sure, you start to believe the only guys who can save the Earth from an asteroid strike are Bruce Willis and the crew of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Can-Do-Hoo-Ha!

Naturally, those who support access to firearms will argue that guns make people safer which makes it hard to understand why the United States firearms death rate is five times that of Canada, 50% higher than Mexico’s, five times that of Israel (Israel!), ten times the death rate of Germany and fifty times the rate of the United Kingdom, where nobody has a gun.

On the other hand, if I suffer from a psychotic illness in the United States, while I might not be able to afford the medical care to treat any homicidal tendencies, I can always walk into my local gun store and buy myself an Armalite, with no questions asked.

What was that they said about the  Free World?

____________________

Also on Bock

Orlando murders

The second amendment

Mass murder and the American gun fetish

Gun control in America

 

 

Elsewhere:

New York Times

Categories
Politics Society

Gun Control in America

Should we be surprised at the American obsession with firearms?  Probably not.  After a century of Hollywood pounding the message home, surely we’d understand by now that the gun is the supreme talisman, a sacred object of veneration, the religious icon that trumps all others.

Guns are the American magic wand.  Point a revolver at the bad guy and he’ll tell you all you want to know.  Point an M-16 at  the enemy and all your problems go away.  Build an arsenal of nukes and you’re invulnerable, just like the superheroes who spontaneously sprang up to represent you in simpler times; public-spirited individuals like Captain America, who thoughtfully had a figure-hugging suit made from your national flag.  I always wondered about these super-hero suits.  How did they hide the seams, and what did they do to avoid becoming extremely smelly due to sweat?  Did they have two or three so that one could be sent to the laundry?  What gifted tailor put them together, sewing them so neatly that there was never an embarrassing rip as they tussled with the evil ones?  And did this tailor become immensely rich, or does he have a little back-street shop – Superhero Suits, Reasonable.

Back in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, when this country was the cultural equivalent of Albania, our puritanical governments strove to keep out all corrupting foreign influences, apart from those officially approved.  Consequently, intelligent men (and it was always men), relied for their reading pleasure on endless pulp Westerns by people like Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, who started mythologising the American West as far back as 1912 with Riders of the Purple Sage.

Grown men devoured these novels, not only here in Ireland, but across the English-speaking world, and became infantilised as a consequence  –  a phenomenon savagely lampooned by the great Irish literary iconoclast, Flann O Brien, in his marvellous and puke-inducingly funny At-Swim-Two-Birds.  I was given this book at the age of nineteen and it influenced everything I became in later life. You don’t own it?  Stop what you’re doing right now, go out and buy it or steal it.

But, as they say, I digress.  American tropes.  The Western.

Ah, the smell of the black powder smoke and a stand in the street at the turn of a joke.  Guy Clark didn’t get much wrong.

Strip it down to its essentials and you’re talking about thugs.  Armed, unstable thugs who might take offence at the cut of your jacket of the set of your jaw, and call you out for a showdown.  Or more likely, who might simply shoot you dead as quick as they’d look at you.

It’s a messy business building a vast federation across a huge continent.  Among other things, you have to dispossess the people who already live there and who, understandably, take exception, just as you would yourself if a foreign invader attacked you.  And the truth is that if you want to take the wealth these people own, you’ll have to murder them, drive them off their lands, demonise them and oppress them.  You don’t like that.  It doesn’t sit well with your Christian principles, but guess what?  Those same principles have proved fairly elastic in the past.  Your principles didn’t baulk at slavery and they won’t give way when you wipe out the people who lived in these lands long before you arrived with musket and with drum.

However.  You still need a way to feel good about what you’ve done, since you know full well that it was wrong. After all, you’re not a fool.  Now, if you happen to be the British Empire, you’ll have done this over seven or eight hundred years, and you’ll have the opportunity to build up an old-money scent of righteousness.  You’ll be able to develop an aristocracy out of the robber families who started the enterprise, and you’ll get the space to foster the appropriate languor as you condescend to the natives.

But when you’re a new empire and you want those awkward natives out of the way in a hurry, what are you going to do?  The answer is obvious: you do what comes natural to the guilty human spirit everywhere. You do what every crooked cop, every cheating spouse, every sexual abuser has done:  you blame those you’ve damaged because it’s too hard to face your own responsibility.  Thus, for the USA to legitimise its very existence, it must find some way to justify, to romanticise, even to glorify, violence.

Most Europeans cringe a little when they see Americans stand with their hands on their hearts singing their national anthem.  It’s a Cecil B deMille moment, where you almost expect John Wayne to appear dressed as a Centurion.

Hail, mighty Caesar!

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that this has been stage managed, but let’s go back to the two thugs outside a saloon in Laramie, drawing down on each other in a fit of drunken, psychopathic aggression.  What normal person draws a gun on another to settle a disagreement?  Only a stone killer would do that, and yet out of this mythology, evolved the cult of the gun.

I know it myself.  I absorbed all this stuff just as everyone else did.  The Navy Colt.  The .45.  The Buntline Special.  The Gatling gun.  The Sharps rifle.   The Winchester repeater.  The Henry.  The Springfield.  The sneaky little Derringer.  The Remington.

Of course, glorification of gun culture didn’t stop with the Old West.  It permeated every aspect of Western culture right through the 20th century.  What kid hasn’t played cowboys and Indians, or cops ‘n’ robbers?  It’s that basic, and it comes down to the same simplistic certainty.  Bang, you’re dead, problem gone.

Where would we be without film noir detective stories, and where would the detectives be without their cigarettes and their little 38 snubnosed Smith & Wessons?

Have we not been bombarded with movies throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st, glorifying force of arms?  Have we not seen the very same thing with TV series?  It’s endless, it’s unrelenting and while we in Europe might have bought into the mindset, imagine the effect it had on Americans who are immersed in the unceasing message that guns are good.

It was depressing to see how many Americans reacted after the Aurora cinema shooting.  A dismaying number believe that if all the people watching the movie had been armed, the shooter would have been stopped.  Why?  Because they grew up steeped in action hero movies where nobody dies in the hail of lead except the bad guys.  Many Americans have been thoroughly infantilised by the exciting, entertaining but ultimately mindless propaganda that the media has become in that country.

Somehow, by fantasy, all the people watching a movie will pull out their personal weapons and shoot a killer with an assault rifle, and nobody else will be hurt.

Bang!  You’re dead.  Lie down.

Somehow, by a bigger fantasy, an army can roll into a country that never attacked the USA, and the only people killed are the bad guys, aka insurgents which through the medium of Fox News became a term of abuse.  In most civilised world views, an insurgent is one who rises up, but of course, the danger is that they’d have to think it out and that would never do.  After all, if the Iraqi insurgents were simply rising up against foreign invaders, then where does that leave the Plains Indians, the victims of genocide?  Were they insurgents too?

A mystique of violence is necessary if you’re ever to achieve any sort of justification for violence, and in the overarching scheme, it doesn’t matter all that much if the occasional madman runs loose and murders a few dozen people.  The gun must become part of the culture.  You have no option but to make it a quasi-religious symbol.

What justifies these psychopaths wandering around the West with lethal weapons?  Many things, I suppose, including the fact that the Wild West really was wild, and that the territories they roamed were not part of the United States.  But at the same time, there was always the Second Amendment providing comfort to anyone wishing to carry a lethal weapon.

It’s worth quoting the Second Amendment word for word.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Look at that carefully.  What does it not say?  If you accept what most Americans think it means, which is a blanket guarantee that everyone can have a gun, there’s no need for the first clause.  It might as easily have been written this way:

The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

If the Founding Fathers wanted everyone to have access to weapons, why didn’t they just say it this way?  The fact is that they wrote it in the context of a militia. This provision was devised at a time when people were terrified that the English would return and, like Switzerland, saw the need for instant moblisation against attack.  It was also a time when the States were highly suspicious of central government in a nascent federation, and reserved the right to resist tyranny by force of arms.

You’ll hear much talk by Americans of the need to balance the excesses of central government by being able to rise up and resist Washington if necessary.  Good luck with that.  Last time anyone tried such a move, Washington engaged in a merciless war of utter devastation against its fellow countrymen, a war that laid waste to the Southern States.  If you think any State could rise up today against Washington, think again.  Atlanta was destroyed with horse-drawn cannons.  Today, it would happen with Cruise missiles and Abrams tanks

Forget it.  Forget militias, and therefore, forget the right to bear arms.  This is all nonsense.

Only a few insane survivalists believe they will ever rise up against an oppressive central government, and if they try any such thing, they will be ruthlessly hunted down and extirpated.

Now, combine all these with a storybook foreign villain and you have a recipe for disaster.  The American sterotype of the crazed Islamic terrorist is disturbingly similar to the 1930s German stereotype of the grasping, manipulative Jew, and carries within it much of the same political genetics.

When a nation comes to think of itself as superior to all others, this is the sort of thing that happens and when you combine it with a large section of the population that is utterly ignorant of the greater world outside its shores, this is when the world needs to worry.

The reality seems to be that average American citizens have come to believe their own cartoon analysis of political reality, as fed to them these days by Fox, and it seems that presidential candidates on both sides are content to accept the current, staggering level of gun crime in their country.

The more I compare America with Europe, the less I see in common.  It’s true that we have adopted much of American culture, and that we have been enriched as a result.  It’s true also that we speak a language sharing many common features, and by “we”, I also mean most of Germany, Holland and Scandinavia.  But I don’t detect the same aggressive jingoism among ordinary Europeans.  Nor do I detect the same level of religious fundamentalism.  Even in a country as traditional as Ireland used to be, I can’t imagine anyone being rejected by the electorate for being an atheist, or for being unmarried, and yet, it’s inconceivable that an American president would be either of these things.

What does this have to do with gun-worship?

It’s this.   Religious fundamentalism creates unshakeable certainty.  Political paranoia does the same.  Juvenile, Disneyfied analysis creates the climate in which ignorance can breed.  Introduce a juvenile mindset that believes the gun is the solution to all life’s problems, inject it into the most powerful nation on earth, and you begin to see how we might have a problem.

There are those who say that guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.

That’s true, but if, as seems to be the case, America has more than an average share of potential mass murderers, isn’t that all the more reason to restrict their access to the sort of weaponry that can mow down an entire movie audience, or a whole classroom full of children?  It’s true there will still be the occasional bomber, but explosives are hard to make and transport.   It’s true the nutcases will still be there, but wouldn’t it be better if the only weapon a homicidal maniac could get his hands on would be a club, a rock or a knife, instead of an M-16?

Categories
Crime Politics World

The Second Amendment

The second amendment to the US constitution is very clear. It was inserted into the constitution in 1789 at a time when there was widespread suspicion of the Federal government. Many felt that the individual States needed the possibility to protect themselves against tyranny and they were probably right.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That’s what it says, and to me it seems very plain and unambiguous. It provides for the need to raise a State militia, and it does so by conferring a right to keep and bear arms. It says nothing about keeping a gun for personal protection.

Now, to read some of the replies to my post on the subject here last week before the awful events at Blacksburg, you would think the second amendment was Holy Writ instead of a political clause inserted by men fearful of centralised government.

A couple of things strike me about it.

Firstly, it’s a complete anachronism, appropriate to the eighteenth century but entirely impractical today. What would happen in reality if any individual State raised a militia against the federal government? Well, it already happened in 1861, and the federal government waged a war of such destruction and terror against the insurgent States that the consequences reverberate to the present day.

That was then. That was before F16 jets, Bradley fighting vehicles, depleted Uranium bullets, Cruise missiles, A-10 Warthog tank-busters, spy satellites and gigantic aircraft carriers. With horse and musket and cannon, the federal government laid waste to the South. Imagine what a federal government today would do to an insurgent State. And no bearded militia armed with Kalashnikovs and knives would withstand the onslaught for a day. If you think the violence in Iraq is savage, it would be nothing compared to the vengeance that any uprising would provoke in the United States.

Therefore, the second amendment seems to me to be obsolete and pointless.

Secondly, what is meant by arms? In 1789, the word would have meant muzzle-loading muskets, but today you have people walking around with Uzis and AK47s. Where are the limits? For instance, is there a right to own a field artillery piece? Or a B-52 bomber? What about a nuclear missile? A battleship. Don’t laugh: these are all arms.

Thirdly, it seems plain to me as an objective outsider that it was never intended as a personal civil right. If the intention was to guarantee the individual a right to bear arms, it would have said this:

The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That would have been clear, plain and unambiguous, but it doesn’t say that. It qualifies the right by placing it in the context of raising a militia.

Now, the other issue is the law in individual States. As I understand it, you can go to a gun show in Virginia and buy any weapon on sale – there and then – for cash, provided you’re over 18. There’s no background check. There’s no delay. Here’s your assault rifle, Sir. Have a nice day. (Admittedly, it isn’t completely unregulated: you can’t buy more than one weapon a month, which is something to be grateful for, I suppose).

So, even if they kept the second amendment, the individual States could tighten up their gun laws.

But what’s it all about anyway? What’s this business of wanting to carry automatic weapons around with you?  I don’t get it, but looking back through the years, I’d probably have loved it when I was eight.

They say, Well, we need to protect ourselves from the bad guys, and you have to agree there’s a big problem with gun-crime over there. Guns are everywhere, and all the bad guys are armed, so what’s the answer? Is it to arm the whole population, or is it to take away the guns from everyone? Are the people armed so that they can do the work of the police, or should the police be better resourced so that people don’t have to keep automatic weapons?

I don’t know. It seems to me that if the US government can afford to spend $20 million an hour on the Iraq war, you’d imagine they could afford to take on and disarm their own home-grown criminals, wouldn’t you?

I really think Moses was wrong about this one.

Categories
Crime Politics World

Gun Control in America

Update 16th April 2007 When I wrote this post, I didn’t realise what would happen a week later.


=======================================================

Original post

Washington DC had a ban on citizens owning handguns. This law was in place for thirty years until last month, when the US court of appeals stuck it down as unconstitutional. According to the court, the law violates the individual’s right to bear arms under the second amendment to the constitution.

Right, says Bock. Let’s have a look at this old second amendment then.

Dum dee dum dee dumm dum.

Here we go.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

OK. That seems pretty straightforward, wouldn’t you think? You can see the claw-hammer coats and powdered wigs as they drew this one up. A militia. We need a militia to protect God-fearing Protestants from the heathen red man! The people must be permitted to bear arms!!

Damn right. A yeomanry is what you need when you’re surrounded by Godless and angry locals you’ve just invaded and displaced. And what use is a yeomanry if they haven’t got their muskets in the thatch? Answer: no use whatever.

So there you go. It couldn’t be plainer: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

With forensic rigour, I have examined it, and I note the following. It doesn’t say Under all circumstances, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

No. It doesn’t. It says, A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State.

Nor does it say, without qualification, The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

No.

It says A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Now, I can see no ambiguity whatever in these words, but apparently the US appeals court thinks it means something other than the obvious. The US appeals court thinks it means

Any fucking maniac can have a bazooka.

Christ Almighty. No wonder they’re invading everyone they don’t like.

==========================================

UPDATE

In a reply to this post, Brian expressed the view that the second amendment was bestowed on the people by their creator. Now, I have to confess, this puzzled me. I didn’t understand what he meant. Did God really write the American constitution? Damn me, I was baffled.

But after a while, I realised that it all made sense.

Wasn’t Charlton Heston president of the NRA? Yes, he was.

Aha! And didn’t old Chuck know God pretty well? Yes. They used to play cards together every Friday night.

Well then. It’s obvious. God told him over a beer: Chuck, I know y’all been worryin about this here gun control thing. Well, y’all can quit frettin cuz I’m fixin to put an end to it. Go forth and tell my People that y’all can bear arms. An’ ifn anyone asks why, you tell ’em it’s cuz I said so. Ya hear me, boy?

I hear you, God.

==================================
BREAKING NEWS MONDAY 16TH APRIL

RTE news reports as follows:

At least 22 people, including the suspect, were killed in a shooting rampage on the US campus of Virginia Tech University. Police and university officials have confirmed the death toll in Blacksburg, Virginia. The shootings took place in two separate areas of the campus and police believe a single gunman was responsible. ‘This is a tragedy of monumental proportions,’ Virginia Tech president Charles Steger told reporters. Police said they were investigating whether the gunman killed himself or was killed by authorities.

Most of the shootings took place at a part of the campus called Norris Hall, according to campus police chief Wendell Finchum. This is one of the deadliest shooting rampages in the US, a country known for its loose gun ownership laws. The last one of this scale on a university campus was when Charles Whitman went to top of the tower in the middle of the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, on 1 August, 1966, and opened fire on people 27 stories below.

He killed 15 people, including his mother and wife the night before, and wounded 31 others.==================================================

UPDATE: The death toll is now 33.

It seems the shootings took place in two separate attacks by the same man, and there was a two-hour gap between them. This looks like monumental incompetence on the part of the University authorities and the police.

The first two shootings took place in the dormitory room. Apparently, a jilted boyfriend killed his former girlfriend and new boyfriend. Oh dear Jesus.

The university had what they call a “lockdown” system. This means that when they heard about the first two shootings, they locked the students into their classrooms, which was why the gunman was able to murder a further thirty-one students. Thirty-one more kids! Why?

Two hours after the first murders, it appears that this demented young man was able to kill a a further thirty people. Sons and daughters. Young kids like yours or mine. Young kids, murdered and unable to escape because they were “locked down”.

According to the campus police chief, after the first two people were killed, he thought it was “more than likely” that the killer had left the campus. He later spoke about “bringing this investigation to a successful conclusion”.

Successful conclusion? Well, that will be a relief to the families of the murdered kids.

I also saw George Bush on the news saying a prayer.

Dear God.

kick it on kick.ie