Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rising Gun Violence: Why are We Shocked?

About two years ago, the Virginia Tech shootings shocked many across our nation. But if you felt shocked, then you weren't paying attention. To be shocked means what happened was unexpected, an accident - as if you had no way to see it coming. But is there no way to draw relationship between vast consumerism, violence, and the sale of guns? Buying a gun is as easy to some people as acquiring a doll or a pack of cigarettes.

Guns have become just another one of our gadgets. We keep them under the pillow; hold them like a screwdriver. Many U.S. citizens are conditioned to believe guns are needed to protect their "investments," to keep the plethora of accumulated materials safe from harm. Gun manufacturers don't even need to advertise their wares to the public. They've got all the free publicity they'll ever need through movies, television shows, video games, and monthly school shootings.
I'm trying to avoid pessimism, but change is not something that happens overnight. Change begins slowly, one dialogue at a time. I initiate some of these small conversations in the Alternatives to Violence workshops. The day after Virginia Tech, a student in one of my classes said, "If it can happen at VA Tech, it can happen anywhere." The fear is contagious and, perhaps now, no longer irrational. Thirty-three die and my students are saying, "VA Tech was one of my top choices, but there's no way in hell that you'll get me to go there now."

Blacksburg, Virginia: it's just the semblance of another day in Iraq, where in July of 2006 the United Nations recorded an average of 100 civilian deaths per day. So I ask my students: why are we more concerned when Americans die than when those of other nations die? One student says passionately, "The majority of Americans are so boxed in by borders that seldom do we extend our hearts and compassion to anyone who doesn't have a U.S. passport." Another student fires back, "Often we don't even express compassion for our fellow Americans."

The average U.S. adult today may feel an urge to have a gun, not unlike a child's desire for the next version of Madden Football for his X-Box video game console. We're addicted to buying things; guns are no exception. Why do we buy things? Because we think we need them. We think we need the newest pair of Nikes to run faster, the newest Audi Sports Coupe to impress the red-haired girl, the newest cell phone to communicate with our friends, and of course, how could we forget, a gun to keep us from getting shot and killed?

Without these things the average American may feel something is missing. Perhaps even that they're not living completely? Well, April 16, 2007, at Virginia Tech University, was quite disastrous for the living. It was a reminder of....... the dangerous materialistic path down which we're headed. Contrary to what many experts claimed afterward, it wasn't the largest massacre in U.S. history.

Remember the Tulsa massacre in 1921? Experts suggest over 300 African Americans were slaughtered that day. Or how about the Gnadenhutten massacre (also known as the Moravian massacre) of March 8, 1782? On that day, 96 Christian American Indians, including 68 women and children, were grossly slain by American militia from Pennsylvania.

And so it's just another day, isn't it? I didn't have to write this article the day after the killing spree, because there is a massacre happening today as well. Each day in the United States, according to The Centers for Disease Control, 41 people are murdered. Forty years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by an assassin's bullet, our streets - and our schools - are filled with more guns than ever.

I ask, "How many of you feel compassion for Cho SeungHui, the senior at Virginia Tech, who was majoring in English and shot everyone in sight - clearly not discriminating between race, nationality, or religion?" A scarce few raised their hands. "Does compassion discriminate? What would our society look like if one of our first instincts was to hold him in our thoughts and prayers as well as the victims of his terrible shootings?" A student says later, "What happened was necessary to wake up America."

So, what needs to happen?

First, we need to press corporations to stop producing weapons - and we need to stop buying so many of these "things," seeking a "quick fix." A gun makes it easy to act on emotions. Such violence may respond to one's immediate anger, but can lead to life-long regrets. For it is one thing if your girlfriend dumps you and a fistfight begins; but when was the last time you heard of a drive-by punch killing someone? Without guns, your chances of living to fight another day are exponentially increased.

It takes significantly more rage to beat someone over the head with a baseball bat to the point of death than it does to pull the trigger and introduce their brains to the sidewalk. With every blow of the fist, you are forced to experience and feel the pain of the other. Each blow allows more time for the rage to dissipate; with every hit you become a little more fatigued and have a chance to realize the severity of your actions. But give me a gun and I can do a lot more damage a lot more quickly, to a much larger number of people - can this be disputed?

'An attack committed with bare hands or a blunt instrument requires sustained effort against a victim who is actively trying to fight back or flee. These attacks often result in hospitalization followed by recovery. Using a knife decreases the victim's chances of survival, but still he/she may be able to fight or flee. A gun, however, allows the assailant to kill or wound in an instant, and to attack from a distance. Gunshot wounds are much more likely to be lethal - the reason that armies are equipped with firearms (For an overview of the lethality of firearms see Cukier and Sidel. Several studies have highlighted this lethality.

A comparison of hospital admissions of wound victims in South Africa found that 6% of knife wounds were fatal, while 28% of those with firearm wounds died. In Zambia, patients with firearm wounds required longer stays in hospital, and were admitted more frequently into intensive care units (ICU), and required more X-rays than contusions. When firearms have replaced traditional weapons in societies with pre-existing patterns of violence, observers found a marked increase in the lethality and destructiveness of conflict.

Crucially, firearms also increase lethality of "situational" violence, including fights fuelled by alcohol or other intoxicants; and gang violence. This killing may not be premeditated (and murderers may be very remorseful later). Use of firearms can turn a violent incident into one in which people are killed or suffer lasting disability.'

As the discussion continues, one of my students says we need guns to protect ourselves. The idea that one will be safer if they have a gun in their home - or on their person - is one of the most common misconceptions. The CDC says it is 22 times more likely that you will kill a member of your family than an intruder if you have a gun in your home. The CDC also states that U.S. kids are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from a firearm accident than children in 25 other industrialized countries combined. U.S. children are more at risk from firearms than children of any other industrialized nation. In one year, firearms killed 19 in Great Britain, 57 in Germany, 109 in France, 153 in Canada, and 5,285 in the United States.

This is a problem in dire need of a solution. Putting down the guns, by stopping their production and sale, may not be the whole answer; but it surely would be a healthy start. We need to decrease consumerism in general, ill will towards our neighbor, violence, and yes, even guns.


Anonymous said...

You should google: Appalachain Law School, Grundy Virginia, for an example of how lives were saved by students who wouldn't succumb to fear.

Simon said...

Guns were more common in the past. People would even walk to school with rifles or shotguns and put them away during the day, so that they could go hunting with friends after class. Of course, our culture didn't glorify violence like it does today.

Your arguments are plain false. If you want to live in a culture that bans self-defense and promotes complacency, then just move to Europe, seriously. I'm sure you'll "feel" safer there.

Vibe said...

You might want to avoid the use of the Tulsa Massacre, as it was the very police and National guard that were responsible for the carnage - that and the fact that the Black community was severely under equipped with not nearly enough guns or people familiar with their use.
Likewise the Gnadenhutten massacre was committed under control of a State appointed officer against unarmed victims who could not resist.
Your theory that only police, military and "approved" personnel is in no way supported by these incidents. The outcomes would have been MUCH more defining had the victims been able to more effectively resist. In order to have done so they would have had to have been more effectively armed.

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