I’ve often found it counterproductive to wade into discussions about acts of mass violence, such as the events in Aurora, Colorado, because, frankly (to use a clichéd, if horribly appropriate turn of phrase) I’ve seen this film before. As The Onion acidly noted, in an article titled, ‘Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting’s Aftermath Will Play Out’:
Nothing really surprises me when it comes to this kind of thing anymore. And that makes me feel terrible…Oh, and here’s another thing I hate I know…In exactly two weeks this will all be over and it will be like it never happened.
Still, I found myself compelled to respond to a post by Jan Wilberg, with the telling title, ‘Let the Blaming Begin.’ Now, I don’t mean to pick on her–I think there are very good-hearted reasons for people to respond the way that she has; and I reckon she’s very far from alone in those sentiments. I felt compelled to respond for the simple reason that I find such explanations incredibly short-sighted: to pass this over as a singular instance of depravity–maybe even as the result of a terrible upbringing–whilst refusing to engage the possibility of a systemic explanation, is one of those frustrating American habits that has me reaching for the keyboard. Such an attempt at balance and sobriety ends up all-to-often looking like a myopic (and, yes, contrived) exercise in disengaging with uncomfortable truths.
So, I had to respond. Please forgive any mistakes or awkward constructions, etc., in the following, as this was posted as a comment under the relevant article:
‘It’s so hard to accept that terrible, inexplicable things just happen.’
I couldn’t disagree more, Jan. I think you’re approaching the matter from a good place–from a desire not to pretend to know the causes of something we might not, yet, understand. But everything does have a cause–or, as with these sort of events, a multiplicity of causes that reach a final, devastating conclusion.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, the United States recorded 12,996 murders in 2010. The comparable figure in England & Wales was 550. Of those 12,996 murders in the US, a full 67.5%–a full 8,775 victims–were attributed to firearms. The comparable figure in England & Wales last year: 39. You can find similar disparities between the US and other developed states, e.g. 194 gun-related death in Germany, 200 in Canada. And this proportion of gun-related homicides to the total number of homicides is pretty static over at least the last 7 years.
Surely this discrepancy would stand out as incredible if one were blind to the joke that is the US legal structure built around gun ownership. In this *particular* mass shooting, the perp had 6000 rounds of ammunition. He had purchased all of his weapons in the last 60 days. But there was no effective system to warn anyone–and/or no-one connected any dots.
Were this incident just a blip on the radar, we wouldn’t really be talking about guns. The debate about the recent anti-Semitic shootings in Toulouse, for example, concentrated surprisingly little on the number of guns on the street–because, frankly, there are incomparably fewer guns (and, therefore, incomparably fewer gun crimes) in France.
And of course, this ISN’T a blip on the radar—no matter how the media treats these sort of events. Just look at the following report from the Brady Campaign: [Mass shootings report.]
Three things need to be pointed out here. Firstly, that this report had *JUST* been updated up to 17 July 2012, i.e. in the past 7 days, when another mass shooting left 17 people injured at a bar in a college town. Secondly, and more importantly, that this report runs to 62 full pages, a damning indictment of anyone claiming these crimes are singular or unique in America; they aren’t. Finally, the report only covers mass shootings since 2005–and is based on those which received news coverage, i.e. it is (in its words) ‘not comprehensive.’ 62 pages of mass shootings in 7 years–about 8-9 pages per year–without counting the terrible events on Friday.
So no, this sort of event doesn’t seem ‘inexplicable’ to me, even if the particulars of the case seem to render it unique. The United States’ abysmal history of gun crime seems to me to stem from a particularly odious convergence of a hyper-violent culture and an overly-armed civilian population.
America can pretend to be shocked all it wants here: the appeals for a de-politicised discussion notwithstanding, the tragedy of such events won’t change the fact that the United States’ relationships to gun[s] is more akin to that of developing, and often failed states, than to that of its partners in rich democracies to its north, and across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.