The Guardian

The Guardian September 8, 1999


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Add guns and stir

So Australia has finally matched the social development of the USA: we 
too are awash with guns (Sydney Morning herald, August 26). In the 
US, 222 million firearms are in the possession of private citizens, 
including 76 million handguns. Despite our much smaller population, 
Australia has three or four million legally owned guns  one third 
of them in NSW.

Even three million means that wherever five or six people gather together, 
one of them will own a gun. Actually the odds are longer than that, because 
gun nuts are not content with just one gun  they want their own arsenal.

More than half the gun owners in NSW, for example, own from two to five 
guns (in case they have to withstand a siege, presumably). A "select group" 
 of one and a quarter thousand  own more than ten guns each.

We can now hold our collective head up high, for while we still have a way 
to go to match the US gun-owning rate, we obviously have guns galore 
nevertheless and must therefore qualify as a modern, developed society, 
just like the USA.

And like the USA, we have an active gun lobby  even political parties 
just for gun owners. Their spurious arguments ("it's not the gun but the 
person holding the gun who kills") are borrowed freely from the USA. "God, 
Guts and Guns made Australia great" was one I saw a few years ago clearly 
copied from an American original.

The gun nuts ignore the statistical evidence that in countries where access 
to guns is easier, deaths from gunshot are higher; in the US, where guns 
are commonplace, gun-related deaths are also commonplace, becoming 
newsworthy only when they occur in multiples.

Fortunately for the mass media, multiple shootings there are also becoming 
commonplace. This year they seem to be occurring in the US at the rate of 
one rampage a month.

Over the last 12 months, there have been fatal mass shootings in schools 
alone in Springfield (Oregon), Fayetteville (Tennessee), West Paducah 
(Kentucky), Jonesboro (Arkansas), Pearl (Mississippi) and Littleton 
(Colorado).

According to the US National Centre for Health Statistics, 15 children aged 
19 or under are killed by handguns every day.

In some areas the authorities have seriously suggested that school children 
should be permitted to take guns to school  "for their own protection".

One who would support such a move is veteran Hollywood actor and prominent 
right-winger, Charlton Heston. Heston is the President of the notorious gun 
lobby outfit, the National Rifle Association (NRA).

In the most recent massacre, Mark Barton, a stock trader in Atlanta, after 
bashing his wife and two children to death, then took a gun and shot nine 
other people before killing himself when the police cornered him.

Heston's response to this was to point out that crime figures in the US are 
diminishing (mass shootings may be up but crime is down, you see).

The NRA was also anxious to take the credit for this situation, Heston 
giving as a reason for the alleged reduction the "number of American 
citizens who are trained and comfortable carrying firearms"!

The curious thing about that approach is that you never read about gun 
carrying citizens actually preventing one of these massacres. 
Instead, it's people who are "trained and comfortable carrying firearms" 
who carry them out.

There is some division of opinion in right-wing ranks over the best way to 
prevent school shootings in particular. The more common right-wing response 
is to impose severe restrictions on students, treating them all as 
potential killers.

In many schools across the US now, armed police patrol the corridors, there 
are metal detectors and surveillance cameras in use, students are subjected 
to random and mandatory searches and must carry their books and other 
things in see-through bags.

The religious right, of course, blames the school shootings on the banning 
of school prayer and demands that it be restored. (A case of any excuse to 
push your own barrow, if you ask me.)

Students who are given the chance to speak up on this question usually 
demand tighter gun control laws. And tighter laws against the advocacy of 
hate.

Many of the recent mass shootings have been what the Americans call "hate 
crimes", motivated by racism, neo-nazism or religious bigotry  often all 
mixed up together.

Tim Wheeler noted their connections in People's Weekly World.

In Littleton, the two young gunmen who went into the Columbine High School 
wearing black trenchcoats and shot dead 15 students and wounded 23 others 
were admirers of Adolf Hitler. They carried out their massacre on his 
birthday.

On July 4, Benjamin Smith went on a two-State killing spree under the 
influence of the neo-Nazi Church of the Creator.

In early August, Buford Furrow, a member of the racist outfit the Order (an 
offshoot of the white supremacist Aryan Nations), opened fire at a Los 
Angeles Jewish community centre wounding several people, including 
children, and then murdered a Filipino postal worker.

The Internet is alive with websites for hate groups, from the "Church of 
the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan" to armed militias training in the 
woods for a "race war".

Fill people with hate  and hopelessness, add guns and stir: a recipe for 
social destruction.

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