By Yvonne Sam
Already battling her own evils, America is now caught up in yet another mass slaying. The lesson to be learned from this ghastly carnage, is that there will be more such shootings. The usual reaction will follow, ones that we have seen and heard far too often: non-stop media coverage, opinions of weapon analysts, opening up of more debate on gun control, lowering of flags at half mast, moments of silence, and a day of national mourning.
But how often will America mourn? What America needs most of all, is action to lower the gun toll, thereby less mourning.
By far the United States is the world leader in the number of guns in the hands of civilians.
In other more advanced countries, stricter gun laws have curbed suicides, gun accidents and homicidal violence.
Granted, in a country that is inundated with 300 million firearms, some criminals will always be able to obtain guns, and there is a likelihood of higher gun death rates than Europe.
However, generally we have established policies that reduce the toll of harmful or deadly products around us. No single solution, just cumulative efforts. Like what is done with cars — seat belts, drivers’ licenses, air bags, crackdown on drunken driving. With swimming pools — childproof gates, fences, pool covers. It is what should be done with real guns.
According to the Shooting Tracker website, America averages more than one mass shooting daily. Democrats have stressed the need to address the issue of mental health, while Republicans emphasize the need to address America’s problems with guns.
When will learning take place?
The Port Arthur massacre in April 1996, the worst mass murder in Australia’s history, shook the country to its core. A lone gunman, Martin Bryant, opened fire on tourists in a seaside resort in Port Arthur (former penal colony), Tasmania, killing 35 people and wounding 23 more. There had been mass shootings before, but this massacre served as fuel to the pyre.
Twelve days after the massacre the Australian government, led by the then Prime Minister, John Howard, announced a bipartisan deal, with state and local governments, to enact sweeping gun-control measures.
Underlying the push was an extensive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and also required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defence did not count.)
The National Firearms Agreement, a legislation that outlawed automatic and semi-automatic rifles as well as pump-action shotguns, was subsequently introduced by the Australian government. A nationwide gun buyback scheme also saw more than 640,000 weapons turned in to authorities. There had been 11 mass shootings in Australia in the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, but not a single once since.
In the U.S., ladders kill about 300 people, yearly, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has produced seven pages of rules about ladders. On the other hand, the federal government is still struggling to reduce gun deaths, with a toll more than 100 times as high.
According to the State Department, billions of dollars are being spent on tackling terrorism, which killed 229 Americans, worldwide, from 2005 to 2014. In the same 10 years, including suicides, some 310,000 Americans died from guns.
The central issue in this tragedy is guns, but the gun lobby will vehemently state, as always, that this is not a time for politics. Gun control has always proven to be the nemesis of the American government, with the NRA (Notable Resistance Always) blocking every reasonable step.
Lives that matter are being lost while America’s gun battle rages. Instead of the pugilistic display and animosity against each other, if the various sides can be less ideological and more driven by evidence that works, then thousands of lives can be saved.
The left must drop the bigotry and duplicity, and the right can drop the obstructionism.
It is too soon to ascertain what, if anything, could have prevented this tragedy, and perhaps nothing could have, either.
But if America cannot learn and has not learned from this recent carnage, then, sadly, she will have to continue mourning, for there will be more such shootings. More action equals less mourning.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.