Sons of guns behind the Las Vegas killer

By Ameen Izzadeen
Violence begets violence. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. It does not mean that the 59 people who died at the Las Vegas concert shooting and those who were injured in the worst ever mass shooting in the United States, were promoters of violence. But the collective soul of the United States is.
This collective soul given to violence manifested itself last Sunday in Stephen Paddock, the gunman who, from his 32nd floor room in a nearby hotel, sprayed bullets aimlessly at the country music fans for some ten minutes. Perhaps, this was the first ever mass shooting incident where the killer did not know why he killed and the killed did not know why they were killed. Isn’t this a sign of much worse chaos to come?
Simply put, the motive for this massacre remains an unknown riddle. The 64-year-old millionaire killer was a caring person. He enjoyed the company of family and friends. Fun-loving, he was not known to have held any extreme political or religious views. Besides, he was not a Muslim, an identity that prompts law enforcement authorities to slap a terrorism motive on a killer. Then why did he commit this gruesome crime before he took his life?
Perhaps, an answer to this riddle will never be found. Until the motive is found, the United States’ collective soul stands accused, for it is willingly or unwillingly has been living with violence, since long before it came into being as a political entity.
More than 500 years ago, America was a land of peace. Its native people lived in harmony with nature. But since Christopher Columbus’s west ward drift that exposed the hidden continent to the Europeans, America’s history has been one of violence, chaos and lawlessness. Millions of Native Americans were killed in clod-blooded genocide by the land and gold hungry European invaders. They even came in the guise of humanitarians to kill the Native Americans by distributing to them chickenpox-infected blankets, in what could be described as history’s first germ warfare.
When the Native Americans resisted the nasty white man’s evil designs and launched surprise attacks on White European settlements, the European invaders armed themselves with guns. The invader thought his survival depended on his ownership of a gun, a weapon superior to the Native Americans’ arrow. This was the beginning of America’s gun culture, which found itself a niche in American society during the War of Independence in the 18th century. In the American psyche, there appears to be an emotional link with the violence-ridden past. Soon, the right to bear arms was constitutionally guaranteed under the Second Amendment. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” it says.
Since then, the gun culture, apart from accounting for millions of deaths, has taken the lives of four US Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. President Ronald Reagan almost became the fifth. Yet the call for gun control in the United States has only been a whimper. Voices that were heard every time a shocking gun crime took place went unheard in the bang from the barrel of the powerful gun lobby coordinated by the National Rifles Association.
In the aftermath of the ghastly killing of 20 primary class children and six teachers in Sandy Hook in what was described as the worst school gun crime in US history, the then US President, Barack Obama, pushed for strict gun control measures through a congressional bill, but his effort was shot down by the powerful gun lobby, which carried out a virulent campaign against the bill. An angry Obama hit out: “The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.”
Unlike President Obama, who at least made some efforts aimed at gun control, President Donald Trump is a son of a gun. During the campaign, Trump wooed the gun lobby and won its support as he defended the Second Amendment and criticised Obama for his gun control efforts.
How many mass shootings and victims should it take to check this gun culture in the United States where mass murderer Paddock could own an arsenal of 42 firearms, including automatic weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition in addition to explosives?
A staggering 300 million guns are now in circulation in the US, giving the United States the dubious honour of being the world’s number one country of armed civilians. There are 88 guns for every one hundred Americans, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Yemen, a war-ravaged nation, comes a distant second with its gun ownership figure being 55 for every 100 civilians.
Firearms account for some 68 percent of all killings in America or more than 30,000 Americans are killed with guns each year — about two-thirds of those being suicides. The number of Americans who are shot at tops 100,000 a year. This year alone, there have been 50,000 gun crimes. Gun control advocates say Americans are “25 times more likely to be killed with a gun than people in other developed countries.”
Gun control measures have succeeded elsewhere. In 1996, Australia, in response to a mass shooting incident, bought back more than 600,000 firearms and introduced gun laws that have succeeded in halving gun deaths. Similar measures have succeeded in Britain, too.
In the US, if gun control measures are to succeed, the Second Amendment, which is part of the American bill of rights, should be amended without any room for ambiguity that has given rise to judicial interpretations in defence of gun ownership. For this to happen, civil society should carry out a campaign similar to what forced the US government to end the war in Vietnam.
As a further measure, the US foreign policy should not be one based on wars. There is more war than peace in the US foreign policy, an aggressive instrument, through which the president promotes the interest of American capitalism, the arms lobby and the financial mafia. US President Donald Trump calls this policy ‘America First’. But this is what America has been doing since the end of World War II, despite such policy has failed in the Korean peninsula, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. America’s wars, just as its movies, glorify and romanticize violence.
At global level, the United Nations’ measures are apparently as ineffective, despite the Arms Trade Treaty that came into force in 2004 to check illegal transfer of small arms and light weapons. A review conference is long overdue in view of the fact that it is small arms and light weapons that sustain terrorism and killers like Paddock. The bottom line is that if we deny killers and terrorists the access to weapons, then we can at least save some lives.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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