by Kevin Joseph Ryan
One thing that needs to be said before we begin is that one homicide death by firearm is too many, no matter who the victim may be.
It would appear that a lot of folks out there are insistent on discussing gun control in light of the tragedy in Newtown Friday morning, in fact, they wanted to begin this discussion, frankly, before the bodies were cold, which personally, I find to be particularly ghoulish, but so be it. I wanted to wait just a few days.
Their argument is, if we had discussed gun control a long time ago, the children in Connecticut would still be alive. The fact of the topic is, this situation was caused by a mentally ill man that no one treated. Not by a gun or guns.
The cause of this and other “rampage killings” appears to be a lack of supervision of the mentally ill, both in the United States and worldwide. In Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin has proposed moving the state to a model of de-centralized mental health care supervision following the flooding of the State Hospital in Waterbury. Plans are underway for a new state facility in Berlin of 25 beds, half the capacity of Waterbury, but plans for that construction have been postponed for over a year. Vermont Director of Financial Resources Steven Kimball has said that a lack of space for severely mentally ill people has “…has put tremendous pressure on the state’s ability to care for Vermonters will serious mental illness.”
Perhaps, as some say, we could ban gun ownership in the United States to prevent rampage killings. This would make things safer. Well, following the Supreme Court case of District of Columbia v Heller, we cannot do this. The Second Amendment permits the ownership of handguns by private citizens and that is that. Perhaps we could amend the Constitution. I wouldn’t recommend it, but we could.
Let’s say we did amend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to allow the banning of handguns and rifles. Would the country be safer? Would the Connecticut tragedy have occurred? Would the tragedy of Aurora, Colorado or Columbine have taken place? Well, no, we would not be safer, and yes, the tragedies would likely have taken place.
One position that is often cited is that firearms deaths in the UK are far lower than in the United States, and that country has very stringent firearms ownership regulations. They do enjoy a very low rate of firearm homicides versus the United States. In England and Wales (not Scotland or Ireland), the rate of firearm homicides is 0.07 per 100,000 persons, whereas in the United States, that rate is 3.7 per 100,000. This translates to 41 firearm homicides in England versus 11,493 in the U.S. in 2011. This, however, does not tell the whole story.
In England, including Wales, there were 564 homicides in total, and in the United States, there were 16,799 homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This means in the UK, only 8% of homicides were the result of gun deaths, while in America, 68% of all homicides are the result of guns. That said, 40% of British homicides were caused by knives. They don’t shoot you there, they stab you to death. I’m sure that’s a comfort to the families.
The simpler truth regarding homicide in England is that they simply don’t commit it. In the UK, murder is the cause of death for 1.15 per 100,000 whereas in America murders account for 5.5 deaths per 100,000. The likely reason? England does not have a runaway drug problem, has only limited gang activity and has much more cultural homogeneity than the United States does.
The United States is not the number one country in the world for gun homicides, it is number 28 out of those countries that bother to report such statistics. The Bahamas, Belize, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, South Africa, Trinidad, and Venezuela all score higher than the United States for criminal homicide rates , not accounting for war-torn countries such as Afghanistan.
South Africa, with a homicide rate of 17 per 100,000, over 300% higher than the U.S., maintains a two-year minimum waiting time for a gun license. Brazil, with their homicide rate of 18 per 100,000 totaling 34,678 murders per year, essentially bans the private ownership of firearms. They still have twice the number of criminal homicides as the United States, with 70 million less citizens. Conversely, Switzerland, which actually mandates firearms ownership for adult males under thirty, has a per capita homicide rate of 0.7 per 100,000, 500% lower than the United States.
Given this information, it could be argued that while additional or stricter gun laws in the United States would be unlikely to result in lower homicides, it would prevent unthinkable events like the Connecticut Newtown massacres. That too, is unlikely to be correct.
On June 2, 2010, a man named Derek Bird shot and killed 12 people and wounded 11 others in Cambia, England. He was licensed and did not use anything remotely termed an “assault weapon”. He used a 12-guage double barreled shotgun and a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle. On July 10, that same year, one Raoul Moat killed two persons and wounded another severely with a shotgun in Northumbia, England.
As far as schools go, and this is not meant to disturb, firearms are not required to carry out a rampage killing. May 8, 2006, Bai Ningyang, in Shiguan, China murdered 11 kindergarten students and their teacher, armed with only a knife. The ones he did’nt stab to death, he set on fire. May 12, 2010, Wu Huaming, in Hanzong, Shaanzi, China killed 7 preschool children, two adults and wounded 11 others using a meat cleaver. What appears to be the necessary ingredient is a disturbed mind and a complete lack of empathy for life.
Although the above is only a brief sampling of terror an tragedy around the world, lest we forget Anders Brevik, who on July 22, 2011 murdered or wounded 319 people, including scores of children, at a summer camp at Utoya, Norway. He did indeed use a Glock 34 pistol and a Ruger mini 14 Carbine rifle, but did so under some the strictest gun regulations in all of Europe.
How do we take meaningful action to prevent a recurrence of the unspeakable events at the Sandy Hook School of Newtown? Certainly, more direct supervision of the mentally ill should be considered as that seems to be the common denominator behind these terrible crimes. Another option may be what both Israel and Thailand have done, Israel far back as the 1970’s and Thailand more recently in 2004. In both countries, teachers and volunteer parents are required to be armed with semi-automatic firearms while supervising students on school grounds. The massacre of children in schools doesn’t happen there.