Next Steps After Newtown – for Vermont, the Nation and the World

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.

6 thoughts on “Next Steps After Newtown – for Vermont, the Nation and the World

  1. unfortunately this adolescent murderer is not mentally ill. All of us need to learn self-protection and to emphasize protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Gun control is no solution.

  2. The 2nd ammendment does not guarantee the right to hunt or protect yourself from buglers and boogie men. The 2nd ammendment does not guarantee the right to own “assualt” rifles. It gurantees the right of citizens to be at equal “arms” as in weapons of war: bombs, cannons, rifles ect with the military forces of goverment. This balance of power as described by the 2nd amendment, is necessarry for a free state. For without an armed populace and that balance of force application you end up with tyranny. As Ron Paul has declared in his state of the union farewell address; the constitution has failed. The 2nd ammendment died long ago in principal and practice. We are all slaves to the military industrial complex machine. There is no balance of force application, therefore as defined by the constitution we are not free.

  3. I avoid no such thing, Mr. Colin. There is of course, a “need” to an assault weapon. It is for protection against exactly what we saw happen late last week. That is why the Founders of our nation specifically delineated this as a fundamental right.

  4. Ralph, with your military background you ought to know that a semi-automatic rifle is NOT an “assault weapon”. Assault rifles (like the AK 47) fire continuously with the trigger depressed. The rifle Lanza used, like your shotgun and every other weapon you have, requires a trigger pull to fire. I don’t believe a civilian mass murder has ever been committed with an “assault weapon”.
    “Assault weapons” have been regulated since 1935 as “machine guns”. How about we register “violence prone nut cases”? Unfortunately I have no idea how to do that unless they have committed a violent act, which Lanza and Loughner and Hinckley had not.

  5. Mr. Ryan:

    You really do your best to avoid one of the main and most important issues of this debate: the often-proposed restriction on “assault weap0ns.” There is absolutely NO NEED for the ownership of an assault weapon such as that used in Newtown in order to hunt or to protect oneself or one’s family. And, yes, as you sight, there have been mass murders without the use of assault weapons, BUT with access to private ownership of such weapons, it makes it a whole lot more likely and possible that if or when a mentally ill individual intends to commit mass murder, the number of victims will be a whole lot greater.

    It is overly simplistic to suggest that the problem lies with the fact we do not lock up everyone who MIGHT
    commit mayhem. How do we identify all those who are capable of such acts and if we could do so, wouldn’t our hospitals (or jails) be overwhelmed with inmates at an horrific cost to all taxpayers and wouldn’t the rights of thousands of persons with some mental illness be deprived of the rights to which we are all entitled?

    It would make far more sense to greatly restrict the availability of assault-type weapons for which the primary, if not only, purpose is to kill masses of people. That’s why they are identified as “assault weapons.” How would you or other law-abiding citizens be penalized or harmed if those weapons were not for sale to anyone without a special license (for law-enforcement, as an example) to own them? Why would you want an assault weapon in your home to begin with?

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