Oh, good grief - not another shooting!
Sure enough, the "breaking news" banners on several websites after lunch bore the gory details of yet another weird shooting, this one resulting in three fatalities.
Details remain sketchy, but we do know that a male in an older house near the campus of Texas A&M University shot at police officers. One officer, identified as a twenty-year veteran of the county constabulary named Brian Bachman, has died, in addition to another man. The gunman also died, after injuring four other people.
Initial reports made it sound like many more people had been hit. Perhaps that's because, in our miserable world of murder and mayhem, having three people shot to death and four more wounded seems almost anti-climactic, especially since we don't have a motive. Some news outlets are reporting that an eviction notice was being served on a miscreant tenant, which sounds plausible, since others are reporting the house is owned by an A&M professor who uses it for rental income. We'll likely get a clearer picture of what happened after the police wrap-up their gristly investigation.
Serial Serial Shootings
But the second-guessing has already started on the Internet. The third fatal mass shooting in as many weeks; first the Colorado movie theater, then the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and now this. It's not just Texas news; this story is getting home page coverage on websites for the Washington Post, BBC News, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and several Australian news outlets. Reader feedback on the Washington Post's story alone already numbers in the hundreds.
And most of the attention? Focused squarely on guns. Guns, guns, guns. If we tightened gun laws, this kind of stuff wouldn't keep happening.
Which, of course, is a politically explosive argument. Plenty of Americans love their guns, and think the Second Amendment has already been encumbered with too many restrictions.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I do not hold the Constitution of the United States as some sort of sacred, infallible document. It was written by mortals who all compromised various personal preferences and beliefs to craft an over-arching framework for our grand new republic. However, that doesn't mean that I'm anti-gun.
Plenty of sports enthusiasts - with the exception of former vice president Dick Cheney - get lots of harmless fun out of their guns, along with the ability to control herds and even protect livestock. I know a couple of elderly widows in my own neighborhood have permits for guns, and if these ladies ever encounter a burglar in their homes, I wouldn't want to second-guess their marksmanship even without their glasses on.
I also believe there's a certain merit to gun ownership as a deterrent to anarchy and the overthrow of our government. Maybe our gun owners don't represent the "well-regulated militia" the Constitution's writers had in mind, but is that reason enough to deny its constitutional corollary, private gun ownership?
According to none other than Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, we have approximately 283 million privately-owned guns, or about 88.8 guns for every 100 Americans. Perhaps not surprisingly, the chaotic Middle Eastern country of Yemen is number two, with 54.8. But in a stunning dichotomy, placid Switzerland is number three, with 45.7
In the United States, 8,775 people were murdered by somebody shooting a gun in 2010. In Switzerland, there were only 53 murders in 2010, and not all of those involved guns.
Among gun owners, it's no big secret that some big discrepancies exist between the reasons for gun violence in the United States and Switzerland. But for most of the rest of us, these numbers are stunning.
One of the reasons gun ownership is high in Switzerland is that military service is expected of many of its young people, and when they're done with their duty, they get to keep the guns they were issued. Some families have collections of guns handed down from generation to generation like heirlooms.
However, the government also sponsors annual shooting events called Schützenfest, to encourage its citizens to maintain their proficiency in target practice. Germany also sponsors such events, but they're not just sporting events; they're considered patriotic events. Indeed, these shooting fests had been going on centuries before our Revolutionary War.
You see, the Second Amendment is not an original American idea.
Some might even argue that roughly 9,000 murders annually by people with guns is a low number, considering the number of guns in private hands in the United States. In fact, gun violence is decreasing in the United States, according to the FBI. And I'm using the phrase "gun violence" as meaning violence involving a gun, not violence caused by a gun. If you really want to talk gun violence, consider that some statistics seem to show suicide by gun as being twice as high as homicide by gun. Unfortunately, the public finds less immediacy in suicide. But even this statistic may reveal more that it lets on.
Not only is suicide by gun about twice as high as homicide by gun, suicide by gun is twice as high as suicide by any other means. I'm no social scientist (well, I studied to be one, but I wasn't liberal enough!), but might one of the reasons for this be that Americans are hooked on violence? Sure, guns are convenient because they're popular, but is that popularity based on the gun's ability to fire bullets that can kill people, or because Americans have become poorly trained at handling their problems?
When people commit suicide, they overwhelming prefer doing so with a gun, which may be convenient and practical, but it also ensures that their death will be gruesome. Shocking. Maybe even a punishment of sorts for whomever is left behind. One does not clean up the scene of a suicide by gun like one cleans up the scene of a suicide by overdose.
We all know American society is full of pressures, but few of us genuinely appreciate the different ways people react to those pressures, or even the ability of some people to mentally tolerate lower levels of pressure. Yet we seek to push the envelope, from pursuing longer commutes to work, to deluding ourselves with our (poor) abilities to multitask, to expecting fewer employees to do more work, to defending ever higher taxes, to convincing ourselves that raising the performance bar on everything is the only way to prove our worth, to poor diets or too much dieting... all with a steady diet of violence in all of our media venues which, again, pushes anti-social behavior patterns in ways we're told are entertaining.
Choose Your Ammo
At the end of the day, we're each responsible for the decisions we make. I believe that personal sin is the biggest crisis our world faces.
However, even though you and I are responsible for our sins, sometimes, our society doesn't provide us much help, especially when we're so easily deluded into thinking we can blame machines, or TV, or luxury car makers for our drive to acquire, prove, and thrive in our achievement-oriented culture. Do you see how we could use all this stuff, not just bullets, as ammunition against each other? Throw into the mix our tolerance for bigotry, our ambivalence regarding alcoholism and the abuse of other drugs, and our disdain for authority, and see what happens. Oh, and don't forget the ease with which we ignore those on the margins of society and assume they're entirely to blame for their lot in life. After all, we're each responsible for the decisions we make.
Yes, we are.
And we're all responsible - to varying degrees - for the society we make.
Switzerland's society is relatively homogeneous, at least compared to ours in the United States. It's also vastly smaller, both in terms of numbers, and in terms of geography. But how do these facts fit into the equation?
The Swiss certainly aren't angels. Just ask their bankers. But they boast the world's third-highest rate of gun ownership per capita, with fewer murders per year than the number of people in your Sunday School class, or your commuter bus at rush hour, or two classes of high school social studies students at your local high school.
Meanwhile, we've got 283 million guns. If we want solutions, won't more laws only be shutting the barn door after the whole herd has bolted? Only a small fraction of those guns are ever involved in any crime anyway. How can Switzerland sustain a high level of gun ownership with few murders, and we can't?
The Swiss sin as much as we do. They also own a lot of guns. Might it be that very little of their ammo are bullets?