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School tragedy targets guns issue

A gut-wrenching sense of déjà vu came with the news of America’s latest school shooting on December 14, 2012.

With the world’s eyes fixated on the Connecticut village of Newtown, as its community attempts to come to grips with the unprovoked massacre of 20 small children and six female staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the tragedy sparked an outcry over the country’s current gun policies.

While often espousing the constitutional right to bear arms as explanation for its citizens owning more guns per capita than any other nation.

According to UNODC figures from 2007, the reality of the misuse of certain firearms can no longer be glossed over.

It may be ‘constitutionally’ defensible, but is the lack of restraint on the purchase and ownership of assault weapons of the likes of AK-47s and high-capacity bullet magazines really justifiable?

This question becomes particularly salient in urban environments, in a society that has already experienced so much carnage.

The Amendment

The Second Amendment (“The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) was written in the shadow of the Revolution, at a time when America’s volatile historical climate meant individuals’ right to bear arms created a sense of stability amid warring sides. Today, statistics point to the prevalence of guns posing a major threat to America’s inhabitants, instead.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a reactive, yet solutions-orientated article in the wake of the shooting, joining swathes of others in calling for substantial action from Congress.

Comparing the successful revision of Australia’s gun-ownership laws following a 1996 massacre of 35 as an archetype, which included a buy-back scheme of 650,000 rapid-fire long guns, he wrote the following.

The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings. In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings, but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40% according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Centre, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.”

There are myriad angles to the mass shootings debate.

Aside from gun control, there are large cohorts calling for nation-wide discussions about the roles played by both the “disaster-porn” mongering media, and mental illness in these events. What can be done to prevent the actions of the perpetrators of these unthinkable acts of violence?

Overdue debate

Tragically, America is facing a long-overdue debate on its gun culture. For those of us in other lands, this serves as a poignant reminder to pay attention to some of our own oft’ ignored challenges.

Problems like family violence are routinely raised, only to go quiet again once the media furore subsides and the reality of the gravity of the necessary changes is felt.

Now that reaching America’s tipping point has made such conversation unavoidable, it must unfortunately be held in a very emotive manner, with the faces of numerous innocent women and children never far from mind.

Jamie Abict is Media & Communications Officer and Events Manager at Maxim Institute based in Auckland. The photograph appearing here (by Shannon Hicks of Newtown Bee) shows Connecticut State Police leading children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School soon after the shooting on December 14, 2012.

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