No one immune in 'High Noon' America

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2007, 12:00am

Most days, it is not at all hard to feel proud to be an American. But on days such as this, it is very difficult.

The pain that the parents of the slain students feel hits deep into everyone's hearts. At the University of California in Los Angeles, students are talking about little else. It is not that they feel especially vulnerable because they are students at a major university, as is Virginia Tech, but because they are citizens of High Noon America.

High Noon was a famous film. The 1952 Western told the story of a town marshal (played by the superstar actor Gary Cooper) who is forced to eliminate a gang of killers by himself. They are eventually gunned down.

The use of guns is often the American technique of choice for all kinds of conflict resolutions. Our famous Constitution, about which many of us are generally so proud, enshrines along with the right to freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly - the right to own guns. That's an apples and oranges list if there ever was one.

Not all of us are so proud and triumphant about the gun-guarantee clause. The right to free speech, press, religion and assembly and so on seem to be working well but the gun part not so much.

Let me explain. Some misguided people will focus of course on the fact that the 23-year-old student who killed the Virginia Tech students was ethnically Korean. This is one of those observations that's 99.99 per cent irrelevant. So let's just disregard all the hoopla about the racial identity of the student responsible for the slayings. These students were not killed by a Korean, they were killed by a 9mm handgun and a 22mm handgun.

Let's focus more on the issue of the guns before we ban Koreans from our campuses.

'Guns don't shoot people,' goes the gun lobby's absurd mantra; but guns generally don't kill others without people pulling the triggers. Far fewer guns in America would logically result in far fewer deaths from people pulling the trigger.

The probability of the Virginia Tech gun massacre happening would have been greatly reduced if easily available guns were virtually impossible for the ordinary citizen to obtain.

Foreigners sometimes believe that celebrities in America are more often the targets of gun violence than the rest of us. Not true. Celebrity shootings just happen to make better news stories for the media, so perhaps they seem common.

They're not. All of us are targets because with so many guns swishing around our culture, no one is immune.

When the great pop composer and legendary member of the Beatles John Lennon was shot in 1980 in New York, many in the foreign press tabbed it a war on celebrities. Now some in the media will declare a war on students or some-such. This is all misplaced. The correct target of our concern needs to be on guns. America has more than it can possibly handle. How many can our society handle? My opinion is: as close to zero as possible.

Last month I was robbed in the evening in the alley behind my home. As I was carrying groceries inside, a man with a gun approached me where my car was parked. The gun he carried featured one of those red-dot laser beams which he pointed right at my head. Naturally, being anything but a James Bond type, I complied with all of his requests, rather quickly. Perhaps because of more rapid response (it is called surrender), he chose not to shoot me but he just as easily could have. What was to stop him?

Oh, and the police told me the armed robber definitely was not Korean.

Not that I would have known one way or the other: Basically the only thing I saw or can remember was the gun, with the red dot, pointed right at my head. A near-death experience does focus the mind. We need to get rid of our guns.

Tom Plate is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy. Distributed by the UCLA Media Centre