• Thu
  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 12:39am
As I see it
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2012, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2012, 8:32am

A farewell to arms

BIO

Born in Hong Kong, Jason is a globe-trotter who spent his entire adult life in Europe, the United States and Canada before settling back in his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a full-time lawyer and a freelance writer who raves and rants about Hong Kong and its people. Jason is the bestselling author of HONG KONG State of Mind and No City for Slow Men. Follow him on Twitter @jasonyng.
 

America is a bizarre country. To be an American – or to live in America – is to accept a few things that defy common sense. For starters, pizza is considered a “vegetable” under federal law. Two tablespoons of tomato paste on the dough is enough to make the pie healthy enough to be served at every public school cafeteria. Speaking of health, emergency rooms across the country routinely turn down trauma patients who fail to produce proof of health insurance. Facing skyrocketing healthcare costs, the uninsured are left for dead and the insured are worried sick about rising deductibles and annual premiums. Not bizarre enough? Here's another good one: gun shootings have become so commonplace that the evening news no longer reports them unless they are a “shooting rampage.” And each time after a massacre, gun enthusiasts line up outside Wal-Mart to stock up on assault weapons for fear of tougher gun laws. That’s right, in America you can buy a military-style semi-automatic rifle off the shelf at your neighbourhood Wal-Mart, the same way we pick out a frying pan from Sogo.

America is obsessed with guns. The FBI estimates that there are over 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States. Including those owned by law enforcement agencies, there is about one gun per person in the country, the highest in the world. America’s love affair with firearms is rooted in its history. Early settlers needed weapons to defend themselves against native Indians. Disputes among neighbours and romantic rivals were often settled by a pistol duel. During the War of Independence from 1775 to 1783, local militias armed themselves to overthrow British rule. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, enshrined in 1791 along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, guarantees the right to bear arms. Today, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a well-funded organization with 4.3 million members from coast to coast. Like the American Frozen Food Institute that worked vigorously on Capitol Hill to make pizza a vegetable, the NRA is a powerful lobbying group that wields great influence over lawmakers to protect the multi-billion-dollar gun industry.

Ironically, the NRA’s biggest enemies are neither gun law advocates nor the so-called liberal media. Their worst nightmare is the occasional depraved heart who storms into schools, shopping malls and government buildings and sprays bullets on the innocent. Names like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Oak Creek are now synonymous with mass murders and forever etched into the nation’s psyche. Two Fridays ago, 20-year-old Adam Lanza joined the growing list of crazed gunmen and killed 26 teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Lanza was armed with three semi-automatic assault weapons, including two handguns and a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, the type of combat weapons used by Mexican drug cartels and African warlords. Another shotgun was found in Lanza’s car and three more firearms were uncovered in his house. All seven weapons were legally obtained under Connecticut state law by Lanza’s mother, whom he murdered prior to the school shootings.

The Newtown shooting shook America to the core. For those living in the Tristate area, including my brother Dan and his family, the tragedy brought the issue of gun violence much closer to home. Days after the shooting, Dan received an invitation from his daughter’s school principal to attend a town hall meeting to discuss school safety. Later that week, Dan’s eight-year-old daughter Kimmie went through a “lock-down” drill at school. Kimmie and her fellow third-graders learned all the places in the classroom where they could hide: under the desks, inside the cabinet and behind the piano. They also learned how to stay quiet, refrain from crying and keep clear of the classroom door during an “emergency situation.” So while students in Hong Kong go through fire drills and Japanese children learn what to do in an earthquake, kids in America are taught tricks to evade armed gunmen like some bad Halloween movie. It is absurd, but hey, it is America!

Gun control, abortion and same-sex marriage are the “Big Three” social debates of our time. Gun law reform is especially controversial because of the economic interests involved and the cultural nerve it touches. Advocates on both sides of the debate cite their own studies and statistics and are backed by their own scholars, celebrities and public interest groups. The for-and-against arguments go something like this. Supporters of tougher gun laws say “enough is enough.” They blame gun violence on easy access to firearms and question the recreational value of semi-automatic weapons like the Bushmaster XM-15. On the other hand, gun-rights advocates say “guns don’t kill, people do.” They use the classic slippery slope argument: what’s next after banning assault weapons? Pistols? Kitchen knives? Sharp pencils? Should China ban knives because some whack job in Henan Province stabbed 23 children at a primary school? But the NRA goes one step further. They believe that more guns is the solution to gun violence. At a press conference last week, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre said defiantly, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He urged every school in America to hire armed security guards like they do at airports and court houses. The fact that LaPierre's proposal will boost gun sales is, I suppose, just a happy coincidence.

While gun law reform is stirring up passion in America, it is something of a no-brainer for the rest of the world. Here in Asia, we watch what happened in Connecticut in horror and listen to the ensuing social debate with disbelief. For most of us who didn’t grow up with firearms in our house, it is self-evident that restricting gun access is a direct, logical and effective way to curb gun violence. Discussing gun control with my colleagues and friends in Hong Kong makes for a deeply disappointing debate, for everyone seems to be on the same page. What confuses us, however, is why a great country like the Unites States – the superpower that put a man on the moon, beat the Soviets in the Cold War and invented the iPhone – can be so backward when it comes to such an obvious issue. We don’t understand how a population of 300 million can let a small minority of trigger-happy fanatics drive the national agenda. And when we hear the NRA’s proposal to fight gun violence by flooding the streets with even more guns, we don’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for these people. One of my readers puts it best: “I don’t understand this country, and I never will.”

But gun control is not the only debate coming out of the Newtown massacre. It also thrusts the issue of mental illness to the forefront. The gunman Adam Lanza was reportedly autistic and suffered from a personality disorder. That Lanza somehow fell through the cracks in the healthcare system is forcing the government to re-examine the support it provides the mentally ill. And if healthcare for the body is as scarce as it is – remember the uninsured at the emergency room – then what, if any, is left to treat diseases of the mind? Too often the mentally ill have to choose between institutionalisation and fending for themselves. Adam Lanza chose the latter and his illness festered. A broken healthcare system, combined with a brutal school culture that bullies and alienates the misfit, creates a recipe for disasters. None of these factors excuses what Adam Lanza did at Sandy Hook Elementary, but it might well have contributed to it.

Still another debate coming out of the Newtown shooting is the role of the media. Within hours after the first shot was heard, teams of reporters descended upon the Connecticut town like a plague of locusts. What followed was around-the-clock, wall-to-wall coverage of what happened and what the reporters thought had happened. They interviewed victims’ families who would rather have been left alone. They asked inane questions like “What went through your mind when you heard the gunshots?” and “What would you like to say to the gunman if he were still alive?” The line between journalists and paparazzi blurred. Critics argue that this kind of ambulance-chasing reporting actually encourages gun violence by glorifying the perpetrator’s act and giving a sad nobody his 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps. But journalism is a tricky business: too much reporting is sensationalism, but too little of it becomes neglect. I asked my brother Dan if he was offended by CNN’s non-stop coverage of the Newtown shooting. He said “no.” He felt that public attention needs to be drawn to the incident in order for changes to be made. He didn’t think the country should stop talking about a tragedy just to avoid putting the gunman in the limelight. “Attention is a form of respect,” he said. I tend to agree.

The debate over mental health and media coverage notwithstanding, the national focus in the aftermath of Newtown should stay on gun law reform. Too many lives have been lost for lawmakers in Washington to continue to kick the can down the road. It's time the country got serious about having a sensible dialogue on sensible gun laws, no matter how ugly the political fight will get. There will never be enough laws on the book to eliminate gun violence, but let’s talk about the loopholes in the background checks at gun shops and other points of sale. Let’s talk about the types of weapons that should be banned altogether. And let’s talk about concealment laws, secondary market sales and mandatory child-safety locks. For every day we wait, 35 more people are murdered with guns. Politicians should for once listen to common sense rather than lobbyists and their skewed statistics and dubious studies. America may be a bizarre country, but there is a difference between bizarre and absurd.

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This article is now closed to comments

geniocoeden
Also, let me clear something up because I didn't cover it in my rant. Unlike the author of this article, I am subject to a character limit. But you call these guns "assault rifles." That is just one of many inaccuracies in this article. These are semi-automatic weapons, not automatic weapons. Of course, since you cannot own guns in your country, I don't expect you to understand the difference... Semi-automatic means you can fire as many times as you pull the trigger. Automatic means that you pull the trigger once and the gun will continue to fire until it is out of bullets. Semi-automatic guns are NOT assault rifles. Automatic guns ARE assault weapons. While the military does use some semi-automatic weapons, they are merely add-on last resort weapons. The military, even your military, uses automatic weapons. You said "(these are) the type of combat weapons used by Mexican drug cartels and African warlords." You are incorrect. Mexican drug cartels and African warlords use M16's or automatic AR15's not semi-automatics. This may be splitting hairs, but I just want to point out how little you actually know about the subject matter. Every claim you make thereafter should be questioned. And as an American, born and raised, living in America, I am telling you your article is inaccurate. From gun violence not being reported on the news (FALSE!) to people being turned away for medical services (ALSO FALSE! - and it's actually against the law). Terrible article.
SusannaLP
Brilliant article, this says it all. As an Australian I find the attitude of the US people to this whole debacle more than bizarre, it is reprehensible. Why does not the whole country rise as one and defeat the NRA if they truly believed in the sanctity of children in schools? America may have been a world leader once buts its reputation is always tarnished by its attitude to and condoning of gun violence.
geniocoeden
With all due respect, you have no idea what you are talking about. The characterization (or mis-characterization) of the NRA in this article is absurd. True, our system is not perfect, but I challenge you to find a country that is. Believing in the "sanctity of children in schools" and agreeing with gun rights are mutually exclusive, supporting one does not negate support for the other. Non-Americans cannot and will not understand the purpose behind our 2nd Amendment Constitutional right to bear arms. We are a world leader, and will always be a world power because we cannot be toppled by an outside entity. If America were to falter and fail, it will come from within. Our gun ownership ensures and secures that. To say support of gun ownership is condoning gun violence is outrageous but not unexpected from the mindset of a non-American. Why would one automatically result in the other? That makes no sense. I own an entire ****nal and have killed a grand total of... Nobody. Ever. And instances of violence are relatively low. You are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime in the U.K. than in the U.S., statistically speaking, so why does the U.S. get demonized? Maybe it's articles like this. They are irresponsible and give people outside of America the wrong impression on "why" we own guns and the purpose of gun ownership in America. I'm sorry our reputation has been tarnished, but being the SUPER POWER of all super powers, perhaps it's just bigger news? Ironic, huh?
geniocoeden
This is a ridiculously irresponsibly written article. It is rife with inaccuracies. The point behind the 2nd Amendment, a logic you fail to apply in your poorly assessed analysis and subsequent OPINION, is that America, unlike the rest of the world, is not ruled by its government, its government is ruled by the people. When our founders built this radically new concept, they knew that a country that is powerful will at some time in its history become subject to a power-grab. Somebody will want to control it, but the whole purpose is that we control ourselves, there is no absolute power. We were guaranteed the right to bear arms with the singular purpose of defending ourselves against, and toppling, a government that should become interested in taking away the people's right to self-govern. There is no country in history that has not been exploited in such a way. Our founders knew this and ensured our ability to fight back against a would-be oppressor. When you look at a history of 237 years of gun rights and you can count mass-shootings, like Sandy Hook, on less than two hands, well, that's pretty amazing, don't you think? I wouldn't expect a non-American to understand that. But you, sir, have intentionally misled readers. The violence you portray simply doesn't exist. America is largely safe despite the "one gun per person." This article, its inaccuracies, and its author are divorced from reality. If you believe anything in this article, you have been misled.
SusannaLP
You, sir, are ridiculous. Your brain is not telling you the truth.No one but an American who wants to own an assault rifle would understand how a whole race of people would prefer to be armed to an obscene degree than protect little children in school.You should be ashamed, not arrogantly defending the 2nd amendment. How embarrassing that you now have to teach your school children how to avoid a hail of bullets rather than restricting gun ownership.
geniocoeden
I laugh at you. Ashamed? Not in the least. I have done nothing to nobody. My guns have killed nobody, ever, AND that's true for 99.9999% of Americans. You hear of something on the news and have made up your mind about a whole "race" of people. You should be ashamed for having such little information and judging an entire nation by the act of a person who was clearly not sane. Perhaps your brain is not telling you the truth about that? Here's the funny thing... It is 3 A.M. here in America, and I just walked to the store and bought some food. In the dead of night. I feared nothing. America is safe. Everybody may have guns, but America is safe. Imagine that... I wonder why that is? Are there going to be irresponsible people? Are there going to be people with mental illness? Sure there is, and how does your country handle them? I guess the guns made them do it. What if they drove a truck through the school walls and killed a bunch of kids? Would we be having the same conversation? Hopefully your brain will tell you truth about that.
SusannaLP
So why is the US (almost) the only country to have school massacres? On a regular basis? Australian are interested in and hear a great deal about other countries, we know a lot more about you than you probably realise.These atrocities are reported widely and 90% comes from your country's media. And as this country has a fairly low gun death statistic we are amazed to read/see/hear about yours .Also I have travelled widely in the US and have seen the never ending availability of guns etc first hand. Of course we have crime and yes on rare occasions children are involved but we never have to fear sending our children to school.
geniocoeden
Susanna, you traveled extensively in the United States, that's what you say, so I'll ask you, how many times were you shot and killed while you were here? There's one gun per American, so as you claim, guns are so horrible, I ask, how many times were you shot? How many times were you robbed at gunpoint? How many times did you witness a gun related crime or gun related violence? I'll just go ahead and answer that for you... It's zero. No times. Why is that? If guns are so bad, and Americans condone gun violence, why didn't you see any while you were here? Why weren't you shot? Why weren't you killed? There have been 5 instances of "mass" shootings, of which four involved schools since 1999. That makes 4 instances in 14 years. So, seems kind of ridiculous when you see that statistic, considering this country has 300 million citizens and there's one gun per citizen. Do you know what that percentage is? My calculator cannot even produce that number. So, if the youth is 28% that means that 84,000,000 children go to school everyday, 240 days a year without incident. That's 4 times more people than are in your whole country. So, you know so much about us, huh? Do you also know that our media are ratings whores? Do you know that they inflate these things because fear equals ratings? That's why we have "gun drills" in schools, not because the threat is statistically realistic. Just look at the numbers. Numbers don't lie. No opinion, like in this article, just the facts.
SusannaLP
I am not quite sure how the media can "inflate" 20 children being shot while they at school. Even if it is a tiny percentage of your population is that not too many, or doesn't it matter ?
"Every year in the US, 17,000 people are killed by guns and another 20,000 by suicide with a firearm. The slaughter of children by gunfire is 25 times the rate of the next 20 largest industrial countries in the world COMBINED. Well over a million men, women, and children have been shot to death since 1968 and even now 80 people are shot to death in the US every day." Quote from Barry Master, Telegraph. Author of The Evil That Men Do.
Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that you accept those statistics whereas other highly developed, clever (but perhaps smaller) countries, would not.
geniocoeden
Susanna, I have lived here my whole life. I have not been shot and I don't know somebody who has been shot. It's not that it doesn't matter, it's that it's statistically insignificant. In your country, how many people are killed by wildlife? Factoring population vs deaths related to wildlife (snake bites, bug bites, shark attacks, bush accidents) it's comparable with the percentage of people that die in the U.S. due to gun violence. Would you like to ban outdoor activities in your country? The killing has got to stop in Australia, or does it just not matter? Do you see how ridiculous that is when you apply statistics to your argument? Of course you aren't going to ban outdoor activities in Australia, that would be absurd, because millions of people enjoy themselves outdoors without incident in your country. What you are proposing is that because of some instances of gun violence, which is statistically negligible, you think the 99.9999% of responsible gun owning Americans should turn in their arms. That's bizarre. Punish the innocent? What sense does that make? That's like saying we're going to solve drunk driving by banning people that don't drink from driving cars. What, exactly, does that solve? You throw out these numbers and act like they're significant but you fail to weigh them against a population of 300 million people. Sure, there are tragedies, but punishing the innocent is just stupid and ineffective. Criminals do not obey laws, that's what makes them criminals.

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