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  • Dec 19, 2014
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Connecticut school shooting

On December 14, 2012, a man  wearing combat gear and armed with semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut, US, where he fatally shot 20 children and 7 adults. The gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, age 20, most likely shot and killed himself during the incident. The gunman had earlier shot and killed his mother at their residence prior to the shooting at the school. Lanza's girlfriend has also been reported missing in New Jersey.

CommentInsight & Opinion

American myth of freedom through guns

Jeffrey Sachs says no sane policy is possible if people do not see that violence does not protect

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 1:52am

The brutal murder of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut, shakes us to the core as individuals and requires a response as citizens. The United States seems to reel from one mass gun killing to another - roughly one a month this year alone. America needs to find a better way.

Other countries have done so. Between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s, Australia had several mass shootings. After a massacre in 1996, then prime minister John Howard instituted a severe crackdown on gun ownership, and forced would-be gun owners to submit to a rigorous application process.

Conditions for gun ownership in Australia are now very strict. The government also implemented a rigorous "buyback" policy, to enable it to purchase guns already owned by the public.

The policy worked. Murders are down and there has not been a single mass shooting since 1996 in which three or more people died. Before the crackdown, there had been 13 such massacres in 18 years.

Yet the US still refuses to act. The US homicide rate is roughly four times that of comparable societies in Western Europe, and Latin America's homicide rates are even higher than in the US. What accounts for this?

American violence is rooted in history. The US and Latin American countries are all "conquest" societies, in which Europeans ruled over multiracial societies. In many of these countries, the European conquerors and their descendants nearly wiped out the indigenous populations, partly through disease, but also through war, starvation, death marches and forced labour.

In the US and many Latin American countries, slaveholding fuelled mass violence as well.

In particular, the US was born in a citizens' revolt against British imperial power. The right of citizens to organise militias to fight government tyranny was a founding idea of the country.

Since citizens' militias are anachronistic, gun owners now use the second amendment merely to defend individual gun ownership, as if that somehow offers protection against tyranny. As a result, gun ownership has become perversely linked to freedom in the vast gun-owning American subculture.

But, instead of protection of freedom, Americans nowadays are getting massive bloodshed and fear. Simply put, freedom in the 21st century does not depend on unregulated gun ownership. Indeed, America's gun culture is a threat to freedom.

The bloodbath in Newtown is the time to stop feeding this gun frenzy. Other countries provide models of how to do it. America's real freedoms depend on sane public policy.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Copyright: Project Syndicate


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Thank you for writing so eloquently what so many of we, non-Americans, have been preaching to deaf ears for many years.
I hope next time you expand on this philosophy and explain to the American people that their deep-rooted acceptance of violence also unacceptably extends to their military machine invading other countries around the world and indiscriminately killing thousands of people just to keep the arms industry afloat and in order to steal oil. Also add to this list, America’s support for Zionistic Jews violently suppressing and seizing land from Palestinians to provide American Jews with holiday homes.
Looser gun laws do not necessarily result in an increased number of massacres. Someone must pull the trigger; and that person is usually mentally ill to the point of being delusional, paranoid and psychotic.
Dr. Sachs has failed to mention that, in order to coerce treatment or involuntary commitment to a mental hospital in the United States, the law requires a showing that the person is so ill as to be an imminent danger to him/herself and others. If commitment occurs, the stabilized patient may leave once the imminent threat has passed -- free to refuse further treatment or live -- or freeze -- on the street if he or she so desires.
Many other countries and, perhaps, HK, do not allow"mentally incapable" patients the same degree of "freedom." Rather, they are more likely to be involuntarily institutionalized for so long as they are mentally incapable or forced to take psychotropic drugs if they remain outside a mental institution.
The combination of a) little control of automatic and semi-automatic weapons PLUS b) lack of institutionalization of paranoid, psychotics BOTH contribute to the number of slaughters currently in the U.S.
The counter-argument is made that "we can't always predict who is dangerous." This is true, particularly in the Newtown CT case, where psychosis may have been hidden behind symptoms of mild Autism and guns used that were sold legally.
Still, most of today's shooters would have been institutionalized before 1960.


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