Sunday, 16 December 2012

We Cannot Legislate against Lunacy



This is the most difficult article I’ve ever written.  In the face of the appalling tragedy in Connecticut it’s almost impossible to find the right words.  I love words but sometimes they are so inadequate.  Here it might be said that respectful silence is the only response, silence and sorrow in silence. 

But others are speaking and some are shouting, bawling almost.  I raise my voice in a perfect storm, knowing that I’m unlikely to be heard, or if heard I am likely to be misunderstood.  Just about every report I’ve read about the mass shootings last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the town of Newton has raised the issue of gun control, the equation being that the Second Amendment right of US citizen to bear arms equals periodic massacres.  Few seem to pause and think.  The Second Amendment has been in place for over two hundred years but rampaging madmen are a feature of the modern age.  Why, why and why again? 

I’m going to push these whys but first I should declare an interest.  The thing is I enjoy shooting, which opens be to an additional accusation - that of selfishness. I have licences for both a .22 rifle and a four-ten shotgun. I enjoy target practice and I enjoy rough shooting. I really do have to stress that all of the people I have met through this sport are sensible, intelligent and well-balanced. I first learned to shoot staying with family friends near Moultrie in Georgia.  I have little doubt that most Americans who are in legal possession of firearms are also sensible, intelligent and well-balanced.

I do have firearms but unlike Americans I have no constitutional right to bear arms.  It wasn’t always the case.  The 1689 English Bill of Rights – upon which the American version was later based – enshrined the right of people to bear arms for defence.  And so it remained, right into the twentieth century.  In his A Brief History of Crime Peter Hitchens points out that when in 1909 the police in the Tottenham district of London came under fire from a gang of foreign anarchists they asked the public for assistance. Not only did they borrow guns from the local citizens but they also appealed to members of the public to help shoot back.

Over the course of the last century gun control in Britain got tighter and tighter, largely because governments started to fear the people, chiefly for political reasons.  But tight gun control did nothing to stop the Dunblane School Massacre in 1996.  Gun control has done nothing to stop more and more firearms getting in to the hands of criminals.  The truth is the tighter the gun laws have become the more prevalent gun crime has become.  It might be said that while we have disarmed honest citizens we have armed dishonest gangsters. 

Looking to Europe there is Norway, which has particularly strong firearms control.  That did not stop Anders Behring Breivik going on a rampage.  Now consider another example altogether; consider Switzerland.  This is a country whose proportion of gun ownership per capita is among the highest in the world, not far behind the United States.  This is a country where almost every adult male is required by law to bear arms.  Yet it’s also a country with a particularly low murder rate.  Such gun crime as there is mostly involves illegally held arms.

Now I turn my eyes back over the Atlantic.  So far as the clamour for gun control is concerned it would be as well to consider the words of Sammy Gravano, one-time mobster.  In a 1999 interview with Vanity Fair he said – “Gun control?  It’s the best thing you can do for crooks and gangsters.  I want you to have nothing.  If I’m a bad guy, I’m always going to have a gun.”  The simple truth is that many types of crimes, as Hitchens pointed out in his book, fall sharply in those districts where normal and law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed weapons. 

It might interest you to know that in England approximately half of all burglaries occur while people are at home.  In America this is as low as one in eight.  In those States which openly licence citizens to use deadly force against intruders burglary is virtually unknown.

What happened in Newton was not normal; it was an obscenity, just as Dunblane was an obscenity.  Adam Lanza – I can barely bring myself to write his name - , a maladjusted twenty-year old, went on a ghastly killing spree.  Why, what was his motive?  Will we ever know with exactness?  Possibly not, but possibly it was no more than a desire for notoriety and fame, that shallow contemporary obsession, the shallow obsession of losers and mediocrities everywhere.

But there is more.  As I noted above, this kind of mass shooting followed by suicide is a feature of our age.  Lanza was not normal; Lanza, as I understand from the Washington Post, had some mental or developmental disorder.  The New York Times reports that it was Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Accordingly it seems he was on strong medications. 

Here I can only agree once again with Peter Hitchens.  Writing recently on his Daily Mail blog, he says that it would make sense for the press to explore this route rather than raise a futile wail in favour of gun control.  Is it possible, one has to ask, that there is a correlation between what happened at Newton and the increasing use of modern medications for mental illness?  We badly need answers here.  Instead we are likely to get the usual clich├ęs. 

A world away from Newton there was another murderous rampage last week, though it has attracted far less media attention.  In central China a knife-wielding man stabbed twenty-two children outside a primary (grade) school.  It was less terrible than Sandy Hook because none were killed, though several were taken to hospital, some with severed fingers and ears.  According to police the perpetrator, since detained, is ‘mentally-ill.’  Tight control on firearms means that gun crime is virtually unknown in China.  Instead knives, and sometimes explosives, are used in mass attacks.  The sad truth is we cannot legislate against lunacy.  

33 comments:

  1. There is nothing you have written I disagree with, except your final sentence. Until the 1980s when a radical change of fashion led to the closure of almost all mental hospitals in Britain and the US, people with severe mental problems were routinely offered sanctuary and treatment while experts helped them with their condition.

    I would not claim that the treatment regimes in those days were as advanced or effective as those of today, or that every person consigned for treatment was diagnosed and treated appropriately, but the asylum system gave a certain amount of protection to the sufferer, relief to the sufferer's family and friends, and protection to wider society.

    When 'treatment in the community' was adopted under a banner of civil rights that old system was replaced with . . . nothing. Unless a deranged person attempted suicide or committed a crime, they were left to their own devices, and a relentless burden their families and friends who found themselves haunting Accident & Emergency Depts. or spending a lot of time in police stations when their sick charges got out of control, or refused to take their meds. Psychiatric support became pill pushing, and prisons filled with people more mad than bad, and a whole new class of welfare dependents was born: the full-time carer.

    This, we could legislate. We could restore the kind of humane residential mental health centers needed to give these sick people a safe place to live while we treat them, and release their overburdened families from slavery to disease. And fewer dangerously psychotic individuals would be wandering the streets on the brink of harming others or themselves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Calvin, you make some excellent points, none which I disagree with. The number of mentally disturbed people wandering aimlessly about the streets of London is, well, disturbing. There have been incidents of people being attacked and killed by paranoid schizophrenics. However I wonder in the individual involved in the Newton shootings would have been spotted under the old system of mental health care? After all, he wasn’t suffering from a ‘mental illness’ as such, merely a developmental condition. He should never have been allowed anywhere near guns, that’s for sure, for which his unfortunate mother is to blame.

      Delete
    2. Great proposals Calvin! We live in an extraordinary time of great wealth and abundance, profligate public spending, and yet it is also an era in which many basic human needs are neglected because obvious, time-tested approaches to meeting these needs are ideologically unacceptable . . .

      Delete
  2. Once again autonomy has not been emphasized; i have read similar reviews. The notion that his brain chemistry consumed him--although in some cases perhaps plausible--is postmodern absurdity.
    Understanding that if one chooses to murder; only he--usually--can stop himself. Again autonomy needs emphasis regarding blaming external sources--guns--rather the he.
    Autonomy is the full spectrum of self-government, and the dignity of the individual.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personal autonomy is indeed an important consideration, something it's important not to lose sight of.

      Delete
  3. Another tragic senseless mass shooting by a mentally unstable person. The recent mass shootings have been committed by young people usually males, this is a social problem as society has been desensitized to violence via mass media through films, video games and music ( gangster rap in such ). I my self enjoy shooting sports and also like it 'rough' whatever you mean. I strongly believe in self defense capability of self, family and property. What to do? restructure society?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Look deeply, Anthony, that's what, look at some of the issues you have raised. The important ting is not to confine the debate to weapons alone.

      'Rough shooting' is simply the term we use here for small game hunting, having a pop at rabbits, hares and the like. It's something I like to do with friends when I'm in the Highlands of Scotland, lots of open country.

      Delete
    2. I figured that was what you meant, I just like all kinds of 'Rough'

      Delete
    3. Do you have an expression for this kind of hunting in the States?

      Delete
    4. 'Plinking' is informal target shooting, 'Varmit' hunting usually means small game, then there is specific animal hunting such as deer hunting, turkey hunting, hog hunting (there are mane feral hogs in the US) Water fowl hunting such as ducks and geese etc.

      Delete
    5. That was 'Many' hogs as in a lot of them. america is a large country and customs, terminology, speech and political tilt can vary from one area of the country to another also between social-economic classes etc. From Cockney to Cambridge so to speak or differences between England, wales, Scotland, Ireland etc. even in America East is East and West is West, English terms most likely would be mostly in use in the Eastern areas of the US.

      Delete
    6. Thanks, my dear friend. I love America in all of its diversity.

      Delete
  4. Indeed Ana, it was another appalling tragedy. I had been avoiding news reports of the incident, lest my emotions would overcome me.
    Last evening sitting reading the newspaper, the BBC news came on and i saw the faces of some of the victims. I had to stop reading as the tears misted my eyes. Anyone of those kids could have been my grandchild.................
    I'm loath to stick my oar into America's politics. But i have to say the 'right to bear arms' surely referred to carrying a handgun for personal protection. Not the 'right' to stroll around with an automatic rifle!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Daggs, yes, I agree - it's important to make distinctions here. I personally see no need for automatic weapons other than in the most unusual of circumstances.

      Delete
  5. I hate guns, I am scared of guns. Guns however are inanimate object and do not kill it is the humans that use them that do and they are the prime cause of the problem so any bans on guns does nothing to address the problem. I believe that like you that the problem is a societal one. My contention is that societies have become highly complex and that human evolution has not kept pace and that growth in population and advances in medicines muting natural selection is increasing the numbers of bad, mad and evil people. There is no quick and easy solution to the problem other than more vigilance and protection in the medium term. I suspect in the long term natural forces will find the solution for us. I only hope it is not similar to the one those forces adopt for lemmings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder, Antisthenes, I wonder if we will ever overcome the dichotomy in our nature? We look into the future, ever more sophisticated in our grasp of possibilities. Yet, deep down, we are still the primitive fearful people who stared out into the dark of some distant primeval forest.

      Delete
  6. I have to disagree with your typically elegantly written and persuasive article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David, I have no problem at all with that. As always I simply want people to think more broadly about the issues.

      Delete
  7. Hi Ana, well we've had our disagreements before and will again.

    I certainly disagree with your position that it's impossible to legislate against lunacy.

    One of my Facebook friends, who shares your view, published the following link to a mass murder committed in a school in Michigan in the 1920s:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_School_disaster

    To me, this historical precedent provides very helpful context: it demonstrates how difficult it was to kill dozens of school children and their teachers and administrators in the 1920s and how unspeakably easy it is to do so today.

    The 1920s Michigan mass murderer had to have access to the school over months, the ability to purchase tonnes of dynamite and other explosive material, and relatively advanced expertise. We all know how easy it is to commit horrors of the same magnitude today: the 2012 Connecticut killer will no doubt turn out to have gained access to his military grade weapons perfectly legally, or from somebody who did.

    Is this really a case of being unable to legislate against lunacy or (yet another) example of America being asleep at the switch as technologies have become vastly more powerful, traditional religious, cultural and social restraints have diminished to the vanishing point, and mental illness has become increasingly widespread?

    I know you're not an American, but what I don't get is the following: Cars were not invented in 1791, but all the licensing requirements, eye checks, health and mental requirements, etc. around driving cars has never caused anybody to say that Americans are denied the right to drive cars. Everybody agrees that driving cars is universally available to anybody capable of demonstrating that they can drive one safely. Why not impose even the same level of rational requirements associated with a driver's license on gun owners--why does even the suggestion of any restrictions other than a holding period generate an uproar about denying constitutional rights?

    I seriously do not get it . . .

    Finally, you should know that I'm the son of a heavily decorated combat veteran, the uncle of another one (who was in Ranger School with Charlie Beckwith, founder of Delta Force) and I have literally dozens of friends and relatives serving in the military and related professions, many of whom have seen active combat in the late 20th and early 21st century, and some of whom are currently on active duty in war zones. I'm also a gun owner (under Australia's stringent laws), a reasonably good shot even by the high standards of my family, and have taught all three of my children to shoot well and handle firearms safely.

    And I strongly favour well-thought-out but urgent reforms to current American gun control legislation!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris, as usual you make your points with calm and persuasive power. I was shocked, possibly more shocked than most by this because I understand guns. What was concerning me, though, was that some Americans, in an understandable mood of anger and dismay, were turning on the Second Amendment itself, which only serves to divide the nation, once again, into two armed camps, if I can put it like that. Some of the deeper issues, namely that touching on mental dysfunction and personal responsibility were being lost.

      By no means am I an expert on American gun ownership and licencing but I do not believe it to be a free for all. There are restrictions, though obviously there are also loopholes. This individual should never have been let anywhere near firearms.

      Delete
  8. Dear Ana

    You say that "tight gun control did nothing to stop the Dunblane School Massacre in 1996" and this is partly true. In theory there was tight gun control in those days but it was not properly enforced by the Central Scotland Police. The killer ought never have been given a licence in view of what was known about him.

    I thought at the time that a complete ban on handguns was an over reaction and still do think so. I would not like to see America adopt as restrictive a regime as we have here, but it is clear that access to firearms by mentally ill people is far too easy in America and there is plenty that the US authorities could and should do to tighten up on registration and licensing without depriving responsible people of the healthy enjoyment of dispatching our feathered and furry friends to birdie and mammal heaven.

    I know that previously rational people can, to use the technical term for it, go bonkers and it could happen to anyone, but there are often warning signs, as there apparently were in Newtown. Nothing can stop these tragedies happening from time to time but that is no reason not to try to keep them to the minimum possible.

    Sorry, but I have not read the other comments too carefully so I may have repeated what has been said much better already.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David, you don't disagree with me at all. Or, to put it another way, I completely agree with you.

      Delete
  9. I'm with David here..

    Firstly, this is not about a criminal activity, this is about the insane actions of a mentally disturbed youth. As such, one just has to ask the question, what the consequences woul dhave been if he had been living in a society where Mum didn't hoard guns at home, train her siblings to be familiar (and deadly) with them, and where you can't just purchase a semi-automatic assault rifle and body armour at your local supermarket (so to speak)? Personally I would much prefer a knife-wielding (Chinese) nutcase than one armed with 2 semi-automatic pistols and enough clips to wipe out an entire school.


    I also agree that the link with video games is tenuous at best for the majority of the population, but there is no doubt that it is something that desensitizes the psyche to violence, particularly those who already have a problems with reality. So the causes are complex, individual and can rarely be generalised.


    Banning guns will never eliminate this sort of atrocity, but I truly feel that we can at least place a few barriers in the way to hinder access to weaponry - in the same way that we try and hinder access of terrorists to bomb-making equipment, or prevent them walking on planes with guns. However it is probably too late to achieve anything in the US however.


    btw - I find your statement that the government is afraid of the populace (in UK, but not US?) and that this is the reason for strict gun control quite intriguing.. I have never thought about it quite like this, care to elaborate?!




    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CWB, this dreadful individual should never have been allowed anywhere near guns; on that point we are all in agreement. The causes are complex. I hadn't actually considered the video games angle or, indeed, violently desensitising movies like the Hostel series. I'm really quite sceptical about this sort of connection. What I would like to know more about is mental dysfunction and the use of drug regimens.

      Gun law became ever more restricted in the UK after WWI, a period of growing political tension. I think it best if I write a future article on the subject.

      Delete
  10. I just stumbled upon your blog while reading up on the Battle of Quiberon Bay. I am an Ex-Pat living in the USA sine 1985. I am a retired US Marine and currently a State Trooper in Utah. I own guns too, from a flintlock Tennessee Mountain Rifle to a semi-auto M-1 Garand. I use them for hunting but will not hesitate to use them to protect myself or others.

    Since I left "Old Blighty", the British Government has done more to destroy the British peoples identity and freedoms that the Soviets could ever have dreamed of during the Cold War. The Democrats (aka Liberals, Socialists and Communists) in this country will use this to further their fight to rid us normal people of the final defence against tyranny. My fear is that they will turn the USA into what Europe has become.

    It pleases me that at least one of you over the pond is thinking with a clear head. I wish more would read their history and not just watch the alphabet channels as their source of information. Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Papa Bear. Your point about British governments is well made. Our continuing membership of the European Union has done more to undermine the integrity of my country than all the tyrants in history.

      Do I know you from Completely Past? Perhaps there is more than one Papa Bear. :-)

      Delete
  11. FYI:

    http://www.easybakegunclub.com/blog/1968/Concealed-Carry-Hero-at-Portland-Mall---The-Full-S.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent, Calvin. This important story has clearly been almost totally submerged. I wonder why?

      Delete
  12. "The communist party must control all of the guns so that no guns are used to control the party" - Mao Tse-Tung -

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Political power comes from the barrel of a gun." In China all of the lunatics were communist.

      Delete
  13. Hi Ana. I first stumbled across your blog about a year ago while researching the Carlists in the Spanish Civil War (the post on Peter Kemp), and I've been back several times since.
    I also enjoy the shooting sports, and I agree with you that most American firearms owners are indeed sensible, intelligent and well-balanced. We (the responsible, law-abiding citizens) would be the only ones really affected by stricter gun legislation (as criminals and crazy people don't usually follow rules). And I have no doubt that, legal or illegal, the weapons could be obtained by the evil doers.
    Here is one of the best essays I've seen on the subject of this tragedy and gun control in America:
    http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/an-opinion-on-gun-control/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Fox. It's great to see you here. Thanks for that link. I shall read with interest.

      Delete