I was soundly asleep on the night of 2nd December 2015, when from somewhere in my subconscious mind, I heard my phone ring. It was one of those nights when a throbbing pain at the back of my head, combined with pressure in my eyes, had sent me to sleep earlier than usual. I sluggishly reached for my phone and pressed the green button without first looking at the caller ID. I recognized the voice though. It was my dear friend Mr. N, calling to check up on me. After being a little surprised that I was already asleep, he asked if I was following the breaking news on CNN. Well, of course I wasn’t…I had been asleep! Anyway he quickly told me that CNN was reporting a mass shooting at a regional center in San Bernardino, California. I switched on the TV immediately; and sure enough, he was correct. We spent the next few minutes analyzing the situation and discussing about a few other things; before Mr. N said his goodnight and left me alone with my now disturbed mind. I knew there wouldn’t be any sleeping for a little while longer.
As at the time of the initial reports, facts were still not so clear. What the first responders knew was that the gunmen had opened fire, that there were a number of casualties, and that the gunmen had escaped in an SUV afterwards (the death-toll eventually rounded off at 14, with 21 wounded…and the 2 shooters were killed by police). Now, one of the things that Mr. N and I had talked about during our conversation was the issue of America’s lax gun laws; and how it was so easy for people in the US to purchase guns. As at October 1st, it was recorded that there had been 294 mass shootings in the United States since the start of 2015- of course, that number has since gone up! But think of it…294 mass shootings in just 10 months! There have been shootings in schools, churches, community centers, movie theatres, government-funded organizations etc. Barely a while ago, a man opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility, killing a number of people. A few months ago, a disgruntled ex-employee of a news station opened fire during a live-on-air programme at his former place of work, killing a young anchor-woman and a camera-man. A guy had walked into a movie theatre showing Batman: the dark knight rises; opening fire on movie watchers. To be clear, we are not talking about guerrilla groups and organized terrorists killing innocent people…we are talking about armed civilians opening fire on other civilians. What madness!
Now, the issue of gun violence and gun laws in the US is a very dicey one. As enshrined in the US constitution, Americans possess a right to bear arms…a right which is inviolable. Then you have the powerful gun lobby- the NRA. They are one of the most powerful organizations in the United States, and are ardent supporters (and protectors) of the constitutional right of American citizens to bear arms. In the same vein, they are fierce opponents of any sort of government attempt (through laws) to curb how citizens gain access to firearms. Even politicians know to tread carefully when dealing with the NRA. As mass-shooting after mass-shooting occurs, the NRA’s argument is that guns (by themselves) do not kill…that it is humans (who use them) that do the killing. And this may certainly seem to be a logical argument when one takes into consideration that these shooters (murderers) are usually later found to be mentally unstable and/or terrorists. Whether they are hate-crimes, workplace disputes, grievance against some government programme; these crimes (mass-shootings) are usually found to be perpetuated by people with some record of mental instability and/or affiliation with some terrorist organization. So the question now is this: should the issue be about controlling (and drastically limiting access) to guns, or about more stringent background checks in order to ascertain those with mental health problems and those with previous criminal records? Most supporters of the right to bear arms are of the opinion that any attempt at restricting access to guns will just be a ploy by the government to create some sort of “police state” where individuals are stripped of all their firearms and thus cannot protect themselves; while all the guns are in the hands of the military, police force, and other security agents. But I guess the government can find ways to limit the TYPES of fire-arms that civilians can purchase. Those "assault-style rifles" that can kill a large number of people (even without reloading) in a very short amount of time, should certainly be off limits to non-military personnel! In the same vein though, we must also keep in mind that if you succeed in taking guns away from civilized (sane) people, you may not be able to do same with criminals and psychotics. You see, these ones do not operate by the same "Codes of Conduct for Peaceful Human Co-existence" that the rest of us abide by- as long as they have an intent to kill, they will find means of acquiring weapons of mass murder! And so, as the spate of mass-shootings has increased, more Americans have responded by buying more guns…to protect themselves. So where does this all lead?
A couple of days ago, my brother and I were discussing about the process of gun-ownership (for civilians) in Nigeria. My brother had informed me that in Lagos, a “bloody civilian” such as I, would need approval from the office of the Commissioner of Police, to own a fire-arm. Now, being the daughter of an ex-Customs Officer, I grew up knowing that my father had a gun. And the thought DID make me feel safe…of course, in addition to my mother’s endless prayers! As an individual, I wouldn’t mind owning a gun- for self-defense. As the world gets increasingly crazier, I would welcome the opportunity to protect myself; if I could. I mean, if a deranged individual came to take my life (for whatever reason) and I had a gun with me, I wouldn’t wait for external help (which may be too late)…I would shoot him/her first! That’s just the plain truth. So as an individual, I am not against the principle of self-defense…even with fire-arms (legally owned). But the thing is this- I am a sane individual, and I can only vouch for my own sanity; not anyone else’s…also, the individuals who perpetuate these crazy acts of violence do not act in self-defense, but with the intent to murder innocent lives!
The debate on gun control will certainly rage on for a very long time. While I do understand the 2nd amendment right to bear arms, I also agree that there has to be more rigorous background checks before individuals can be allowed to purchase arms. There has to be criminal background checks and health checks, to ascertain the eligibility of a would-be gun owner. But then, how does one ascertain if a (seemingly) mentally stable person with no prior history of mental-instability would not become unstable down the road? And then, what about the “home-grown” terrorists? The shy, quiet, nice-looking types who inwardly (and maybe only to a few) express some type of hateful view/opinion about certain values, peoples, or religion(s)? The ones who are meticulously calculative…waiting for the prime opportunity to strike! How do you effectively conduct “mind checks” on people to determine the likelihood of occurrence of future erratic behaviors which could potentially lead to acts of gruesome violence? I think this is where civilian-policing comes in- again. Individuals are part of a family…a school…a church…a mosque…a work-place…a community. I think that there is only so much that the Federal Government can do as it relates to gun control…especially as it would be illegal to deny individuals their constitutional rights. But then, family members and all other members of the community can also help as civilian observers to identify those whose behaviors may indicate that there is a likelihood of them becoming potential threats to society. They have a duty to report such individuals to the appropriate authorities so that investigations can be carried out, and disasters can be avoided.
The United States is an extremely democratic society- as it should be – where everything has to be debated. Executive or legislative action cannot just be passed at will. The people must always have their say. And since it seems like a great percentage of the populace cherish their right to bear arms, then the government will have to look for other approaches to reducing mass shootings. The constitutional provision may aid in self-defense, but it also creates avenues for psychotic and hate-filled individuals to unleash mayhem. It is now left for the larger (sane) populace, whether gun-owning or not, to step up and act as defenders of society, together with the Federal (and State) Government. Now, will this completely eliminate the occurrence of mass-shootings? Maybe not. But it would certainly help in curbing it…I hope.