Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mass Killings

People are still feeling numb about yesterday's shooting on a Virginia college campus. 32 victims before a suicide is a large number, yet unfortunately everyday news in certain parts of the world. I am somewhat surprised that there has been less written about this incident resembling a suicide bombing in many ways. In both cases an individual knows that he will not survive but wants to take as many innocent lives as possible with him. In this writer's eyes a human life has absolutely the same value in Iraq or Darfur as it does in this country, although it is easier to pretend that the distant horror exists only on the television screen.

We love our guns, and even after yesterday's bloodbath some prominent politicians, not to mention the firearm lobbyists, tout gun ownership as a way to increase safety. According to them, if faculty and other students had carried handguns with them, the shooter might have been killed before he shot so many; never mind the bullet proof vest he was wearing. This is one type of logic, but the world's opinion doesn't agree with it. Even the Australian PM John Howard, usually sympathetic to anything we Americans do, blames our lax gun laws and easy access to firearms for this tragedy and the overall shockingly high number of gun-related deaths in the United States. The laws in Britain regarding weapons are so strict that the country's Olympic pistol shooting team is barred from practicing in its own country. The British published some interesting statistics: the population of England and Wales is 55 million, yet the number of deaths from shootings was just 46 last year. In New York City proper, with a population of 8 million, at least 579 victims died from the same cause. Doing a little bit of math tells us that the likelihood of any of us dying as a victim of a shooting is 83 times higher on this side of the Atlantic. Let these politicians explain this fact; while they are at it, perhaps they will also tell us why matters in Iraq are going so well.

Other than target practice in sports, the sole purpose of firearms is to kill. Yes, hunting is killing, too. Some consider it a sport, and sometimes it is done to curb an animal population that the ecosystem is not able to support (although it hasn't been offered as a solution to this planet's human population crisis). Mainly weapons are used as a means to threaten other people, and to pull the trigger if necessary, or sometimes just for the thrill of it. This applies to the military, law enforcement, criminals, and just ordinary citizens who feel threatened or are in a rage. A flying frying pan might be replaced by a different kind of a projectile, a bullet. In the troubled Middle East people have found it easier to use plastic or other explosives in car bombs or suicide belts. An Iraqi person, wanting to cause similar destruction as the Korean student in Virginia, doesn't even have to know how to load or aim a gun or disable the safety latch in a pistol. Pulling a string or pressing a button is all it takes. What makes them terrorists and the student in Virginia not? The intention in both cases is the same: take as many lives as possible along with your own. If suicide vests were on display at a local gun dealer, perhaps Cho Seung-Hui would have opted to purchase one and march to a crowded dining hall.

Australia used to have similar gun laws to ours, but after a madman went on a terrible shooting spree in Tasmania little over a decade ago, resulting in 35 deaths, they were changed, to the vocal opposition of many. If people down under have seen the light, and our closest neighbors in Canada have done the same, how many more tragedies is it going to take for the tide to turn here? We are too obsessed by our war against drugs (which is going about as well as the 'the other' war in Iraq and Afghanistan) to see the real threats to us and the generations following. Finally people are beginning to understand that the warming climate is a reality, and it doesn't just mean more pleasant winters but rather extreme weather events all over the globe. Scientists have warned us about this for decades but we seem to hear only what we want to.

As I mentioned the war on drugs, would someone be able to explain why cannabis (including marijuana) is a Schedule I drug, but PCP, cocaine and meth are listed as Schedule II, together with oxycodone and morphine, according the 1970 Controlled Substances Act? I have witnessed crazed behavior by people on PCP and can't understand why it would have any medical use. Marijuana is proven to bring relief to pain, as has another Schedule I drug, heroin. The latter is widely used in the rest of the world, to successfully alleviate the often horrendous pain cancer patients suffer from. You might ask what the difference between the two classifications is. In the eyes of the law, it is a lesser crime in this country to be in possession of PCP or meth than cannabis. No wonder our prisons are bulging. Killers are often treated more leniently by our legal system than those poor souls who are substance abusers and in need of help, not punishment. Go figure.