photo by JJ Cunning
One day somebody will write a play or more probably a movie about madness in America akin to King Lear. The multifaceted nature of US madness goes deeper than anything in Lear’s ancient Albion. A President that many believe may be in the early stages of dementia suggests that the solution to school shootings is to arm teachers with handguns and have undercover ex-servicemen and women working in schools ready to take on the shooters. The idea that someone with a handgun is likely to take out someone carrying an assault rifle shows such a deep level of ignorance of how firearms work that Trump’s primary source of information must be Chuck Norris movies. Starting a gun-battle involving plain-clothed ‘good guys’ in the pandemonium of a school shooting is really wrong-headed. But apart from that, filling schools with former Marines and other ex-soldiers is another terrible idea. Over recent decades the USA has seen a series of mass killings perpetrated by former members of the armed forces, often suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Of course, you cannot blacklist all former military personnel but they are as much an at risk group as the mentally ill (whatever that term means).
The Mental-Health Read Herring
The problem of mental illness and guns has, inevitably been made worse by the last week. With the President calling Nikolas Cruz a ‘savage sicko’ and a ‘coward’, and the NRA’s Dana Loesch calling him ‘an insane monster’, who is ‘nuts’ and ‘crazy’, it is now open season for prejudice against the mentally ill in the USA. Prejudice and stigma lead to people not getting treated and people not getting treated can lead some to commit acts of violence. Many, many people are pronounced mentally ill after committing an act of violence; before that they were ‘sane’. Under a broad definition mental illness affects the majority of us at some time in our lives (if we include problems such as hearing voices, depression and dementia). The World Health Organization using stricter definitions states that 25% of people have experienced a mental or behavioural disorder. One 2015 study found that only 4% of US gun violence could be linked to mental-health problems.
If you want to stigmatize a demographic group, then there is a much closer correlation with men, and especially white men. Logic would suggest that blocking the access of white men to guns would reduce shootings much more significantly that reducing the access of those with mental-health issues. It might also help to limit immigration from countries like Norway in which the majority of the population is white!
More seriously, the problem is not mental but behavioural. Many men have a real problem with anger management. When British men like me get angry we throw a glass or a chair at someone. No doubt we’d shoot people if we could, but we can’t.
The UK has had one school shooting; it happened in Dunblane in Scotland in 1996. It was followed immediately by strict gun controls. There have been no school shootings – indeed no mass killings with firearms in 22 years in Great Britain. Similarly, Australia had a horrendous case of gun violence in 1996, in which 35 people were murdered in Port Arthur. The authorities banned semi-automatic weapons and encouraged people to hand over their firearms. Australia hasn’t had a mass killing involving firearms in the last 22 years, either.
The USA has gun violence that is comparable to that of developing countries in a state of semi-civil war, such as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. The numbers of deaths by firearms per capita in the countries that one would normally compare the USA to – Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, France and Germany – are dramatically lower. The levels of mental illness in these countries are similar to those in the USA. What distinguishes the US from its counterparts is the number of guns in private hands. The USA has 4.4% of the world’s population but 42% of the guns.
The US Constitution does not protect civilians’ rights to have assault rifles. The Second Amendment protects the rights of Americans to have firearms to defend themselves and their country. An assault rifle is not a defensive weapon – it’s there in the name: ‘Assault’ means ‘attack’! You don’t defend yourself or your loved-ones but spraying bullets, you do so by firing one well-aimed bullet. A stream of bullets kills indiscriminately and results in multiple deaths and injuries. In any other country in the world these things are self-evident. What is it about the allure of guns that blinds Americans to these facts? The USA has a rather imposing army to protect the country – by far the biggest in the world – and one-and-a-quarter million armed law enforcers at home. You can continue to hunt innocent creatures without an assault rifle. You can continue to defend your home without an assault rifle. The citizens of a country that is at peace do not need weapons of war. That’s what you call a no-brainer. Not to recognize these facts is the real madness.
 akin to – similar to, comparable to
 stages – phases
 handgun – pistol
 undercover – clandestine
 ex-servicemen – former soldiers, ex-military personnel
 to take on (take-took-taken) – confront
 is likely to – will probably be able to
 to take out (take-took-taken) – eliminate
 source of – place in which one finds
 plain-clothed – undercover, clandestine
 wrong–headed – misguided, injudicious
 former – ex-
 to blacklist – ostracize
 red herring – sb. that is intended to distract people’s attention
 sicko – (offensive) mentally ill person
 coward – sb. who is not valiant
 insane – mad, crazy
 nuts – (informal) mad, crazy
 it is open season for – there are no restrictions on
 to lead to (lead-led-led) – result in
 sane – (false friend) mentally healthy
 to state – say
 behavioural – relating to conduct (and especially aggression)
 issue – (in this case) problem
 anger management – controlling one’s aggression
 indeed – (emphatic) in fact
 to murder – kill, (in this case) shoot dead (UK English), shoot to death (US English)
 to ban – prohibit
 weapons – (in this case) firearms
 to encourage – urge, incite
 to hand over – submit to the authorities
 developing country – Third World nation
 to spray bullets – shoot repeatedly, use an automatic or semi-automatic firearm
 well-aimed – targeted, precise
 stream – series
 injuries – (false friend) wounds, lesions
 allure – attractiveness, attraction, glamour
 to blind sb. – (in this case) make sb. imperceptive
 rather – quite, somewhat, surprisingly
 by far – easily, unquestionably
 law enforcers – police officers and similar
 no–brainer – sth. that requires no mental effort to understand