Colorado has again been scarred by the violent actions of a deranged gunman. On the eve of the anniversary of another murderous rampage, the shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 18-year old Karl Pierson entered Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado and opened fire.
Claire Davis, a 17-year-old student, was struck in the head by a shell and is currently in critical condition. Authorities have indicated that Davis was a target of opportunity, but not the true objective of the shooter, who was a student at Arapahoe.
Pierson, who was also armed with homemade incendiary devices known as Molotov cocktails, was believed to have been seeking out a specific staff member, who reports say he was calling for by name. The staff member fled the scene and was not injured in the assault. Pierson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound before a sheriff’s deputy and a security officer who was on campus at the time of the attack could engage him. Authorities believe Pierson acted alone.
Colorado has been the victim of this kind of terror before. Arapahoe High School is only a short drive away from Columbine High School, scene of an infamous mass shooting in 1999 where two shooters left 13 people dead. Just a bit further away is a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado where another killer used guns to murder a dozen innocents and wound 70 more.
If mass murder by firearm in the United States were an iceberg, all the horrific shootings mentioned so far would only represent the tip of it. According to research done by progressive magazine Mother Jones, there have been at least 61 mass murders by firearm in America since 1982. Worldwide, 15 of the 25 most deadly mass shootings have taken place in the U.S., and five of the deadliest shootings have occurred since 2007.
In the majority of these incidents, the shooters have obtained the weapons that they used legally, under America’s relatively liberal gun laws. The United States is an exceptionally violent country, when viewed statistically against the rest of the world, and the easy access to firearms creates an environment in which that violence turns deadly. America has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, but does not actually have the highest rate of gun murders; that honor goes to Jamaica and Honduras.
Mass shooting incidents like the ones in Colorado and Newtown are just one facet of the violence-and-guns fetish freely displayed in American culture, and actually represent a small percentage of the total deaths by firearm. Urban gun violence represents a much larger proportion of firearm-related homicides, with thousands of handgun related murders reported in the U.S. each year.
Gang-related gun violence is rampant in the United States, as are felonies involving firearms. A full quarter of robberies involve the use of a gun, and fatalities are three times as likely when a gun is used during a robbery. Many felonies escalate into homicides through the use of a firearm; the overall rates of assaults and robberies in the U.S. are comparable to other developed Western countries, but the ubiquitous presence of firearms in America makes crime much more likely to turn deadly.
The issue of gun violence in America has become highly politicized, with factions on both sides using the occurrence of mass shootings as springboards for their respective arguments. Gun-rights advocates use the Second Amendment as a universal shield, seeking to avoid any discussion of gun policy, while opponents seek to restrict access to firearms among at risk populations through background checks and other measures. There is also a movement to ban high-capacity magazines and weapons that have been labeled as “assault-style”, although that designation has been characterized as vague and meaningless by critics.
The carousel of political bickering goes round and round, with little or no progress ever achieved. The political forces aligned on either side of the debate become further entrenched, and the bodies continue to pile up, as a true discourse on the topic seems as elusive as it is vital.
Gun culture in America is as old as the nation itself, older even, and the constitutional protections afforded to citizens are among the strongest in the world. There are many who view those protections as integral to the American way of life, and see any tightening of gun policy as an erosion of fundamental rights.
But there must be a place of wisdom where all reasonable parties can find common ground. No one wants criminals or mentally unstable persons to have easy access to weapons, and polling the question of background checks consistently shows a majority of Americans favor it. Yet the political dichotomy makes any large-scale discussion, let alone legislation, virtually impossible.
If the country is ever to reach a point where inner-city gun violence and mass shootings do not claim lives and headlines with such grim regularity, the opposing forces must lay down their weapons and start a real conversation without resorting to talking points, rhetoric and histrionics.
Colorado deserves nothing less. Newtown deserves nothing less. Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans deserve nothing less. The children of America deserve much more.
By Mark Clarke