me if Ive told you this one already.
its the year 1507, and a delusional lone nutter walks into a
church service. Hes got a sword and he attacks the priest, fatally
wounding him. Some unarmed worshippers fall on him from behind, wrestle
him to the ground and disarm him. In future years all remember when
Young James, with the Madness upon him, did stab the Rector
(God rest his Soul) and we did Seize him and Deliver him to the Constable.
to 1807, three hundred years later: aggrieved lone nutter walks into
a village fair with a commonly available single-shot, muzzle-loading
flintlock pistol. He fires at the fishmonger from a distance of five
yards, wounding him in the shoulder. Reloading would have taken him
a minute or so. Three unarmed citizens wrestle him to the ground and
disarm him. In later years, those who had been present often remarked:
Thank God he didnt have a brace of pistols.
years later, in 1857, a deranged loner walks into a pub with the latest
thing a five shot single-action revolver. He gets off all five
shots in about eight seconds, killing the publican and a customer
and badly wounding two others. Three unarmed drinkers wrestle him
to the ground and disarm him. Looking back on it later, over an ale
or two, the heroes of the night often remarked on the fact that, in
the couple of minutes it would have taken for him to reload, the only
customer who couldnt have run out the door and a hundred yards
down the street was the old bloke on crutches who propped up the end
of the bar. Mind you, it would have been worse if hed
had a second gun, somebody would always observe.
and fifty years pass and its 2007. A lone nut walks into a university
with two semi-automatic pistols. His 9 mm Glock takes a 15 round magazine
and he has lots of them. Its almost impossible for an unarmed
person to get close enough to overpower him. At the end of the rampage
hes killed 32 and wounded many. The survivors say: My
God, how can this have happened?
point is that technology changes things: before the rapid-fire firearm,
it really was hard for a lone nut to massacre lots of people; with
modern firepower, its quick and easy. In the 18 years before
the reform of Australias gun laws in the wake of the April 1996
Port Arthur Massacre (35 dead, 19 wounded) there were 112 Australians
killed and 52 wounded in 13 mass shooting incidents. There have been
no mass shootings in the decade since semi-automatic rifles and shotguns
were effectively illegalised and that is what the reforms were designed
in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech Massacre the gun-nuts and the
libertarian right in the US are saying the problem was that everybody
on campus wasnt carrying a handgun. The more people carry guns,
they argue, the fewer deaths there will be. This is nuts. If it worked
that way, the United States, which already has a stupendous level
of personal firearm ownership particularly handgun ownership
would have a lower level of crime and violence that comparable
countries with low firearm ownership.
instructive to compare US gun homicide rates with other, comparable,
Western countries. Take 2003 for example. In the US, there were 41
gun homicides per million people (or about 12,000 in total). In Canada
there were only 5.1 per million (about 160 deaths); in Australia 2.7
(54 deaths). In England and Wales 0.3 (17).
the level of firearm ownership is only part of the problem. The other
part probably the larger component is social, cultural
and political. The United States is a cruel society that mythologises
its frontier past and makes a cult of competitive individualism. It
is politically dysfunctional and rife with intractable poverty and
religious backwardness. It has 41 gun homicides per million people.
Step over the border into Canada, still awash with guns, but a kinder,
gentler, place, and homicide deaths drop eightfold.
is also so insular, so obsessed with its own history, that the instructive
experience of other nations will likely have zilch impact on the debate
over guns and violence in the aftermath of Virginia Tech. In general,
Americans are nice people, but they are sentimental and easily led.
How else can you explain the fact that tens of thousands turned out
for a candlelight memorial service for the victims, led by the most
irresponsible and blood-drenched president in recent history? Its
all a sick joke.
SEE ALSO ...
everything there is a season
with the years of relative peace after Vietnam a new cult of fantasy
violence sprang up -- a twisted reflection of the new professional
are two complementary threads to this thing. The first is the professional
fixer and killer. He might be a small-team commando, the judge-and-jury
cop, the weapons specialist. And as if that wasn't bad enough there
is also its darker undercurrent: the lone avenger. This is the Rambo
culture and a couple of generations have been raised on it. It's a
right-wing victim culture of the "little man", abandoned
and betrayed. This stuff has been drummed into the kiddies by countless
movies and computer games -- a world of winners and losers. If you're
a loser, a nobody, you can become a winner and a somebody. You can
adjust the bottom line in a welter of gore. It is a whole industry
and a few people have made a lot of money out of it.