Sun | Jun 26, 2022

Alfred Dawes | Thoughts, prayers and bullets

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2022 | 1:49 AM

An empire that falls to an external enemy can rise again because it is still whole, but an empire that crumbles from within cannot be rebuilt. This statement aptly describes the vulnerability of the American Empire of today. The divisions within...

An empire that falls to an external enemy can rise again because it is still whole, but an empire that crumbles from within cannot be rebuilt. This statement aptly describes the vulnerability of the American Empire of today. The divisions within the United States may not tear it apart through civil war, but the energies expended addressing them will inevitably lead to a weakening of the world’s only superpower and the emergence of a multipolar world. The crises in the US are of significance to us living in its self-proclaimed “backyard”. Or as we put it, when America sneezes, we catch pneumonia.

It is a rite of passage for an American president to deliver a sombre speech on the latest mass shooting under their watch. Republican presidents and adherents will invariably use the talking points of guns don’t kill people, people kill people, in opposition to gun control pleas. The Democrats will use the opportunity to heap blame on defenders of the right to bear arms as the reason why America continues to be the only country in the world that suffers from endemic mass shootings. The line is right down the middle of conservative-liberal politics. There can be no consensus. And while the thoughts and prayers go out for the endless stream of victims and their families from either side, military-type assault weapons are still available for purchase even before one is able to legally purchase a beer.

The argument against gun control rests on the premise that regulating guns will not solve violence. A rise in disaffected people, unaddressed mental health issues and a society unable to take care of their troubled shooters are the cause. In essence, it is the failure of the family why so many families are grieving children tonight. Nothing else. Sounds a bit like victim blaming but who am I. Nothing is ever said by the right wing about the availability of the high-powered weapons used in these shooting rampages. There is some value, however, in questioning the influence of the widespread availability of high-powered weapons on mass shootings.

WORST OF ITS KIND

Nineteen students and two adults were killed in the latest school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. It is the worst of its kind since Sandy Hook (26 dead) and came less than a month after ten people were killed in another mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. It was only the latest in an almost exponentially growing number of mass killings.

In 1996, Australia suffered a mass shooting that saw 35 people murdered and 23 wounded by an attacker wielding a semi-automatic gun. In the aftermath of the attack, a shocked nation introduced new gun control laws and a buyback programme of nearly 700,000 firearms. In 2002, after a second mass shooting, another buyback programme and set of laws governing handguns were implemented.

Ironically, the number of guns owned by Australian gun owners has increased significantly. However, the number of households owning a gun has fallen drastically. It is harder for anyone to obtain a gun and simply saying you need guns for protection doesn’t fly. Since the gun control laws were introduced in 1996, the number of mass shootings has plummeted, and not counting the direct murder of family members, considered zero by some definitions. Before the law changes and buyback programmes, it was one mass shooting every 18 months on average.

Other developed countries have seen a similar cause and effect relationship with mass shootings and the availability of weapons. The UK, for example, banned semi-automatic weapons and later some handguns after mass shootings, and today rarely sees mass shootings. Norway, following the far-right terrorist attack that killed 77 people, and New Zealand after the mosque attack, banned high-powered weapons. Mass shootings in those and other countries have zeroed since then.

MORE GUNS PER CAPITA

In contrast, the United States has seen over 100 mass shootings since 1996 with the annual figures steadily increasing lately. Americans own the most guns per capita, more than any other country in the world by far. The gun manufacturing and distribution complex wields a disproportionate amount of power over elected officials in this benchmark of democracy in the modern world. The National Rifle Association and other lobbyists contribute millions to political campaigns and secure the loyalty of politicians not just by donations, but through sustained marketing campaigns to their voter bases. The bipartisan support needed to pass gun control laws simply cannot happen no matter how vigorous the public outcries following the inevitable mass shootings.

We in Jamaica are also feeling the effects of this loose control of gun purchases. As one criminal patient told me once, it is easier to get a newer and better gun here from the US than to get the old rusty Haitian guns. The majority of the illegal weapons flooding our country originate in the US. Many Jamaicans would be alive today were it not for the easy access of Jamaican criminals to the loosely regulated American guns. But we don’t have a voice in the matter. Our mass killings are far from the forefront of the American conscience.

As long as America is divided on this issue, innocents there and abroad will continue to bleed. The crumbling of their empire over the amendments governing freedom of speech and the right to bear arms is important. We should also include in our crime plans the outcomes, as we navigate our own internal struggles.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, CEO of Windsor Wellness Centre. Follow him on Twitter @dr_aldawes. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and adawes@ilapmedical.com.