Friday, December 04, 2015

It may be too late.

It may be too late.

We've been living in the USA for the past seven weeks and have enjoyed being here. But the other day, we wondered if we shouldn't be headed home . . . for the sake of our safety. I don't have the exact statistics, but a news report here said that in the past year, America has experienced mass killings (4 or more people murdered in one event) on an almost daily basis. The big ones we hear about, the minor ones where gang shoot-outs or escalated domestic feuds are involved aren't even reported anymore.

The latest shooting in San Bernardino has been declared a terrorist-motivated attack and for some reason, attaching that word seems to clarify motives for the media and, I suppose, for most of the general public. The discouraging thing—to me, a doubly motivated peacenik, being Canadian AND Mennonite—is that each of these highly-publicized killings has resulted in spikes in gun sales. There's a mentality abroad that sees arming yourself as a way to keep you and your family safe. The logic is missing: if someone breaks into your house to rob you, precipitating a shoot-out has to be the most illogical course of action to take. And if a killer comes into a school with an assault rifle, the hope that the principal could prevent deaths with a handgun is a scenario for a video game, not for real life.

The President of the National Rifle Association made a speech on Fox news today in which he tried to make the point that the arming of citizens is the best way to safety for everyone. There are enough right-wingers in this country to make sure that nothing is done about gun control; even proposed legislation to do background checks on people shopping for assault weapons can't make it past the senate.

There's an old shibboleth that gets dragged out regularly: guns don't kill people . . . people kill people. It's true that if there were no guns, people would still be in danger of knives and baseball bats but the curse of the age is the projectile weapon, the kind that makes it possible to kill from hiding, to spray groups of people with deadly fire. You can't do that with a knife or a baseball bat; automatic weapons are what make mass murders possible.

The trend here in the USA is toward more arms, more mass killings and more determination by the gun lobby to prevent change. In fact, the trajectory of mayhem is accelerating upward at a steady, unbroken pace. The rate of killing with guns in the USA is at least 5 times what it is in Canada, per capita. It's 40 times what it is in Great Britain. There are Latin American countries, some war-torn countries in Africa that have higher gun-death rates than the USA, but the USA is not at war and has a functional government, trained enforcement and a regulated judiciary. European and Commonwealth countries typically have gun-death rates of less than 10% of what is experienced in the US.

If a snowball begins to roll down a mountainside, it gathers more and more snow to the point where it can trigger an avalanche. The place to prevent that happening is at the top where the snowball is small. When it becomes too great to be stopped, there is no other course but to hope for a miracle.

The USA is threatened by a snowball that may not be stoppable anymore. The escalating death rate from gunfire shows no sign of abating and if the trend, the trajectory, is predictive of a future, killing and shoot-outs will become even more commonplace, and that not in the too-distant future.

But I would grant the NRA one thing; the problem in America is bigger than the lack of gun control. People decide to point their weapons at other people and pull the triggers. This doesn't happen without motivation, and in a society where the rich have become obscenely wealthy while the poor are increasingly frustrated, rage is bound to germinate, grow and escalate into violence. 

And the gospel of peace at the core of Jesus' message has been so perverted by people who claim to be his followers that the witness for the Christian message is too quiet to be heard over the gunfire. For the Quakers, the Anabaptists and the secular humanists to gather a counterweight sufficient to swing the tide toward some sanity is probably a futile dream.

For America, the signs point to the possibility of its being too late. There is only one end-point to the situation that we see growing here unless congress can be persuaded to defy the gun lobby. 

It's not pretty. 

Is the snowball too big? Has the avalanche begun?

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