Of Guns, Campuses and Killing Fields
By Hasan Zillur Rahim
Fueled by an irrational sense of grievance and revenge, a student finds his campus easy picking. He knows the location of the classrooms and the class schedules. Once the doors are shut, he knows there is no escape for those trapped inside.
A partial list of campuses that turned into killing fields in recent years include Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, (1999, 13 killed), Virginia High Tech (2007, 32 killed), Oikos University in Oakland, CA (2012, 7 killed) and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT (2012, 20 killed).
Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, is the latest addition to this infamous list. On October 1st, 26-year-old student Christopher Harper-Mercer went on a rampage in the pastoral campus, killing nine and wounding nine before killing himself. His victims included 18-year-old students and a 67-year-old English professor. He was carrying six guns and five ammunition magazines. Police found another eight guns and assault weapons in the apartment he shared with his creepily over-protective mother.
Apparently this disturbed person was legally able to buy 14 deadly weapons without any problem.
Can more security prevent such horrific campus killings? Budget constraints have forced many educational institutions, particularly community colleges, to cut back on security. But even if campuses bristled with round-the-clock police patrols, a psychopath bent on mayhem will find a way because the police cannot be everywhere at once.
The fundamental issue is not one of campus security or lack of mental treatment, as the National Rifles Association (NRA), its acolytes and political enablers (Senators, Congressmen, Governors and State Legislators) claim. After all, the mentally ill do not go about advertising their illnesses. Besides, those closest to them blame society for their illnesses, as happened with Harper-Mercer’s mother. Also, most killers look eerily normal, their inner demons hidden from view.
No, the real reason why campus killings occur with such sickening frequency in America is our absurdly easy access to guns.
In the college where I teach, the simplest algebraic equations students learn to solve are linear equations in one variable. All the data from countries similar to ours suggest that the solution to gun violence can be reduced to
Fewer guns = Fewer killings
Comparison with Australia is apt. Australians love their guns as much as we do but in 1996, when a gunman killed 35 people with a semiautomatic rifle at a tourist destination in Tasmania, the government responded by banning rifles and shotguns and imposing tough licensing requirements for gun owners. It also offered a buyback program that led to the destruction of more than a million firearms.
The result? In the 19 years since, there has not been a single mass shooting in Australia.
The NRA and its supporters will say that Australia doesn’t have a Second Amendment like the United States: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The argument about what exactly ‘a well regulated Militia’ constitutes, and what the intent of the Founding Fathers were when they phrased the Amendment thus, will never cease. We go through this ad nauseam until … nothing happens and then it is back to business as usual: more killings on our campuses, malls, theaters and other public places.
Here are a few (and only a few) statistics of what guns have done, and continue to do, to our nation:
- Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than dies in all U.S. wars going back to the American Revolution.
- On the average, 92 Americans die every day due to gun violence.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/), almost three times more preschoolers are shot dead each year than police officers in the line of duty.
- There are anywhere from 270 million to 300 million guns in circulation in the U.S. As President Obama said in his statement after the Roseburg killings: “There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America.”
- According to the gun violence archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/), so far in 2015 there have already been more than 40,000 incidents of gun violence in America that has resulted in more than 10,000 deaths and 20,000 injuries. The dead include more than 2,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 and 560 children under 12. And we still have over two months left this year!
The grim toll relentlessly marches on. The truth is as clear as it is devastating: Far too many Americans regard their guns not just as culture but as religion, and the faithful are prepared to defend their religion to death, literally.
(In the days following the Roseburg shooting, for instance, gun sales in the area shot up dramatically. Within days, a freshman at Northern Arizona University killed a student and wounded three and at a student-housing complex at Texas Southern University, assailants killed a student and wounded another.)
How do we go about changing the status quo, even though it is impossible to rationally engage in a debate with the NRA and gun-activists?
First, we must believe that we are not helpless in the face of this continuing horror. The NRA is extremely powerful, no doubt, and has many politicians in its pocket, but it can be defeated. We have got to have this conviction.
Second, there must a concerted nationwide movement to hold elected officials accountable for their voting records on gun laws. If they are cowed by the NRA and hide behind a misreading of the Second Amendment despite the horrific toll on public health that unfettered access to guns take in America, we must work together at the local, state and national levels to defeat them at the polls. Politicians are driven by one overriding thought: How will we fare at the polls? Any prospect of a defeat can change a mind faster than, well, a speeding bullet.
Third, our government ought to consider offering a gun buyback program as was done in Australia, expensive though it will be. But we need a compelling demonstration from concerned citizens, particularly from responsible gun owners, to boldly say: “We have an unacceptable level of gun violence in America and therefore we renounce our gun ownership to save lives.” Many gun-owners are on record as saying that the NRA does not speak for them.
Finally, and this is particularly true for American Muslims, we have to spread the message. Most of the discourse of American Muslims center around what the Islamophobes are trying to do to us. But a permanent siege mentality is a sign of weakness. We cannot define ourselves only by what we oppose. We must develop the self-assurance to define ourselves by what we initiate and support. This requires taking on mainstream issues that affect all Americans, such as tougher gun-control laws. This also requires that those who deliver sermons during Friday congregational prayers in our mosques become knowledgeable enough to speak intelligently on such issues instead of wasting time on the obvious and the trite.
In his statement to the nation after the Roseburg massacre, President Obama said: “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”
Inaction will inevitably lead to recurring tragedies. We Americans from all walks of life must recognize that we are being destroyed from within by the false religion of gun and so have to take on the NRA and the gun lobby. Given their power, it will be a long and drawn-out battle but if we endure, we will win.