Posted tagged ‘gun control’

IEDs and Suicide Bombers on American Soil: Perspectives on The Boston Marathon Bombing

May 14, 2013

The Boston Marathon on Bombing on April 15, 2013, created an uncomfortable reflection for Americans as one of her citizens and a legal resident detonated a bomb at a public event.  This is not the abstract bombing in a Middle Eastern country but something disharmonious with American life.  While some compare this to the hijacking and subsequent crashing of four airplanes on September 11, 2001, I believe there is a meaningful difference, an awaking of an awareness that Americans are not familiar with.

The mainstream press has focused on the meaning of the day—Patriot’s Day—and other events that have occurred in proximity: the Branch Davidian siege at Waco, Texas; the shootings at Columbine High School, the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  While this may be coincidental or intentional it neglects the underlying lingering feeling:

law enforcement is not widely prepared to handle

suicide bombers or improvised explosive devices detonated

in public places on non-military targets

There is training for hostage situations, yet bombing civilian targets on American soil–either planned, executed or unfolding— is the stuff of movies to most civilians.  The concept is foreign, removed from daily life and something not well understood.  It happens in countries whose general population struggles with the basic levels of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs.  Images of sandy curbless streets with a mule and cart come automatically to many American minds.  This is a distant cry from manicured wealthy Bostonian suburbs, MIT’s campus and Harvard Square.

Not since the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta has an improved explosive device (IED) been successful detonated at a large public U.S. venue.  What I see is the beginnings of an American understanding of the uncertainty and insecurity that are routinely felt in some other countries.  In Iraq and Afghanistan this type of violence is commonplace.  The same American media outlets that offered unrelenting coverage in Boston also seemingly announce daily another foreign car bombing, suicide bomber or shooting of law enforcement or military personnel.  The stories detail the civilian casualties and wounded then fade into the background for many Americans as they lack any relation to their daily lives.

Perhaps it takes place in the disputed territories between Israelis and the Palestinians.  Maybe it is a violent interpretation of one’s religion.  The slippery word martyr may be applied.  These attacks may be ideologically part of an organization desiring political change.  It could be grounded in sectarian warfare, as with the Sunnis and Shiites.  Maybe it is a single individual or a small group.  These individuals may be self-motivated or directed into their actions through coercion or manipulative teachings

Ultimately, the perpetrators of violence—and their motives, the targets, the means, the rationale and the desired aim—are not fully congruent or cognizant within traditional Western logical frameworks.  Essentially it is guerrilla style tactics generally focused on non-military targets.  This non-traditional form of protest or furthering of one’s aim is executed with varying levels of sophistication: from amateurish to chillingly calculated.  Since they do not adhere to the international and (generally) recognized rules of war, the ordinary western citizen struggles to reconcile how this can happen within his country.

This brings uncertainty to the basic need of physical security and safety for any human.  This is particularly unsettling to Americans where this is generally thought of as a Third World concern or in a country engulfed in civil war.  (The United Kingdom is a glaring exception to this as numerous bombings since the 1970s are claimed by Irish individuals or groups and target civilians).  These fears include:

  • How can I protect myself against an unknown threat?
  • It may happen to me?

This is not a new or unknown problem.  Ultimately there is not a perfect way to prevent all types of violence.  There was an interesting social commentary in the movie Minority Report—both the attempt to create a society without violence and the manipulation of such a society to selfish ends.  This juxtaposes with the shootings in schools and public places in the last year further flaming the perennial gun control debate.  Yet the bombing in Boston seems more raw.  (Click for a recent gun control perspective)

This dilemma invariably leads to difficult conversations about at what cost is security desired within the society.  Just like the citizen trying to understand why this is happening, there is not a neat, simple answer to this very amorphous problem:

  • What is considered reasonable safety?
  • To what degree are individuals responsible for their own safety?
  • What is the responsibility of the government?

In the end, in an open society there cannot be an expectation of perfect security.  Garrison Keeler, on A Prairie Home Companion, offered a folksy Dr. Seuss Butter-Battle-Book-esque commentary that ended with elderly grandmas owning assault rifles.  Constant escalation based out of fear is not the answer.  Conversely neither is irrational elimination of firearms out of similarly rooted fear.

The words of Franklin d. Roosevelt are well heeded now:  “The only things we have to fear is fear itself.”  As we soul search and consider these questions our fear should not govern decisions redefining our freedoms.

Notable Gun Violence that Spawns Gun Control Debates: Underpinnings and Difficult Questions

January 18, 2013

There are four heinous acts of gun violence repeatedly being referenced in recent media stories.  Each appears to have strikingly different circumstances and equally thorny questions.  The four are: the movie theater shooting in Aurora Colorado; Sandy Brook Elementary School, Newton Connecticut; Columbine High School, Columbine Colorado; and Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia.  I think an objective examination of these difficult questions is necessary before rushing contentious solutions whose very debate elicits a visceral, emotional response.  There is a lot to unpack in a discussion that requires much exploration.

At Columbine High School, Columbine, Colorado, the two students apparently legally purchased at least some of the weapons used.  There were accusations of excessive bullying of the two gifted students by other students and that teachers let kids-be-kids and did not intervene.  While not the only factor, should there be better guidelines for the teachers for intervention?  What is the responsibility of the parents?  What do we as a society accept as the social norm for tolerating bullying?  What are acceptable responses to those who intentionally and excessively agitate?  It seems that this may have been a delayed response from a child without socially accepted (or even defined) responses who resorts to violence.

At Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, in 2007, the perpetrator legally purchased two handguns though his mental health status should have made him ineligible.  Gaps between state and federal laws did not appropriately tag him as ineligible in the mandated NICS database check.  These gaps were later narrowed through revised state and federal statutes.  There were accusations that a previous institution, in complying with its interpretation of the US Privacy Act, did not notify Virgina Tech of its concerns regarding the perpetrator’s mental health.  It is uncertain to me if this knowledge would have prevented the killing of 31 students or stopped the perpetrator from violating the school’s firearm ban.

In the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting, the perpetrator had legally purchased the weapons for illegal use.  Again, that is a difficult circumstance to non-intrusively screen for.  The perpetrator is still awaiting arraignment as of this article’s writing.  I am interested in what the defendant’s plea is and if an insanity defense is pursued.  Further did the mental health services or professors fail to detect or act on the knowledge of these mental health claims.

In Newtown, Connecticut, the perpetrator shot through the locked doors of Sandy Hook Elementary School after murdering his mother with her weapons in her bed.  Before weighing the pros and cons of requiring bullet-proof doors and windows, were the weapons used locked in a firearms safe or otherwise secured?  How did the perpetrator gain access to weapons there were not his?  What is the gun owner’s legal responsibility to ensure positive, secured control of one’s weapons?

I do not believe that there will be absolute security and that we can eliminate all public acts of violence in school or otherwise.  The level of control required seems oppressive and, hopefully, unacceptable to American Society.  We have already seen this on a notably larger scale with “terrorist acts,” itself a slippery phrase: The September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the 1995 Sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system.  Those determined to perpetuate acts of violence will find a way regardless of the safeguards put into place.  We can increase the safeguards to reduce the probability, but I do not believe I will be perfectly safe.

On the whole, I think the underlying issue is less gun control but rather the tension between two sides: a civilian’s right to all rights—unless restricted by federal or state governments–and those rights which the government regulates in the best interest of the citizenry as a whole.  We have seen this play out in history as those on each side struggle for dominance and enforcing its will on the other.  Prohibition is an excellent example.

At least three of these attacks show premeditation, two of which were substantial.  At least three directly involve mental health professionals.  All perpetrators were of the legal age to purchase firearms.

A common thread appears to be the inability, unwillingness or lack of a framework from those in a position to evaluate or stop the contributing factors to act.  Conversely there is a point where rules and regulations cannot be enforced all the time with 100% effectiveness.  It seems impractical to close an open-college-campus and require airport level security at its boundaries.  Even if implemented would that have prevented the killing?  An equally impractical solution would be requiring all students to  undergo mandatory mental health evaluations at regular intervals starting in elementary school,

There are some less invasive, but no less uncomfortable questions, that I have not heard answers to in the mainstream press:

  • How old must one be to purchase a handgun? to purchase a rifle?
  • What is the age to posses either?
  • Do states differ between the ability to posses/own and use?
  • Is there a different age for use with and without adult supervision?

For example, can a 15-year-old use a rifle hunting with his dad but not by himself?  When can he use one by himself?  When could he legally be given one as a gift?  When could he purchase it himself?

Further, should registering a weapon and a license to use a weapon be separate?  We have established a requirement for driver licenses for on-road vehicles.  There is an interesting graph in a Bloomberg article comparing traffic fatalities to firearm related deaths.

While one can argue over the statistics and the method for forecasting, both caused between 30,000 and 35,000 deaths in 2011 and offer up an opportunity to compare the two standards of regulation.

The more I explored, the more complex this topic revealed itself to be.  I believe the unraveling of this topic is yet incomplete and that presenting my thoughts on possible solutions is premature.  I do believe that a calm, rational, non-polarizing conversation needs to be had.