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America’s obsession over the right to bear arms means many more innocents will die

America’s obsession over the right to bear arms means many more innocents will die
A woman prays among flowers and mascots left at a makeshift memorial at the entrance to the Covenant Presbyterian Church school in Nashville, Tennessee, on 28 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Renfroe)

The latest mass shooting in an American school should provoke action by Congress to ban the purchase of military-style assault weapons by ordinary people. But it probably won’t, and the country will endure yet more such horrors in the future.

The news of yet another multiple killing, this time at the private, church-related Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, is simply the latest in a relentlessly repetitive sequence of events. The willingness of the country to somehow endure this atrocity forces us to recall author Kurt Vonnegut’s sadly familiar phrase as he contemplated another horror: “And so it goes.” 

And if the US Congress has its way in dealing with this latest incident, such things will continue into the future, without end. 

Another day has come and yet another person – with an emotional or psychological problem; someone bearing a grudge or an itch that can’t be scratched; someone holding a mysterious politically charged grievance or maybe even an inexplicable motive; or perhaps barely able to restrain their anger over something well beyond words – decides the appropriate response to assuage such pain is to go to a local school or shopping mall and begin shooting students, teachers or ordinary shoppers going about their daily, quotidian lives. 

In most of these cases, they’ve been armed with one (or more) of those now-ubiquitous assault rifles; virtually identical to the military’s AR-15s — the weapon that was developed years before to give infantry patrols maximum killing power with a lightweight, easy-to-maintain weapon.

Multiple killings are not, precisely speaking, solely an American disease. There have been other awful examples in Norway, Germany, France (remember Charlie Hebdo?), and elsewhere on the planet whenever someone decides to salve their own internal emotional storm or vague political motive by embarking upon a pitiless killing spree. 

As it has receded from the news, it has become too easy to forget the generation-long killing spree that has engulfed Somalia, or the too-often ignored rampant gun violence in South Africa that claims its share of collateral victims as well.

Human nature being what it is, it is necessary to look at the tools that come far too easily to hand for people who plan to kill in groups. 

And, of course, it must also be footnoted in this roll call of killing, the kind of savage rage and untrammelled behaviour of invading armies being let loose upon civilians. Those forces have engaged in killing old men and women, murdering or abducting children, and viewing innocent women as objects for sexual assault before killing them — something we have seen most recently perpetrated in Ukraine, or the seemingly never-ending inter-communal violence throughout many parts of the Near East. 

(It is also true there was also the murderous release of sarin gas on a Japanese subway by a shadowy political-religious cult, and there is reportedly a rise in killings by knife-wielding people in Britain as well – in both nations, there is no easy access to assault rifles. Humans seem to find a perverse form of self-expression in killing others.) 

But the American version of such violence in a nation seemingly at peace feels somehow different by virtue of the frequency of such killing sprees.

Each time it occurs, we are hypnotised yet again by the particularly grotesque version of the hoary media adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” 

Each new occurrence is reported obsessively, worldwide. Perhaps this is also a function of the power and impact of America’s mass media outlets, but the world gets to share, over and over again, the agonies felt by the victims’ families and friends. And perhaps, too, each new event triggers the malignant idea in yet others’ minds to carry out such massacres.

A man leaves flowers outside the Covenant Presbyterian Church school in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Renfroe)

No game

It is far too easy and way too simplistic to simply blame the rise of ultraviolent gaming, videos, some parts of social media, and films for this continuing roll call of mass killings. Such a causality implies a country filled with impressionable people who simply cannot help themselves after watching such a film or playing such a game, and who are thereby compelled to rush out and kill multiple strangers with a newly acquired assault rifle. In fact, those “entertainments” are easily available to people worldwide, but such repetitive, multi-victim killing sprees are clearly not a universal constant. 

A couple of generations ago, with an equal lack of real evidence, it was common to blame comic books for violent pathologies. 

Human nature being what it is, it is necessary to look at the tools that come far too easily to hand for people who plan to kill in groups. And we need to be brutally honest about it. For too many people in America, it has been an ongoing perversion of a single provision of the constitution, an amendment originally designed in the 1780s to ensure the continuing viability of state militias, and instead, using this provision to offer an expansive legal basis for allowing virtually anyone with the cash to buy an assault rifle or two or three of them to do so, thereby owning an armoury useful in warding off an invading army. 

What we need to make clear is the lack of virtually any restrictions on the purchase and ownership of such armoury, right up to and including assault rifles like those in use by the country’s armed forces. Theoretically, such weapons sold to the public are not supposed to be usable on the fully automatic setting that can spray dozens of bullets in a minute, but there are adapters that serve as a workaround for that challenge. Such a gadget was used by the Las Vegas shooter, the man who butchered dozens of people from a hotel room window as he shot into the crowd below at a music concert in the courtyard. 

In fact, in prior years there had been a decade-long federal ban on the sale of such weapons (although there have been semi-legitimate ways around it, such as quiet private sales or loosely regulated gun shows) until 2004. 

It is virtually impossible to foresee much change in the way these lethal tools are regulated or access to them is restricted, absent a rather thorough closet cleaning of the Republican house of horrors.

But now, if you are not on an active sexual offenders watchlist, a convicted felon, a prisoner on the run from justice, or someone subject to court-ordered psychiatric care, in many states you can simply show up, cash-in-hand, wait a day or two for a cursory check for such red flags, then purchase the equaliser of your dreams — plus all the ammunition your twisted heart desires. 

Not surprisingly, but predictably and dishearteningly, statistics point to a rise in just such multi-victim killings using assault weapons, once the ban on their sale was lifted. (Yes, some readers will immediately wave their arms and object, saying the majority of deaths by firearms come from pistols or long rifles, rather than assault rifles. Those are terrible truths, but the majority of those deaths are either suicides, robbery attempts or bona fide accidents, not from multiple killing events in schools and shopping malls.) 

A frame grab from a surveillance video released by the Metro Nashville Police Department shows the alleged shooter, Audrey Elizabeth Hale, at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, on 27 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Metro Nashville Police Department Handout)

In fact, the AR-15 and its near clones have, over the years, been the subject of an eventually successful marketing strategy by weapons manufacturers, such that those weapons have gone from being relatively unloved to becoming sought-after killing machines, even if it seems unlikely people would ever consider them as the kind of weapon suitable for hunting or sport target shooting — or even the defence of home and family (See an exposé on this at the Washington Post

Read more: How the AR-15 became a powerful political, cultural symbol in America

Increasingly, the pressure is rising among many in the public for something to be done about these assault rifles, but a recalcitrant Republican caucus in Congress remains obdurately opposed to a new assault weapons ban — or even other substantive types of firearms regulation. CNN’s Meanwhile in America news blog noted on 29 March, following the shooting in Nashville:

“Millions of Americans have made a choice. They might not put it quite this bluntly, but if the price of keeping their high-powered assault rifles is regular mass shootings, so be it.

“This reality shone through reactions on Capitol Hill to the latest massacre in an American school. Three nine-year-olds and three staff died on Monday in the rampage before 28-year-old shooter Audrey Hale was killed by police. A day later, Republican lawmakers quickly dismissed the chances that the horror would lead to new laws cracking down on the fast-firing battlefield weapons that do so much carnage every day in America.

“Tennessee Republican Rep. Tim Burchett told reporters that ‘laws don’t work’ to curb gun violence – despite the fact that nations with stronger gun laws have far fewer mass shootings and firearms deaths than the United States. ‘Other countries don’t have our freedom either… we’ve got incredible freedom in this country. And when people abuse that freedom, that’s what happens,’ he said. Burchett argued that it is impossible to legislate away evil and called on pastors to lead a religious revival in the US.

“Florida Republican Rep. Byron Donalds conjured one of the most bizarre defences of high-powered weapons that tear the human body apart, telling CNN’s Manu Raju: ‘People are allowed to possess firearms and need is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t question why you need a blue suit, but you got one.’ Of course, blue suits don’t cause massacres.

“And after 130 mass shootings this year, another Republican, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, said: ‘We don’t need more gun control, we need more a**hole control.’

“The solution seems obvious. But many Republicans argue that banning assault-style weapons over terrible crimes would be unfair to the law-abiding Americans who want them. This is hard for non-Americans to understand, but the creed of individual freedom runs deep in the country’s DNA. 

“This isn’t Western Europe. Many US citizens sincerely believe they have not just a right but a need for deadly weapons to defend themselves – even against their own government. [And Republican congressmen and women see gun ownership as a cardinal element in the psyche of their voters.]

“While Republicans claim that any attempt to restrict the killing power of guns infringes the Second Amendment that guarantees the right to bear arms, they are in fact repudiating arguments of one of their greatest heroes, late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a landmark opinion in 2008, Scalia wrote that the amendment did not confer ‘a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose’.”

Given this impasse, it is virtually impossible to foresee much change in the way these lethal tools are regulated or access to them is restricted, absent a rather thorough closet cleaning of the Republican house of horrors. 

Surveillance video from the Metro Nashville Police Department shows the alleged shooter at the Covenant School on 27 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Metro Nashville Police Department Handout)

Metro Nashville Police Department officials at the reported home of the alleged shooter who killed six people at the Covenant School on 27 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Hamilton Matthew Masters)

List of horror

A friend in the US sent this writer a list of the multiple killings over the years at American schools and universities. In some of these early mass killings, the shooter did not have access to an AR-15 or other assault weapon since they were not yet in production for non-military purchasers and so they had to rely upon a hunting rifle. Here is the comprehensive list: 

Covenant School, Thurston High School, Columbine High School, Heritage High School, Deming Middle School, Fort Gibson Middle School, Buell Elementary School, Lake Worth Middle School, University of Arkansas, Junipero Serra High School, Santana High School, Bishop Neumann High School, Pacific Lutheran University, Granite Hills High School, Lew Wallace High School, Martin Luther King, Jr High School, Appalachian School of Law, Washington High School, Conception Abbey, Benjamin Tasker Middle School, University of Arizona, Lincoln High School, John McDonogh High School, Red Lion Area Junior High School, Case Western Reserve University, Rocori High School, Ballou High School, Randallstown High School, Bowen High School, Red Lake Senior High School, Harlan Community Academy High School.

Campbell County High School, Milwee Middle School, Roseburg High School, Pine Middle School, Essex Elementary School, Duquesne University, Platte Canyon High School, Weston High School, West Nickel Mines School, Joplin Memorial Middle School, Henry Foss High School, Compton Centennial High School, Virginia Tech, Success Tech Academy, Miami Carol City Senior High School, Hamilton High School, Louisiana Technical College, Mitchell High School, EO Green Junior High School, Northern Illinois University, Lakota Middle School, Knoxville Central High School, Willoughby South High School, Henry Ford High School, University of Central Arkansas, Dillard High School, Dunbar High School, Hampton University, Harvard College, Larose-Cut Off Middle School, International Studies Academy.

Skyline College, Discovery Middle School, University of Alabama, DeKalb School, Deer Creek Middle School, Ohio State University, Mumford High School, University of Texas, Kelly Elementary School, Marinette High School, Aurora Central High School, Millard South High School, Martinsville West Middle School, Worthing High School, Millard South High School, Highlands Intermediate School, Cape Fear High School, Chardon High School, Episcopal School of Jacksonville, Oikos University, Hamilton High School, Perry Hall School, Normal Community High School, University of South Alabama, Banner Academy South, University of Southern California, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Apostolic Revival Center Christian School. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Stuck to their guns – another school shooting, but US no closer to firearms reform

Taft Union High School, Osborn High School, Stevens Institute of Business and Arts, Hazard Community and Technical College, Chicago State University, Lone Star College-North, Cesar Chavez High School, Price Middle School, University of Central Florida, New River Community College, Grambling State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School, Ronald E McNair, Discovery Academy, North Panola High School, Carver High School, Agape Christian Academy, Sparks Middle School, North Carolina A&T State University, Stephenson High School, Brashear High School, West Orange High School, Arapahoe High School.

Edison High School, Liberty Technology Magnet High School, Hillhouse High School, Berrendo Middle School, Purdue University, South Carolina State University, Los Angeles Valley College, Charles F Brush High School, University of Southern California, Georgia Regents University, Academy of Knowledge Preschool, Benjamin Banneker High School, DH Conley High School, East English Village Preparatory Academy, Paine College, Georgia Gwinnett College, John F Kennedy High School, Seattle Pacific University, Reynolds High School, Indiana State University, Albemarle High School, Fern Creek Traditional High School, Langston Hughes High School.

Marysville Pilchuck High School, Florida State University, Miami Carol City High School, Rogers State University, Rosemary Anderson High School, Wisconsin Lutheran High School, Frederick High School, Tenaya Middle School, Bethune-Cookman University, Pershing Elementary School, Wayne Community College, JB Martin Middle School, Southwestern Classical Academy, Savannah State University, Harrisburg High School, Umpqua Community College, Northern Arizona University, Texas Southern University, Tennessee State University, Winston-Salem State University, Mojave High School.

Lawrence Central High School, Franklin High School, Muskegon Heights High School, Independence High School, Madison High School, Antigo High School, University of California-Los Angeles, Jeremiah Burke High School, Alpine High School, Townville Elementary School, Vigor High School, Linden McKinley STEM Academy, June Jordan High School for Equity, Union Middle School, Mueller Park Junior High School, West Liberty-Salem High School, University of Washington, King City High School, North Park Elementary School, North Lake College, Freeman High School.

The weapon used by the alleged shooter at the Covenant School in Nashville on 27 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Metro Nashville Police Department Handout)

 Mattoon High School, Rancho Tehama Elementary School, Aztec High School, Wake Forest University, Italy High School, NET Charter High School, Marshall County High School, Sal Castro Middle School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Great Mills High School, Central Michigan University, Huffman High School, Frederick Douglass High School, Forest High School, Highland High School, Dixon High School, Santa Fe High School, Noblesville West Middle School, University of North Carolina Charlotte, STEM School Highlands Ranch, Edgewood High School, Palm Beach Central High School, Providence Career & Technical Academy, Fairley High School (school bus), Canyon Springs High School, Dennis Intermediate School, Florida International University, Central Elementary School, Cascade Middle School.

Davidson High School, Prairie View A & M University, Atascocita High School, Central Academy of Excellence, Cleveland High School, Robert E Lee High School, Cheyenne South High School, Grambling State University, Blountsville Elementary School, Holmes County, Mississippi (school bus), Prescott High School, College of the Mainland, Wynbrooke Elementary School, UNC Charlotte, Riverview Florida (school bus), Second Chance High School, Carman-Ainsworth High School, Williwaw Elementary School, Monroe Clark Middle School, Central Catholic High School, Jeanette High School, Eastern Hills High School.

DeAnza High School, Ridgway High School, Reginald F Lewis High School, Saugus High School, Pleasantville High School, Waukesha South High School, Oshkosh High School, Catholic Academy of New Haven, Bellaire High School, North Crowley High School, McAuliffe Elementary School, South Oak Cliff High School, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Sonora High School, Western Illinois University, Oxford High School, and Robb Elementary School.

Enough already. Enough. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Gregory Scott says:

    If every law-abiding citizen had a legally registered firearm I wonder what the effect would be on our crime statistics particularly the murder rate at 80 people in South Africa every day, and the incidents of rape at one incident every 3 minutes.
    I think these numbers would reduce dramatically so that our murder rate per 100 000 people can be as low as the USA including ‘mass shootings’.

  • Michael Forsyth says:

    That list of schools where shootings have occurred is mind numbing. The rights of gun owners, ugh!

  • Jack Rollens says:

    As a third generation US citizen. My great-great grandparents came to the USA in 1820. I cannot believe what is happening in the country today. The Republican Party is not a party of democracy. It is a fascist party. Trump is just a wannabe dictator. We are out of control when it comes to guns. Number one in the world in murders, guns, people in jail and the number one reason for child deaths is gun violence.

    Truly unbelievable. What mess this country is.

  • charlesbotha says:

    Long ago, before the shootings started and I was still a young man, I visited the USA for the 1st time. I had to show my passport that I was over 21 to have a beer with my dinner at a restaurant. But across the street I could go and buy automatic weapons with no questions asked! Now the chickens have come to roost with the strong Republican Party gun lobby…

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