Bob Herbert / The New York Times & The International Action Center – 2007-04-27 09:09:42
NEW YORK (April 26, 2007) — Two days after the massacre at Virginia Tech, a mentally disturbed man with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun opened fire in a house in Queens, killing his mother, his mother’s disabled companion and the disabled man’s health care aide. The gunman then killed himself.
Sixteen months ago, in the basement of a private home in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, four aspiring rappers, aged 19 to 22, were summarily executed in a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire. Two teenagers were arrested five months later, and one was charged as the gunman.
I had coffee the other day with Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and she mentioned that since the murders of Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, well over a million Americans have been killed by firearms in the United States. That’s more than the combined U.S. combat deaths in all the wars in all of American history.
‘We’re losing eight children and teenagers a day to gun violence,’ she said. ‘As far as young people are concerned, we lose the equivalent of the massacre at Virginia Tech about every four days.’
The first step in overcoming an addiction is to acknowledge it. Americans are addicted to violence, specifically gun violence. We profess to be appalled at every gruesome outbreak of mass murder (it’s no big deal when just two, three or four people are killed at a time), but there’s no evidence that we have the will to pull the guns out of circulation, or even to register the weapons and properly screen and train their owners.
On the day after Christmas in 2000, an employee of Edgewater Technology, a private company in Wakefield, Mass., showed up at work with an assault rifle and a .12-gauge shotgun. Around 11 a.m. he began methodically killing co-workers. He didn’t stop until seven were dead.
An employee who had not been at work that day spoke movingly to a reporter from The Boston Globe about the men and women who lost their lives. ‘They were some of the sweetest, smartest people I’ve ever had the chance to work with,’ he said. ‘The cream of the crop.’
The continuing carnage has roused at least one group of public officials to action: mayors. ‘We see the violence that is happening in America today,’ said Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. ‘Illegal guns are rampant. Go into almost any classroom in Boston – sixth and seventh grade, eighth grade, high school – and 50 percent of those kids know somebody who had a gun.’
The mayor noted that since the beginning of the year, more than 100 people have already been killed in Philadelphia, and nearly 80 in Baltimore. Most of the victims were shot to death.
Last year Mayor Menino and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, at a meeting they hosted at Gracie Mansion, organized a group of mayors committed to fighting against illegal firearms in the U.S. ‘It is time for national leadership in the war on gun violence,’ Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. ‘And if that leadership won’t come from Congress or come from the White House, then it has to come from us.’
The campaign has grown. There were 15 mayors at that first gathering. Now more than 200 mayors from cities in 46 states have signed on.
When asked why Mayor Bloomberg had become so militant about the gun issue, John Feinblatt, the city’s criminal justice coordinator, mentioned the ‘human element.’ He said: ‘I think it’s because he’s watched eight police officers be shot. And because, like all mayors, he’s the one who gets awakened, along with the police commissioner, at 3 in the morning and 4 in the morning, and has to rush to the hospital and break the news that can break somebody’s heart.’
Those who are interested in the safety and well-being of children should keep in mind that only motor vehicle accidents and cancer kill more children in the U.S. than firearms. A study released a few years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health compared firearm mortality rates among youngsters 5 to 14 years old in the five states with the highest rates of gun ownership with those in the five states with the lowest rates.
The results were chilling. Children in the states with the highest rates of gun ownership were 16 times as likely to die from an accidental gunshot wound, nearly seven times as likely to commit suicide with a gun, and more than three times as likely to be murdered with a firearm.
Only a lunatic could seriously believe that more guns in more homes is good for America’s children.
(c) Copyright 2007 The New York Times
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Why Virginia Tech Shootings Happened
A Statement from the International Action Center
(April 24, 2007) — Yet another rampage has occurred at a school, this time leaving 33 people dead at Virginia Tech —the worst such incident ever at a US college campus.
The news media seem stunned and surprised, yet their coverage sounds so similar to the stories about Columbine eight years ago. They dwell on the personality of the young man the police say did the shooting, before killing himself. They talk about him being a “loner,” depressed, perhaps angry at women.
But aren’t there lonely and depressed people all over the world? Many countries have high suicide rates. Why is it that here some become mass murderers?
The US is the world leader in seemingly random acts of violence by individuals. Why?
President George W. Bush rushed to Virginia to speak at a large convocation the day after the killings and tried to set the tone for what could be said about them. “It’s impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering,” he said.
Don’t ask why, don’t try to understand. It makes no sense. “Have faith” instead, was Bush’s message.
But there ARE reasons these things happen here, and they are pretty clear to the rest of the world. It’s just in the United States that no one is supposed to talk about the reasons.
What distinguishes this country from the rest of the world? It is neither the most affluent nor the poorest. It is neither the most secular nor the most religious. It is not the most culturally homogeneous nor is it the most diverse.
But in one area, it stands virtually alone. It has the biggest arsenal of high-tech weaponry in the world, way surpassing every other country. It has military bases spread all over; most countries have no troops outside their borders.
It is conducting two hot wars at the moment, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has sent hundreds of thousands of troops abroad over the last few years. Every day, the public here is supposed to identify with soldiers who burst into homes in Baghdad, round up the people and take them away for “interrogation” — which everyone knows now can mean torture and indefinite detainment.
It also sends heavily armed “special ops” on secret missions to countless other countries, like the ones who just facilitated the invasion and bombing of Somalia, or the ones who have been trying to stir up opposition in Iran. This is documented in the news media.
The immense brutality of these colonial wars, as well as earlier ones, is praised from the White House on down as the best, the ONLY way to achieve what the political leaders and their influential, rich backers decide is necessary to protect their world empire. Do lots of people get killed? “Stuff happens,” said former war secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “Collateral damage,” says the Pentagon.
At home, the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Over 2 million people are locked up in the prison system each year, most of them people of color. When commercial armed security guards are also taken into consideration, the U.S. has millions of employees who use guns and other coercive paraphernalia in their jobs.
In the final analysis, the military and the police exist to perpetuate and protect this present unjust system of capitalist inequality, where a few can claim personal ownership over a vast economy built by the sweat and blood of hundreds of millions of workers.
And the more divided, the more polarized the society becomes, the higher the level of coercion and violence. Assault weapons are now everywhere in this society, as are Tasers, handcuffs, clubs and tear gas. They most often start out in the hands of the police, the military and other agents of the state, and can then turn up anywhere.
Violence is a big money maker in the mass culture. Television, films, pulp novels, Internet sites, video games — all dwell on “sociopaths” while glorifying the state’s use of violence, often supplemented by a lone vigilante. By the time children reach their teens, they have already seen thousands of murders and killings on television. And these days even more suspense is added in countless programs that involve stalking and terror against women—and increasingly children.
As the Duke rape case and so many “escort service” ads show, women of color are particularly subject to exploitation and have little recourse to any justice. And as the murders along the border show, immigrants of color are fair game for racist killers.
The social soil of capitalism can alienate and enrage an unstable and miserable person who should be getting help but can’t find it. If, as reports are saying, the young man accused of these killings was on anti-depressant medication, it is all the more evidence that, at a time when hospitals are closing and health care is unavailable for tens of millions, treating mental health problems requires more from society than just prescribing dubious chemicals.
Many liberal commentators are taking this occasion to renew the demand for tougher gun laws. Yes, assault weapons are horrible, but so are bunker buster bombs, helicopters that fire thousands of rounds a minute, and the ultimate—nuclear weapons. Disarming the people is not the answer, especially when the government is armed to the teeth and uses brutality and coercion daily.
The best antidote to these tragedies is to build a movement for profound social change, a movement directed at solving the great problems depressing so much of humanity today, whether they be wars or global climate change or the loneliness of the dog-eat-dog society.
International Action Center- 55 West 17th St, 5C, New York, NY 10011. www.IACenter.org