It is nearly impossible for us in the United Kingdom to fathom what it is that drives so many young Americans to unleash sudden death so often on their peers.
On Tuesday 24 May yet another school shooting was added to the increasing tally. This is week 21 of the year, and so far there have been 27 school shootings (up to 25 May). The magazine Education Week, based in Bethesda MD, has a ‘School Shooting Tracker’, which is where I gathered my information. Since the beginning of the year, 27 children have died at the hands of young guns.
Needless to say, the tired arguments about gun control have been rolled out once again, with the president himself, Joe Biden, asking in an emotional manner, “When are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?”
The ‘gun lobby’ is yet another thing we Europeans, and especially we British, have difficulty grasping. As a nation Americans have a special reverence for certain objects or ideas. One is the flag of the United States, which is the object of the Pledge of Allegiance, once recited at the beginning of every school day by all American schoolchildren.
Another is the United States constitution, complete with its amendments. The gun lobby thrives on upholding the Second Amendment, which declares:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
It is perhaps surprising that this clause in the American ‘Bill of Rights’ has its roots in the English Bill of Rights of 1689!
Also surprising, at least to this contributor, is that it follows the Amendment guaranteeing freedom of belief and barring the imposition of any state religion. For some reason I thought that the First Amendment would be about freedom of expression.
One topic which is less frequently addressed is the normalisation of the use of firearms, both in day-to-day life and in entertainment. To my shame, I spend far too much of my time watching Netflix and Amazon Prime. A lot of my viewing includes American crime dramas, such as Unforgettable, Bosch and others. Not a single one of them can advance without someone, or indeed the majority of characters on screen, at some point in the action, drawing a weapon and, when the action palls, firing it with gay abandon. This inculcates in the viewer the idea that holding, drawing and firing a weapon, whether sidearm, hunting rifle, shotgun or automatic assault weapon, is perfectly normal.
This normalisation is ingrained by the plethora of combat-style video games, where the discharge of loud firearms constitutes a significant part to their raison d’être.
Plenty of our young people play video war-games without becoming gun-crazy mass assassins. What they cannot do, of course, is get their hands on lethal weapons of the kind so prevalent among our American cousins. Granted some will resort to bladed implements, which can be wielded to deadly effect. But by their nature the damage that they can inflict is strictly limited. And it has to be said, the sale of serious blades is quite severely restricted by law.
Much is made these days, and not before time, of the importance of good mental health. This is clearly something that is lacking throughout our societies. While we spend our limited resources on trying to support our young people with psychiatric problems, what effort is being made to establish the underlying causes of this sickness?
For until we understand what it is that drives our young people into this dark corner of self-harm and harming others, there will be no end to the killing.
It’s important to know that support is available for anyone who self-harms or thinks about self-harm, as well as their friends and family. For more information, visit the NHS website which lists an number of other organisations that can provide help and support.